(As prepared for delivery)
Minister Peleshi, Deputy Minister Bici, Chief of Defense Major General Begaj, Deputy Chief of Defense Brigadier General Shehu and Adjutant General of the New Jersey National Guard Brigadier General Hou. I cannot think of a better occasion to celebrate women’s military leadership – and leadership in general – on the eve of International Women’s Day. This is an opportunity to reflect on our achievements in gender equality and recommit ourselves to making change where there are still gaps.
Albania has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. And the fact is, it has changed because of the will of the Albanian people to cast off dictatorship and commit to democracy. I firmly believe this will is one of the main reasons for the close and enduring bonds between the Albanian and American people. And they are truly enduring – we are right now celebrating 100 years of U.S.-Albanian relations.
Part of that reason that bond is so strong is our shared commitment to democracy and human dignity. Gender equality is about human dignity. It is also about national strength. Countries that remove artificial impediments, that empower women, that give all citizens equal opportunity to learn and to success will naturally be stronger and more prosperous. Another way to put it is this: Countries that artificially suppress the abilities and contributions of women deprive themselves of the capabilities and contributions of half their citizens. This is true for the military. Supporting women’s leadership in national defense and security is key to achieving our shared goal of building a more peaceful and prosperous Albania. The meaningful participation of women in all decision-making processes related to conflict, crisis, and security leads to better and more sustainable outcomes—not only for women, but for entire communities and countries.
Albania is getting global attention for a number of good reasons. You were the first country to welcome Afghans fleeing the Taliban last year, and have hosted nearly 2,500 Afghans with dignity and respect in your country. You are now central to the global response to Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine, through your role at the United Nations. Just last week, it was an Albania-American resolution that received historic, overwhelming support condemning Russia and supporting Ukraine. And, especially relevant for today – Albania has received global praise for having the highest percentage of women ministers in its cabinet in the world: more than 70%. I am honored to be here with senior women leaders – with your Deputy Minister of Defense to your Deputy Chief of Defense, to all the Officers and NCOs here in the room. I want to give special recognition to First Lieutenant Armela Murati, who will be Albania’s first ever female helicopter pilot. What each of you do helps aspire others.
Day in and day out, Albania’s female leaders are committed to helping not just Albanians here at home but also helping those in need abroad. Your Ambassadors, ministers, directors and community leaders are showing the world that it does not matter whether you are a man or a woman, it is about the results of your work and you should be incredibly proud of yours.
Today is a day to celebrate, reflect and commit to continuing the march towards progress. I am proud to be on that march with you. There will most certainly be challenges ahead, but if working with Albanian women has taught me anything, it’s that you are ready for it. Thank you.