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Op-Ed: Celebrating Women and Independence

Samoa celebrates 50 years of independence this year. There is no better time to recognize the need to help women achieve social, psychological, and economic freedom and independence than now.

Many women throughout the world feel trapped by cultural or societal strictures, by lack of access to resources and education, and by emotional and even physical abuse. Whatever our personal views and priorities, one fact is clear — women and men who have the freedom and independence to choose their actions, rather than being forced into roles set by governments or others, find greater satisfaction in life and ultimately achieve more for themselves and their families.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has noted that “What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.” Those words have particular relevance as we celebrate International Women's Day around the world and as we continue to make strides for women's progress.

This International Women’s Day, Secretary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama will host the 6th annual International Women of Courage Awards, honoring 10 remarkable women from around the world. These women have shown exceptional bravery and leadership in advocating for women's rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.

Inspired by that initiative, I am also taking the opportunity to present a Woman of Courage award of my own, to Lina Chang of the Samoa Victims Support Group. 

Since 2005 Lina has worked tirelessly in building SVSG into what it is today — a multinational, multi-platform agent of goodwill to aid and assist victims throughout Samoa and beyond.The countless women, children and even men that Lina’s efforts have touched are a testament to her dedication to alleviating pain and suffering and bringing healing to those in need. Lina has on occasion endured persecution for her work. Nonetheless she has persevered. She is without doubt worthy to be acknowledged as a Woman of Courage.

As we rightfully honor Lina’s and others’ achievements, we must also be reminded that International Women's Day is an opportunity to renew the call for action, investment, and commitment to women's freedom.

We are at a moment of historic opportunity. Secretary Clinton has referred to this era as “the Participation Age”.

This is a time where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of their society. Women are a cornerstone of America’s foreign policy because the simple fact is that no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind.

Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity. Investing in them means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity – indigenous, sustainable prosperity – for everyone the world over. 

As we honor women today, let us renew our resolve to work for the cause of freedom, independence, and full participation for women and for all people. The best way to celebrate independence is to share it. And do as Lina does.