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Council of Women World Leaders

May 20, 2011
Washington, DC

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you. I am honored to join President Chinchilla here today.

I want to thank: Ambassador Figueres, Ambassador Andrew, Laura Liswood, Congresswoman Harman and Deputy Secretary Lute

I also want to recognize the talented team at the Embassy of Costa Rica, the Aspen Institute and the Council of Women World Leaders who helped to make this morning possible.

President Chinchilla welcome back to Washington D.C.

Thank you for your generous and thoughtful remarks and for your leadership across the Americas and around the globe.

I am part of an administration that, like President Chinchilla’s, continues to break down barriers for women.

When you look at my colleagues in President Obama’s Cabinet, you see women front and center on the key issues of our time: international affairs, homeland security, jobs, and the economy. And every day when I go into work, I see the progress we’ve made.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, six of our agencies are led by women, from the Food and Drug Administration to the Administration on Aging.

We have a woman serving as the nation's doctor, our Surgeon General, and we have women leading divisions in charge of responding to disasters, developing a budget and protecting civil rights and health privacy.

But this is just a part of the contribution that women make to our department. Nearly two thirds of our colleagues are women and they are an important part of everything we do from helping families and seniors get the care they need, to pursuing cures and treatments for the future.

But we also recognize that it’s not just the women holding positions in government, science, and medicine, who are leaders in health.

In a million quiet but important ways, countless women play critical roles in the health of their communities and families.

There are, for example, community health workers across America, also known as Promotoras who are predominately women and who primarily work in Latino neighborhoods, providing health education and emotional support.

They also monitor public health challenges and offer a vital link for communities where access to primary care is often scarce

But as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and friends, we also know that our own health has a direct impact on the people we care for.

That’s why – with last year’s health care law – we ended the practice of charging women more than men for the same health insurance.

And it is why we’re making it easier for women to access key preventive services – like mammograms – free of charge.

We’re taking the same approach to increasing access to healthcare, especially to preventive services, around the globe, by sharing best practices, funding initiatives and collaborating with international partners.

You can see it in the Women’s Entrepreneur Network under the Pathways to Prosperity program, which is a Costa Rica-U.S. initiative partnering with local businesses to support mid- and senior- level professional women and educating women and girls in science and technology.

We know that improving the health and opportunity of women allows them to reach their fullest potential.

Women the world over are gateways to their community. They are primarily responsible for managing water, nutrition, household resources, and accessing health services for their families.

That means that when women are healthy and can make their own decisions about their reproductive lives, the gains ripple through their entire community. When children are healthy, the benefits last a lifetime.

Another way to look at this is to say that women have a powerful opportunity to make a difference as champions of healthy communities and as everyday practitioners of preventive care.

I just returned from the World Health Assembly last Tuesday where prevention was a key topic of discussion.

We are beginning to see a real consensus about the urgency of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and stroke that have emerged as a growing health problem for countries in every corner of the globe.

And we know that targeted intervention to control tobacco, support healthy diets, and promote exercise can be what World Health Assembly Director-General Margaret Chan calls ‘the best bang for our buck.’

The Americas are one of the regions taking the lead in confronting chronic disease, and I know our countries will continue to share best practices when we come together at the high-level UN Summit on chronic disease and prevention in September.

I know we agree that in a global campaign, we will all be most successful if we join the fight together.

Together we are making a commitment to our nation’s growth and opportunity for every one of our citizens --0pportunity that starts with health.

When we empower women everywhere, from the highest levels of government down to the very foundations of our families and communities, we will see a healthier, more prosperous world and all of society will benefit.

Thank you.