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Condi Rice Receiving Woman of Valor Award

Remarks at the Independent Women's Forum Upon Receiving Woman of Valor Award

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
The Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium
Washington, DC
May 10, 2006

(7:00 p.m. EDT)


SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you very much. I cannot thank you enough for this tremendous honor. I want to thank all involved with it and all of you for coming. That was quite an extraordinary little film. I have to get that and show it to my family. They'll like it. (Laughter.)

I want to thank Ted Olson for that kind introduction as well as Jean Johnson Phillips, my good friend who was so involved in putting this together. I know what a force Jean is and I can see that Jean did a terrific job. Thank you for that.

The International[1] Women's Forum is stronger than ever today and much of its success is due to the inspired leadership of my dinner partners, Heather Higgins and Michele Bernard. I can't believe that Michele just had kids. Thanks so much for coming and thanks so much for your leadership of this great organization.

This is an organization that is promoting individual responsibility and economic liberty and democracy and it's making a true difference in the lives of women around the world, especially the women in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And I want to acknowledge the work that this organization has done on Iraq, where the Iraqi Women's Educational Institute, founded just two years ago, has grown into a hopeful force for women's inclusion in the new Iraq. I thank you all for this important work in these exciting times.

There are members of Congress here and distinguished guests and good friends, many familiar faces, thank you for joining us tonight. I'm deeply honored to receive this year's Woman of Valor Award and this honor is all the more meaningful to me personally because it carries with it the name and the memory of Barbara Olson, who was a beloved friend to so many of us: Barbara's loss was not only felt personally by Ted, though of course it was felt most expressly by Ted, but widely by those who knew her charm and her intelligence and her grace.

The attacks of September 11th robbed us of much more than just our sense of security, they robbed us of many of our fellow citizens, people who were contributing to this country, people who were the very definition of patriot, people like Barbara who were making a valuable contribution to our society.

America has honored those who were lost by moving forward with purpose and with valor. From a day of terror, I think that this country has indeed summoned a vision of hope and President Bush has forged a foreign policy that rejects the false dichotomy of ideals and interests and recognizes that security is only achieved when people, especially those on the margins of society, gain freedom and justice and opportunity within their countries and when democracy is on the march.

We understand, of course, that different peoples will build democracies that reflect their own cultures, of course they will. They'll build democracies that reflect their own traditions and their own experiences, just as we in America did. America is not trying to impose democracy. Indeed, you don't have to impose democracy; you have to impose tyranny. Democracy lives and breathes, liberty lives and breathes, in the heart of every human being. (Applause.)

President Bush has called these aspirations the non-negotiable demands of human dignity and he has defined them as the rule of law and limits on state power, free speech and tolerance of difference, freedom of worship, equal justice and property rights and finally, but not last, respect for women. It is that last point that I'd like to speak to tonight here in the presence of this great organization that is doing so much to promote the rights of women.

When we talk about respect for women, we are referring to a moral truth. Women are free by nature, equal in dignity and entitled the same rights, the same protections and the same opportunities as men. This is a standard that, quite frankly, we in the United States have fallen short of in our history. It took our country 130 years before we interpreted the phrase "All men are created equal," flexibly enough to let ladies vote.

We Americans are, to be sure, an imperfect people, but we are fortunate to be guided by ideals that summon us to become even nobler and indeed to pursue our perfect union. Those same ideals lead America into the world to combat the dehumanization of women in all its forums, especially the international evil of human trafficking, a modern form of slavery for millions of women.

I know it sounds impossible, slavery in the 21st century, but it's very real. And the stories of young girls preyed upon and smuggled as freight, beaten and bought and sold for sex are stories that are tragic enough to break even the hardest of hearts. And under President Bush's leadership, the United States is leading a new abolitionist movement to eradicate human trafficking worldwide. (Applause.)

In a few weeks, I'm going to release our annual Department of State Report on Human Trafficking and that report probes even the darkest places, calling to account any country, friend or foe, that is not doing enough to combat human trafficking. Though many complain, the power of shame has stirred many to action and sparked unprecedented reforms. Defeating human trafficking is a great moral calling and we will never subjugate it to the narrow demands of the day.

This call of conscience also leads us to help the survivors of the genocide in Darfur, many of whom are women. I have visited Darfur. I have spoken with the women in the Abu Shouk refugee camp. They've told me their personal stories of rape, of beatings and of other unspeakable horrors that no human being should have to endure. Many of these women are widows charged with raising their children by themselves, and it is the fate of Darfur's children that moves us most because no boy or girl should live a life in a refugee camp.

The United States is doing more than any nation to help the mothers of Darfur build lives of hope for their children. We provide nearly all the food that now sustains the people of Darfur and we are offering care and counseling to many women who have survived violence and rape. The signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement last week now offers a hope for peace.

Yesterday in New York -- I think it was yesterday -- (laughter) -- I addressed the Security Council and urged them to get UN peacekeepers into Darfur to help implement this agreement. We have a momentous opportunity to bring real peace to the men and women of Darfur and we will not let this pass.

Whether it is assistance to women in Darfur or the fight against human trafficking, the United States champions respect for women because it is morally right. But we also recognize that respect for women is a prerequisite for success of countries in the modern world. In the dynamic 21st century no society can expect to flourish with half its people sitting on the sidelines, with no opportunity to develop their talents, to contribute to their economy or to play an equal part in the lives of their nations.

Last year a group of Kuwaiti suffragettes sent me a T-shirt and it makes that point very well. It says, "Half a democracy is not a democracy." That was the slogan that the women of Kuwait used to demand and to win their right to vote. (Applause.)

In all my travels as Secretary, I've had the opportunity to meet women around the world who are leading in fields of human endeavor. Two that I've met recently are literally leading their nations, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the new President of Liberia, the first woman head of state in African history. I was honored to attend both of their inaugurations this year. They are empowering their countries, not just the women of their countries.

And tonight, I would like to talk about some names that perhaps you do not know as well, who are also empowering their countries. In Mexico, I met with women entrepreneurs who are transforming their businesses with U.S.-backed loans. One of these women is a seamstress, named Maria Theresa Rojas.

In years, Maria Theresa could not find a bank to loan her money. She wanted to do more than stitch school uniforms. All that recently changed. As a part of a U.S.-led effort to triple the amount of credit available to small and medium-size businesses, Maria Theresa finally got the loan she needed. And she's investing in new technology and expanding her business and making nicer clothing for profit. This will create jobs in the Mexican economy and make life better for Maria and her family and her village.

In Afghanistan, I met the young players of a girls' soccer team. It was quite a striking contrast from the Afghanistan that just four years ago -- in which four years ago the Taliban turned soccer stadiums given to them by the international community into killing fields and condemned women to death for learning to read.

You know, when they want to suppress people, they always go after the right to read. Slaves were not allowed to read, because if you can read, you know what your horizons are. And so that women in Afghanistan are now being taught to read openly and supported by their government is an amazing fact and shows that Afghanistan is progressing. (Applause.)

Finally, in Iraq, I had the opportunity at the end of last year to meet women political leaders who are active in a group called Ahd al-Iraq, or fittingly, Iraq's future. These women have seized freedom's opportunities and created the first issue-based organization in Iraqi history. They are working to ensure equal rights and equal opportunity for all Iraqis, men and women. The Iraqi people understand the role that women can and must play in their country's future. Iraq's democratic constitution which Iraqis freely wrote and ratified last year, accords women respect and equal rights. The challenge now for the Iraqi people is to build institutions that can protect those rights and make their new democracy effective. At this crucial time in Iraq's history, it is important that there are also courageous Iraqi women who raise their voices for tolerance and for moderation. And I want to thank the International[2] Women's Forum for helping them do that. (Applause.)

When I meet women like Maria Theresa or Afghan soccer girls or the women of Ahd al-Iraq, or for that matter when I see Kuwaiti women gain the right to vote or when a country like Morocco sets an example for its entire region by passing landmark reforms of family law, as it did recently, granting women basic legal rights like the ability to divorce and inherit property.

When I see these kinds of events and meet these kinds of women, I believe we are witnessing something very extraordinary indeed: the unfolding of moral progress. We must not be reluctant to speak of moral progress. I would do so in this way. Progress is humankind's ability to view more and more of our differences, whether of race or religion or ethnicity or agenda, not as a license to kill or as a cause for repression, but as a source of strength. Progress never unfolds in a determined way or on its own accord. It requires human agency, always and everywhere dedicated individuals who are committed to helping others, men and women alike, to secure the basic human rights that define our common human nature.

And it requires something else. It requires optimism and it requires a sense of historical perspective. I know that there are times when we view on our television screens the violence in Iraq or in Afghanistan, or when we read the reports of the trafficking in women or of the camps in Darfur, that it must seem that this world is making no progress at all. But when I have those moments, I think back on other historical times when it must have seemed quite impossible to imagine human progress.

I spent my summer reading the biographies of America's Founding Fathers. They, of course, were quite fortunate, most of them, to have founding mothers alongside them, but of course the biographies have been written mostly of Jefferson and Adams and Hamilton and Washington. And when you read those biographies, you think that there was no earthly reason that the United States of America should ever have come into being. From Washington's failure after failure after failure as a military commander; to the tremendous rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton that led Jefferson, thinking Washington too influenced by Hamilton, to spread rumors that Washington was indeed senile -- (laughter); to the fact that our Founding Fathers, trying to create a perfect union for We the People, couldn't quite find a way to deal with slavery. And so instead, they left my ancestors to be three-fifths of a man.

But some hundred plus years later, I stand before you as a descendent of those people who were three-fifths of a man and I ask, "Would anybody have thought it possible?" (Applause.) Now, perhaps in some number of years, we will think it just inevitable. Time and time again, historical events -- our own Civil War, World War II, the end of Communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the freedom of Eastern Europe -- seemed like impossible dreams. A day when France and Germany would never fight again seemed like an impossible dream. A democratic Japan, a democratic Korea, seemed like impossible dreams. And now, we take them for granted; we think of them as inevitable.

I do believe that with enough moral courage, with enough optimism and with enough human agency by people like those who make up the International[3] Women's Forum that there will come a day when we will look back on Iraq and Afghanistan and Sudan and troubled spots of the world, and we will ask, "Who could have ever doubted that liberal democracy would take hold there?" Indeed, what sometimes today might seem impossible will seem quite inevitable. Thank you very much. (Applause.) 2006/483

# # #

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[1] Independent

[2] Independent

[3] Independent

Released on May 11, 2006

ENDS


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