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Vital Voices mourns the loss of  Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State and a trailblazer for women and girls around the world. She was 84 years old. 

Secretary Albright famously declared that advancing and empowering women is not just “the right thing to do, [but] the smart thing to do” – and, perhaps even more famously, that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” With determination and commitment, she uncompromisingly lived out those principles in all her endeavors. Alongside Hillary Clinton, in the wake of the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Albright established the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative to promote the advancement of women as a U.S. foreign policy goal. Out of that successful initiative grew Vital Voices Global Partnership, which in July 2000 opened its doors as a non-profit, non-governmental organization devoted to amplifying the potential and the power of women leaders to change the world. 

“She forever changed the game for women,” says Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, “not only as the first woman to serve our country as Secretary of State, but because she always used her position and her power to advance women and girls – long before it was popular or mainstream.” 

Clinton has said that she and Albright “believed it was critical that women have a role in shaping the futures that they would inhabit. And we believed that if women were brave enough and strong enough to challenge the status quo and participate in politics, civil society, the economy, that we should help them.” 

Albright remained dedicated to promoting women as a way to promote peace and prosperity across the globe. “At the State Department,” Albright explained, “I decided that women’s issues had to be central to American foreign policy, not only because I am a feminist, but also because I believe that societies are better off when women are politically and economically empowered.” 

In reframing women’s issues as a strategic component of foreign policy and international development, Albright changed the way that governments and societies approached women’s economic and political empowerment. 

“She wasn’t afraid to lead differently as a woman,” says Nelson. “Even when she was the only woman leader in a room of other world leaders, she never failed to raise the tough question of why women and girls in their countries were being held back.”

“As a young woman in my twenties, just coming into my career, working in her State Department made me believe anything was possible for women and girls. She showed me that real leadership is not only an opportunity, but a responsibility – to speak for those who have no voice and fight for their rights.

“All of us at Vital Voices will always be grateful for Secretary Albright.” 

The last few weeks of her life were among the most tumultuous of recent decades, with millions of Ukrainian women and girls forcibly displaced from their homes. But Albright had never lost hope in our ability to achieve equal rights for women across the globe. As she put it, “We are thoughtful, we are committed, and have no doubt – we will persist until we prevail.”