It is a great honour for me to have a chance to speak to the democratic progress that Mongolia has made and the example that has been set. I believe as strongly as I ever have that Mongolia is an inspiration and a model, and I am grateful for our two nations’ partnership as we have worked together – not only just between the US and Mongolia, but also as Mongolia has chaired the Community of Democracies.
If there is one characteristic that every strong democracy in the world shares, it is that they are fully open to all of their citizens – men and women. A democracy without the participation of women is a contradiction in terms. So when we talk about how to support democracy, we must be sure that women are not just a part of the discussion, but at the table to help lead that discussion, and to remain committed to helping more women worldwide gain roles in their governments, their economies and their civil societies.
I am delighted that in Mongolia supporting the rise of women leaders is a national priority. The number of women in parliament tripled after the recent elections, and these women are blazing a path for all Mongolians who have the drive and desire to serve, to follow. I share the Mongolian president’s hopes that someday there will be a woman president of Mongolia. I think the US and Mongolia should race to see who gets there first.
When I was the first lady of my nation, 17 years ago, I made an unforgettable trip to Ulaanbaatar. Like many who came here, I was enchanted certainly by the nation’s beauty, but by also by its hospitality and particularly the energy and determination of its people. I was especially inspired by the Mongolian people’s commitment to democracy. Against long odds, surrounded by powerful neighbours who had their own ideas about Mongolia’s future, the people came together with courage to transform a one-party Communist dictatorship into a pluralistic, democratic political system.
During my trip then, I was delighted to give a speech at the Mongolian National University. There I offered a challenge to anyone who would suggest that freedom and democracy are exclusively Western concepts. The answer was simple, I said: Let them come to Mongolia.
Let them see people willing to hold demonstrations in subzero temperatures and travel long distances to cast their ballots in elections. So great is their commitment to making Mongolia’s democracy strong that the Mongolian people have done just that.
Since that time, Mongolia has held six successful rounds of parliamentary elections. It recently passed a long-awaited freedom of information law giving its citizens a clearer view into the workings of their government. On Mongolian television, people from across the political spectrum openly and vigorously debate ideas.
Mongolians deserve support today as they work to improve freedom of the press, hold the symbol of fair elections to an even higher standard and root out corruption of all kinds wherever it may be found in order to build a durable democracy.
Now here we are. All of us who have come to Mongolia must reaffirm our support for democracy in the region and the world. We must also work to highlight the role and opportunities for women in democracies.
As members of this vibrant Community of Democracies, we must rededicate ourselves to the shared mission of protecting the rights of people everywhere. In Asia, let us rededicate ourselves to building a freer region. As we do that, I can say with the same level of certainty that I felt at 17 years ago, if you want to see democracy in action, if you want to see progress being shaped by leaders who are more concerned about lifting up their people than fattening their bank accounts, come to Mongolia. If you want to see women assuming more positions of responsibility rather than being marginalised and left behind, come to Mongolia.
We must all work together to ensure more nations in Asia look like Mongolia – that they provide opportunities to their people as the Mongolian people are working to do and that they hold up women and their rights and opportunities as part of the national treasure of their country. Let them all come to Mongolia.
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