Washington, D.C. – This afternoon, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) will participate in a panel discussion entitled “Overcoming Challenges, Empowering Girls.” The event, which promotes girls’ education and ending child marriage and FGM, is hosted by Girls Not Brides USA and the FGM Network in cooperation with the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Below are Chairman Royce’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):

“I would like to thank my friends at CARE and all the panelists and advocates who are here today to highlight the challenges and opportunities facing women and girls around the globe.

We’ve made progress in recent years. But the fact remains that, in too many corners of the world, women and girls are still denied the opportunity to go to school, to participate in the economy, to be represented in government, or enjoy equal protection under the law.

Women and girls still face significant violence, discrimination, and other very real challenges to their participation in society.

Worldwide, 62 million girls are out of school. In conflict zones, girls are more than twice as likely as boys to be out of school. I’ve been to girls’ schools in Pakistan that were later completely destroyed by the Taliban…that tells you all you need to know about what a powerful counter to extremist ideologies an education represents.

Many girls are pulled out of school for heartbreaking reasons. 64 million girls around the world are forced into marriage before the age of 18 – some are as young as 7 years old – and more than 70% of human trafficking victims are women and girls.

You don’t see the harm of these practices in numbers and statistics. You see it in the eyes of the individual, and in stolen lives.

Human traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to target victims, mostly women and girls, and practices such as FGM, gender-based violence, and bride kidnapping are human rights violations that devastate lives and rob girls of their childhood, health, education, and future.

How can any nation thrive when half of its citizens are denied their most basic human rights? The answer is simple: It can’t.

That is why these practices are not only appalling human rights violations. The oppression of women and girls also undermines the stability and economic growth of entire nations and regions – and this is why my Committee has worked to put women at the center of U.S. efforts to promote political and economic freedom.

The link between a nation’s growth and stability and the status of its women and girls is clear. Investments in women’s and girls’ futures improve child survival rates, educational attainment, and overall economic growth. As a witness at our last hearing said, empowering women and girls is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

When I took over as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I said I wanted the empowerment and inclusion of women and girls to be one of our top priorities.

We’ve held a series of hearings to look at these challenges women and girls face. But I also said, we need to work on reaching a consensus about solutions.

And so, I am proud of the work that the Committee has done to advance and enact policies and legislation that will improve girls’ access to basic legal protections, education, and important resources, such as technology and electricity.

Recently, Rep. Chabot’s Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act passed the House, and Rep. Lowey’s READ Act was signed into law. These bills tackle the specific barriers that women and girls experience getting to and staying in school, like child marriage, human trafficking, and gender-based violence.

But more can be done. Efforts to empower girls – and ensure their safe and healthy transition to adulthood – pays dividends for their families, whole economies and countries. These efforts are essential for any agenda that seeks to end poverty through economic growth, promote peace and democracy, and respect for human rights.

We must continue to ensure that our development specialists have the resources they need. As I have made clear, we need a robust diplomacy budget, which is why I’ve expressed my concern over proposed cuts to foreign assistance. We should not – we cannot – lose sight of the fact that our diplomacy and assistance saves lives and advances U.S. interests.

Thank you for inviting me to join this conversation today. The inclusion – and empowerment – of women and girls must remain a top U.S. foreign policy priority.”