Queen Rania's Acceptance Speech for the Marisa Bellisario Award 2009 - Rome, Italy

October 22, 2009
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President Fini, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, grazie mille.

More than a century ago a travel writer lamented, “There is no looking at a building after seeing Italy!” Joining you here in this beautiful palace, I have to agree.

But it’s not just Italy’s architecture I love. This is a country where history lives and breathes, alongside cutting-edge innovation… and the only match for the landscape’s beauty is the warmth of Italians themselves.

And I’m especially honored to receive the Marisa Bellisario Award… an award that symbolizes not just the achievements of some women but the aspirations of millions.

One of these women is Lella Golfo, who set up the Fondazione Marisa Bellisario twenty years ago. Thank you, Lella, for keeping Marisa’s legacy alive.

La Signora Bellisario was known as a business leader, but loved as a social pioneer. What made Marisa such an icon was her reputation for not only turning around a failing company, but turning a profit in the process. She brought a national corporation back from the brink and made it thrive.

These qualities are needed today, more than ever, because our world is on the edge, too. The triple blow of food, fuel, and financial crises have left a shadow hanging over us.

Thousands of jobs lost. Millions fallen into poverty. Trillions spent to save the global economy.

So what can help reverse the slide… dispel the specter of financial turmoil from our lives, and return the world to sustainable recovery?

One word: women.

For years in the citadel of economic theory, women have been second class citizens. People simply accepted that men controlled money, from household funds to national finances.

But times are changing. Women are predicted to provide the biggest boost to the global economy in the history of humankind – an expansion more powerful than the combined growth of China and India. In fact, nearly three and a half trillion Euros in new income will be injected by women into economies around the world over the next five years.

When women invest their money, they do it with an eye to the future: immunizing their children, sending them to school. They tend to save more of their salary for the unforeseen.

In other words, they plough their earnings back into the family… into the human capital that will drive tomorrow’s growth.

And when women run for office – whether it’s the local council or for a seat in parliament – this fiscal wisdom follows them, this focus on health and education is scaled up for the community at large.

So, the more women have the power of the purse, the more the building blocks of society are strengthened from the top down and the bottom up.

The great educator Maria Montessori once said, “Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”

Well, I say: “Free a girl’s potential, and you will transform the world itself.”

Yes, women are on the ascendancy.

But there’s another side to this story. As more women earn higher salaries and reach higher positions, millions more remain trapped in subsistence labor… or cut off from work altogether… denied the chance to reach their potential… condemned to live half-lives.

In the Arab world, our women are all too familiar with this. Their stake in the workforce is one of the lowest in the world. Their potential is squandered. Their talents gone to waste.

But this injustice is global. Too many women are caught in a web of informal jobs, with no social protection and no prospects.

They can’t discover what they’re capable of, because they’re held back at home, primed for household chores and early marriage.

They can’t work themselves out of the slums or provide a better life for their children. Their poverty is permanent.

In other words, like the Roman god Janus, women today represent two sides of the world: they are the face of global recovery and the face of global poverty.

At one end of the scale, women are poised to reap the whirlwind of the financial storm. At the other end, they are being battered and beaten by the crisis, while still chained down by history.

What sets these women apart?

The problem is complex. But the solution is simpler than you might think. A large part of the answer is education.

When you educate a girl she becomes a woman who lifts herself and her family out of poverty….she is more likely to survive childbirth and avoid fatal diseases, like HIV.

As girls and women are educated, and economies stimulated, gender equality surges. In short, education can be the difference between recovery and poverty, life and death.

We know this well. In 2000, under the Millennium Development Goals, world leaders pledged to put all children into school within 15 years. This agreement built on the Education for All goals set in 1990. And that was on top of targets set in the 1960s.

We’ve been working on this for half a century, yet 75 million children are still out of primary school, the majority girls. 776 million adults have already grown up illiterate, a staggering two-thirds women.

We cannot afford to keep throwing away so much human potential. If we want to unleash more prosperity, we must unlock the power of girls.

That’s why I joined UNICEF as their Eminent Advocate for Children. It’s why I was proud to become the Honorary Chairperson for the UN Girls’ Education Initiative… and why I hope the people of Italy will join the 1GOAL campaign to get every child into school by 2015.

But we need the passion and commitment of people like you, who’ve experienced the benefits of education … who understand the collective cost of leaving half of humanity behind.

We can and must save these children – especially girls. Because if we want more strong women, like Marisa, we need to give every… single… one of them an education.

Because, like Janus, we can either look back, at a past dominated by poverty, or we can look forward, to a new era, defined by peace, progress, and prosperity.

I choose the latter. I choose to look to the future. I hope you do, too.

Thank you.