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Under Secretary Marisa Lago Remarks - March 8, 2022

Remarks by Under Secretary Marisa Lago to Celebrate International Women’s Day

Dubai, United Arab Emirates
3/8/2022

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Camille, for that kind introduction.

Think of our good fortune in having the Department of Commerce’s first international trade mission since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic be held during Women’s History Month in the U.S. Even better, this particular session falls on International Women’s Day.

I feel as if International Women’s Day has always been a part of my life. That might be because I am a native New Yorker, and the seeds of International Women’s Day were planted over 110 years ago, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. 

But, in fact, the United Nations did not start celebrating International Women’s Day until 1975, when I was already 20 years old. The UN adopted its first theme in 1996: “Celebrating the Past; Planning for the Future”. This theme still feels apt today, given Expo 2020 Dubai’s focus on the future. But I have to admit that I like the UN’s 2022 theme even better, since it is a bit edgier and it is action oriented: “Break the Bias”. Yes, bias is still out here, and we have got to fight it, even breaking some eggs along the way.

Enough history. Today, looking out over this sea of women’s faces makes me smile—and gives me confidence for the future.

As Under Secretary for International Trade, I am committed to making equity a focal point of my tenure and incorporating meetings and events like this one into my domestic and international travel schedule.  

Anyone who has followed the Biden-Harris Administration knows that equity is a leading priority. It is also a key priority for US Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo—a priority that I wholeheartedly share—and something that I have incorporated into my work life since I was a young lawyer, looking to enhance the role of women in the legal profession.

There are so many different and worthwhile facets to pursuing equity. But, given the fact that “international trade” is in my job title, I am especially focused on: (1) highlighting the vital role of women in the economy and (2) expanding opportunities available to women.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that Trade Winds coincides with the first summit of our Women Empowered Leave Legacies Through Trade & Investment Initiative, or WELLTI, the Department of Commerce’s signature initiative to empower women entrepreneurs through trade across the Middle East and Africa. 

The global economy cannot fully recover from the impacts of COVID-19 unless economic opportunity is fully shared. This is especially true for women, who continue to bear the economic burden of the pandemic so heavily.

Women are vital to building stronger, more dynamic, and more resilient economies. Beyond being half of the potential workforce, we bring skills, knowledge, initiative and perspective that advance entrepreneurship, innovation and growth. 

Economies cannot grow to their potential without including women; and women cannot advance to their full potential or participate fully in society without inclusion and equitable economic opportunity. All over the world women are denied the legal rights, tools, resources and opportunities that allow them to strive for more prosperous and secure lives for themselves, for their families, for their communities. 

Women’s economic empowerment has made significant strides during my career, but immense challenges remain.

Understandably, at Trade Winds and at WELLTI, our brand new program focused on empowering women entrepreneurs, we are focused on the challenges facing women in business. And that is why I am so pleased that this year’s Trade Winds delegation includes 23 women-owned companies. (I want to see an even higher percentage next year!) And it is why I am so pleased that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo took time out of her whirlwind visit to Dubai to address and meet the WELLTI/Trade Winds participants. It is also why I am so pleased to have been able to have spent two days with you, as the first-ever U.S. Senate confirmed woman to serve as Under Secretary for International Trade.

But, let us not lose sight of the fact that women in under-represented and historically marginalized communities—in the United States and around the world—face additional challenges. So I am especially interested in hearing from our next two speakers, who bring interesting perspectives.

Gender equity is also a key pillar of Build Back Better World, the Biden-Harris Administration’s global initiative to meet infrastructure needs of the developing world and create environments where the private sector wants to invest.

Women are essential to the global economic future, and the key to building a better future for women lies in economic opportunity. To all the women executives, entrepreneurs and others here today, know that expanding this opportunity will remain foundational to the Biden-Harris Administration’s economic agenda, as well as our mission at ITA. 

Now please join me in welcoming two inspiring women, Frida Owingo and Patricia Langan.

Thank you. Shukran.