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International Women’s Day

March 8, 2010 – The White House, Washington, DC


International Women’s Day reminds us of a lesson that we have long since learned, but have not yet sufficiently put into practice. The lesson is grounded in principle, but also in experience.The principal is that the basic rights and dignity of women and girls should be accorded the same respect as that given to men and boys – a principal endorsed over and over again by global conferences and covenants.

Our experience is that when women have the power to make our own choices, we will benefit because the chains of poverty can be broken, families grow stronger, environmental awareness deepens, and socially constructive values are more likely to be handed down to the young. This experience has been validated in the life of communities on every continent, and yet women remain in many parts of the globe an undervalued and underutilized human resource, as the President has just said. This is not to say that women have trouble finding work. Often they do – the vast majority of the work – but don’t own land, aren’t taught to read, can’t obtain credit, and don’t get paid. Women have made great progress in obtaining legal recognition of their rights, but frequently, even when the laws on the books are just, the reality in homes and villages is not.

Appalling abuses are still being committed against women. And these include domestic violence, dowry murders, coerced abortions, honor crimes, and the killing of infants simply because they’re born female.

Some say all this is cultural and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

I say it’s criminal and we each have an obligation to stop it.

I have been in public life for more than three decades and have attended many events related to international women’s rights. And in each, uplifting goals were announced.

But our purpose today and tomorrow and throughout this century is not to articulate more promises but to achieve real breakthroughs by caring about each other, by lifting each other up, and by building an action network that stretches across every boarder of nation, race, background, and creed. To illustrate, I’d like to offer a poem, written by the granddaughter of a community organizer from America’s Midwest. Her name is Marge Piercy and the poem begins with questions:

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you. 

But two people fightingback to back can cut
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund-raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and eachday
you mean one more.

As these words remind us, progress in women’s rights occurs step by step, and each victory becomes a platform upon which the next may be built.

Our shared task is to keep building until we’ve raised enough platforms high enough to transform the very horizons of the earth. And in that quest we invite everyone to help us and caution each that they cannot stop us.


Source: Albright, Madeleine.