‘Keep breaking down barriers we face’: US ambassador’s advice to London schoolgirls

Ambassador Hartley with pupils Charlotte, Nia and Emily after speaking to pupils  (Paul Grover)
Ambassador Hartley with pupils Charlotte, Nia and Emily after speaking to pupils (Paul Grover)

London schoolgirls were urged to use their voices by the US ambassador who told them to “speak up and speak out”.

In a speech to pupils to mark International Women’s Day, Jane Hartley said there were not enough women in leadership positions and called on schoolgirls to “keep speaking up and breaking down barriers”.

Ms Hartley, who became the American representative in the UK last year, is only the second woman to hold the position.

On a visit to Streatham and Clapham High School, she said: “Today is International Women’s Day… we’ve come a long way in my lifetime in terms of how far and wide women can aim their ambition, we still have a long way to go.

“One of my heroes, Madeleine Albright, who was the first woman to serve as Secretary of State, said that ‘once you find your voice, you cannot remain silent’ because you can’t expect people to read your mind. So speak up. Raise your hand. And know that you are deserving of any goal you set your mind to.”

Celebrations and events are being held around the world to mark the day, which aims to acknowledge how far women’s rights have progressed while raising awareness of continued inequality. The Queen Consort Camilla was holding a Women of the World reception at Buckingham Palace.

In the past year, women in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran have been fighting for their rights amid war, violence and policy changes. Speaking to 150 girls aged 14 to 17, Ms Hartley said: “Keep... breaking down barriers so that every year, International Women’s Day is less and less about all the work we still need to do, and more and more about celebrating all the ways that women have moved the world forward.”

Ms Hartley revealed that when she walked into the US Embassy in London on her first day in the job she was shocked to see a wall with the names of all the former ambassadors on it. There was just one other woman’s name and she served 50 years ago.

She said: “I thought to myself, it can’t be another 50 years until the next one….So while I’m very proud to be the second woman to serve as Ambassador to the UK, the truth is there should have been a lot more than that. We need more women in leadership roles.”