President Bush has made the advancement
of women's human rights a “global policy priority”
and the United States stands with those seeking equality,
says first lady Laura Bush.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
and first lady Laura Bush, during
She spoke at a March 8 International Women’s
Day conference on women's rights also attended by Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice, who said the assembled delegates
were sending a clear message to women around the world that
“[a]s you stand for your rights and for your liberty,
America stands with you.”
Addressing the delegates from 15 Muslim
countries attending the meeting, Rice said, “I hope
that today's conference will generate new ideas and new
momentum to help us reach our common goal.”
Both Rice and the first lady noted that
the founders of the United States did not create a perfect
union, but that the principles of equality and freedom upon
which the union was founded allowed women to demand true
adherence to those ideals.
Rice cited the first lady’s contributions
to women’s rights as the U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) for it’s decade of literacy program, and
as a leader of efforts to assist women in Afghanistan and
to build a children’s hospital and national medical
training center in Basra, Iraq.
The first lady said that democracies are
built upon the free exchange of ideas, vigorous debate,
education, exploration and opportunity and that the administration’s
support of democracy was part of a greater effort to support
women around the world.
“American women stand in solidarity
with women around the world,” she said.
“We all have an obligation to speak
for women who are denied their rights to learn, to vote
or to live in freedom,” she said. “We may come
from different backgrounds, but advancing human rights is
the responsibility of all humanity, a commitment shared
by people of goodwill on every continent.”
The first lady said that repressive societies
limit their own potential to improve the lives of their
own people by limiting the rights of women, and she said
the Bush administration stands with the world in protesting
the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. She added
that women in China and Cuba still cannot freely express
their political or religious beliefs, and that the degrading
practice of human trafficking continues to enslave women
throughout the world. She noted that the United States is
advancing a resolution opposing human trafficking at the
U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, currently meeting
in New York.
“America supports societies around
the world that are moving toward democracy and greater political
participation for women,” she said.
The first lady cited advances in women’s
rights in Afghanistan, calling Afghanistan’s new constitution
“one of the most progressive documents on women’s
rights in the Muslim world.” She also noted that Afghanistan
has three female government ministers and a female governor.
Regarding the status of women in Iraq, she
said women are expected to play an important role in drafting
Iraq’s constitution and expressed hope that the constitution
would “firmly establish the principles of representative
and transparent government, democracy and universal human
rights for all future generations of Iraqis.”
Following is the transcript of the remarks
of the first lady and the secretary of state:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
March 8, 2005
Mrs. Laura Bush
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
And Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky
At the Conference of Women Leaders
On the Occasion of International Women's Day
March 8, 2005
Benjamin Franklin Room
(9:20 a.m. EST)
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Mrs. Bush, Secretary
Rice, the ambassadorial corps, distinguished guests, good
morning. I'm Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State
for Global Affairs. I'd like to welcome you to the State
Department and also a very special welcome to the representatives
from 15 Muslim nations who have come from afar to be here
You represent your countries' best and brightest
and we are honored by your presence. Not only do we look
forward to hearing from you and building lasting partnerships,
but we will learn a great deal from your participation in
Speaking at an Iftaar dinner in December
of 2002, Secretary Rice remarked, "Let us work for
a world where all women and all girls, from Kansas to Kandahar,
can pursue their dreams and live up to their potential.
Let us work for a world where all people can choose for
themselves the rewards and challenges of liberty."
Throughout her own career, Secretary Rice
achieved several firsts for women. She was the first woman
provost of Stanford University, the first woman National
Security Advisor, and now the first African American woman
in U.S. history to be Secretary of State. (Applause.)
She understands fully the challenges women
face and appreciates the critical imperative of our time
to expand democracy. And for democracy to take root, for
freedom to truly prevail, women must have full and equal
status. There should be no doubt to women and those who
struggle for freedom everywhere that they have a very strong
and unwavering ally in Secretary Rice.
With that, I give you the Secretary of State,
Dr. Condoleezza Rice. (Applause.)
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very
much. Thank you, Paula, for that kind introduction. I also
want to thank Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Liz Cheney.
I'd like to thank Special Assistant to the President Shirin
Tahir-Kheli, for helping today's event to come about. Without
the courage and the strength and the daily attention that
these folks give to this, we would not be able to put these
programs together. I also would like to thank Andrew Natsios,
the USAID Administrator and our own Assistant Secretary
for Education and Cultural Affairs Pat Harrison, who is
here. You should know that you've got good, strong friends
in this administration, working for a day when all the world
can be one in which women take their rightful place.
It is really a true honor to share this
stage with the First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Laura
Bush. (Applause.) I can think personally of no better way
to mark International Women's Day than with this conference
of women leaders from the broader Middle East and North
Africa. Throughout this region, a growing chorus of voices
is demanding freedom and democracy. Many of these voices
belong to women and we meet here today to send a clear message
to the women of the world who are not yet free: As you stand
for your rights and for your liberty, America stands with
The United States believes that no country
can succeed without the contribution of its entire population.
In recent months, we supported the women of Afghanistan,
Iraq and of the future Palestine as they heroically went
to the polls. We're hoping to create opportunities for all
Muslim women to participate fully in the lives of their
nations. And I hope that today's conference will generate
new ideas and new momentum to help us reach our common goal.
We are gathered here this morning in this
historic Benjamin Franklin Room. Now, like his fellow founding
fathers, Benjamin Franklin helped to secure the independence
of the young nation, the United States of America. But the
revolution he helped to lead was, of course, incomplete.
In 1789, American women were not yet recognized as full
citizens. In fact, it would take a full 130 years before
the phrase, "All men are created equal" was interpreted
flexibly enough for women to vote.
America's founders did not create a perfect
union, but the legacy that they left behind was a system
of government that had within it the means to correct its
own imperfections. Our democratic system was founded on
the principle that all human beings are free by nature and
equal in dignity. It was this universal principle that inspired
impatient women, patriots, to demand that America be true
to itself, correct its past injustices and honor the basic
rights of women.
Few Americans are as devoted to advancing
women's rights as our First Lady. While at the White House,
I was happy to witness firsthand the many efforts that she
made on behalf of women. After the United States led the
campaign to liberate the people of Afghanistan, it was the
First Lady who made history by using the first-ever Presidential
Radio Address by a First Lady to highlight the Taliban regime's
cruelty toward its women citizens.
Her message was strong and her message was
clear. Fighting brutality against women and children, she
said, is not the expression of a specific culture. It is
the acceptance of our common humanity. The First Lady then
helped to lead a worldwide effort to highlight the Taliban
regime's horrific record in the oppression of women.
Under the Taliban, women could not leave
their homes to work or to get an education. Under the Taliban,
women could not visit a doctor without a man present. And
under the Taliban, women's fingernails were sometimes pulled
out for the crime of wearing nail polish. First Lady Bush
was at the forefront of America's effort to liberate the
women of Afghanistan. And today, the entire world celebrates
as those brave Afghan women are charting a new future for
themselves and for their nation. And some of them are here
with us today.
First Lady Laura Bush is also working with
the Iraqi Government and private partners to help the women
and children of Iraq. She's working to open a Basra children's
hospital next year. This hospital will provide critical
care to Iraqi children and serve as a national training
center for Iraq's doctors and nurses. With healthier children
and stronger families, the women of Iraq will play an even
greater role in their nation's young democracy.
And the First Lady's global campaign for
literacy is also enabling women to realize their full potential
as citizens. As UNESCO's Ambassador for the Decade of Literacy,
the First Lady is helping people all across the world to
share in the power of the written word.
Over the past four years, I have had the
pleasure of working closely with my good friend, the First
Lady of the United States. Along with many others, I have
shared with her as people have taken on the blessings of
decency. These are elements of her own character: decency
and generosity and a commitment to human dignity.
First Lady, you are an inspiration to all
of us. I look forward to continuing to work with you for
progress for women and for progress for all humankind.
The First Lady of the United States.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Thank you all, thanks so much. Thank you very much. Thank
Thank you, Madame Secretary. America's new
Secretary of State is an inspiration to women in America
and to women around the world. (Applause.)
No doubt many young girls are dreaming of
becoming Secretary of State because of the example they
see in Dr. Rice. Thanks also to Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky
for your leadership on international women's issues at the
State Department. And thank you Barbara Barrett, Chair of
the Public Diplomacy Commission, for your work on behalf
of women around the world. (Applause.)
I am proud that President Bush surrounds
himself with smart, strong women. (Laughter and applause.)
We are celebrating International Women's
Day with women and men from diverse backgrounds who will
discuss the challenges democracy faces in the world and
the best way to advance the cause of freedom and build tolerant
societies. Elections are a defining characteristic of democracy,
but democracies include other characteristics as well.
Democratic societies welcome the free exchange
of ideas and information. They encourage vigorous debate.
They foster education and exploration and they allow people
to grow intellectually and professionally without limits.
American women stand in solidarity with women around the
We were horrified by the cruel and inhumane
treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban regime. Keeping
girls out of school and out of work was meant to relegate
women to a state of perpetual inferiority. That's unacceptable
in any society and it's just not very smart to keep one
half of society locked up, forbidden to expand their minds
or contribute to the life of their nation. By telling people
their ideas and their labor have no value, repressive societies
limit their ability to create great thinkers, scientists,
educators and leaders who can improve the lives of all people.
America has become a world leader because
of our commitment to freedom, but our own history isn't
perfect. For decades, women fought for the right to vote
and to hold office. Yet even while they were denied access
to the ballot box, women made their voices heard on issues
like slavery, workers' rights, the protection of children,
the intellectual life of their country, and good government.
The perseverance of early women leaders was realized when
American women gained the right to vote early in the last
Today, we recognize the familiar appeal
of freedom, equality and tolerance around the world. President
Bush has made the advance of women's human rights a global
policy priority. We join people around the world in protesting
the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a leader in
the struggle for freedom in Burma. In China and Cuba, women
still can not freely express their political or religious
beliefs. The degrading practice of human trafficking continues
to enslave women around the world. At the UN Commission
on the Status of Women, which is meeting now in New York,
the United States is advancing a resolution to bring much-needed
attention to the issue of human trafficking.
America supports societies around the world
that are moving toward democracy and greater political participation
for women. The people of Afghanistan have elected their
leader and no longer live under the tyranny of the Taliban.
Iraqis recently participated in historic free elections.
Elections in the Palestinian territories give hope to the
possibility that votes will replace terror as the way to
seek political power in that region.
In Afghanistan, 8 million people voted;
40 percent of that number were women. Religious and ethnic
differences were obscured as voters made their choices across
cultural boundaries. People endured hardship and hazard
to cast their votes. Men and women trekked miles through
the countryside to find polling stations, still bearing
the scars of war. Forces opposed to the elections issued
threats to try to keep people from the polls, but their
threats were ignored by women and men who decided that living
in freedom was worth the risk.
The vote in Afghanistan was especially sweet
for women who had had the chance to finally banish their
Taliban oppressors to the recesses of memory. The new Afghan
constitution is one of the most progressive documents on
women's rights in the Muslim world. Three women now serve
as government ministers in Afghanistan and other women represented
their fellow citizens in the Loya Jirga. Also, for the first
time ever, a woman was appointed a provincial governor.
A vibrant ministry of women's affairs is concentrating on
issues for women, including vocational training, health
care and civic education.
Women are active in the institutions of
civil society and at provincial women's centers across Afghanistan,
women are learning about their rights and their new opportunities.
I'm especially encouraged by the fact that women are heading
back to the classrooms as teachers. They are now responsible
for educating their students, including more than 2 million
girls, about the rights and the responsibilities of citizenship
and democratic government. The United States is lending
support to new teachers through the Women's Teachers Training
Institute, established in Kabul. The institute trains women
using a master teacher model so that women who attend the
institute can return home and pass on the skills they've
gained. The educational benefits will help women make up
for years spent out of the classroom.
In January, Iraqi citizens, like those in
Afghanistan, overcame intimidation and hardship to cast
their votes. An American television network broadcast footage
of a 94-year-old woman being carried to the polls by her
son. A recent college graduate from Baghdad spoke of the
debates about voting in her household. The young woman has
four sisters and their father wanted them to stay home because
it was too dangerous, but all four sisters insisted on going
to the polls and they took their father with them. (Laughter.)
A coalition of women's activists supported
by the International Republican Institute, which is a nonpartisan
organization dedicated to supporting freedom and good government
around the world, suffered a terrible loss in the days before
the Iraqi election. One of their leaders was murdered by
terrorists because she had been too outspoken about the
importance of the elections. Instead of giving in, her fellow
activists held a press conference, appearing openly before
the media to launch a public awareness campaign promoting
women's participation in the election.
Acts of courage like these give the world
great confidence that the women of Iraq accept the challenges
of building a free, just and tolerant society that respects
the rights of all people. Iraqi men and women are scheduled
to vote twice more this year. In October, they're expected
to vote in a referendum on a new constitution and in December
they'll elect the first government under the constitution
which will be drafted by Iraq's recently elected assembly.
Women will influence the drafting because they hold nearly
one third of the seats in the assembly. We're hopeful that
the document they design will firmly establish the principles
of representative and transparent government, democracy
and universal human rights for all future generations of
Women and men in the Palestinian territories
yearn for a life of peace and have started their own democratic
journey; 66 percent of registered voters, nearly half of
whom were women, cast a vote for president in Gaza and the
West Bank. Mai Shaheen is a 25-year-old woman who manages
a U.S. Government grant for a Palestinian NGO. She saw the
election as a golden opportunity for women to participate
in political life. Mai attended a two-day training program
funded by the USAID, then used what she learned to compile
a training manual for Palestinian election workers. She
recruited 25 volunteers, including 21 women, who went to
polling stations in Gaza to observe and report on the voting
process. Some of the women stayed late into the night to
finish ballot-counting. Mai said, "We stayed through
the whole process to prove to men that we are equal partners
Mai is hopeful that elections will make
her region more stable. History shows us that democratic
nations are more likely to live in peace and the new leadership
of President Abbas has offered encouraging signs that a
democratically elected leadership in the Palestinian territories
will take a significant step toward peace.
President Bush and Secretary Rice will continue
to work with Palestinian and Israeli leaders to make a lasting
peace possible. (Applause.)
The elections in Afghanistan and Iraq and
the Palestinian territories will have far-reaching consequences.
To date, ink-stained fingers raised in triumph are a clear
symbol of freedom. Suddenly, women and men in other parts
of the Middle East are asking questions they once wouldn't
have dared to ask. When can we choose our leaders? When
can we be free? In the last few weeks, people on the streets
of Beirut have raised their voices, asking for democracy
and an end to occupation. People in the Middle East and
commentators around the world are beginning to wonder whether
recent elections may mark a turning point as significant
as the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Our work to encourage democracy is part
of a larger effort to support women across the broader Middle
East and North Africa, from girls' literacy programs in
Yemen to micro-credit initiatives for women entrepreneurs
in Jordan to legal workshops in Bahrain. The State Department
organized the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative to help
create a women's network in the region so that women can
share and learn from each other, as much as you're doing
today. Many of you are actively involved in these programs
in your region and I'm proud of your leadership. All people
who love freedom hope that we are witnessing the start of
a new era of expanding liberty and growing opportunity for
On behalf of all Americans, I want to thank
the women and the men who took courageous actions in speaking
their minds and casting their votes. Your efforts are testament
to the enduring appeal of democracy. And many of our other
guests, from Asia, the broader Middle East and North Africa,
have their own stories of democracy and freedom to tell.
The women and men of the United States military and our
coalition partners, as well as Iraqi and Afghan security
forces, also deserve our appreciation for risking their
lives to make elections possible.
We all have an obligation to speak for women
who are denied their rights to learn, to vote or to live
in freedom. We may come from different backgrounds, but
advancing human rights is the responsibility of all humanity,
a commitment shared by people of goodwill on every continent.
Thank you for embracing freedom and advancing the rights
of women worldwide. I look forward to hearing your experiences
and to learning how we can support other men and women who
want to follow your example.
Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Thank you, Mrs.
Bush, for your very inspiring words and for joining us today.
Your tireless efforts to promote democracy and women's issues
are not only most appreciated by everyone assembled here,
but by men and women across the globe. Thank you. (Applause.)
And thank you, Secretary Rice, for hosting
this most important event. I'm sure that the outcome of
today's proceedings will have an impact on the reform that
is already underway in the Middle East and throughout the
world, and thank you. (Applause.)
That concludes our program. I ask that everyone
remains seated for just a moment to permit our delegations
of women leaders to be able to depart for the conference.
And if you are joining us for the roundtable session, I
ask those women leaders to please make your way there now.
All others, thank you for coming, and, please, if you will
just remain seated for the moment. Thank you. (Applause.)