On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2009, I am proud to honor women around the world who are blazing trails and surmounting obstacles in pursuit of equality and opportunity. Although you may not know their names or recognize their faces, these women advocates are hard at work in every country and on every continent, seeking to fulfill their right to participate fully in the political, economic and cultural lives of their societies. Often working against great odds and at great personal sacrifice, they are a key to global progress in this new century and deserve our admiration and support.
Put simply, we have much less hope of addressing the complex challenges we face in this new century without the full participation of women. Whether the economic crisis, the spread of terrorism, regional conflicts that threaten families and communities, and climate change and the dangers it presents to the world’s health and security, we will not solve these challenges through half measures. Yet too often, on these issues and many more, half the world is left behind.
This is not simply a matter of emotion or altruism. A growing body of research tells us that supporting women is a high-yield investment, resulting in stronger economies, more vibrant civil societies, healthier communities, and greater peace and stability. But even so, no nation in the world has yet achieved full equality for women.
Women still comprise the majority of the world’s poor, unfed, and unschooled. Hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth every year. They are subjected to rape as a tactic of war and exploited by traffickers globally in a billion dollar criminal business. Laws are still on the books denying women the right to own property, access credit, or make their own choices within their marriage. And honor killings, maiming, female genital mutilation, and other violent and degrading practices that target women are tolerated in too many places today.
Like all people, women deserve to live free from violence and fear. To create peaceful, thriving communities, women must be equal partners. That means making key resources available to women as well as men, including the chance to work for fair wages and have access to credit; to vote, petition their governments and run for office; to know they can get healthcare when they need it, including family planning; and to send their children to school—their sons and
Women also have a crucial role to play in establishing peace worldwide. In regions torn apart by war, it is often the women who find ways to reach across differences and discover common ground as mothers, caretakers, and grassroots advocates. One need only look to Northern Ireland, Rwanda, the Balkans, and parts of Central America to see the impact of women working in their communities to bridge divides in areas of sectarian conflict.
This week, as we celebrate the accomplishments and the untapped potential of women around the world, we must remind ourselves that ensuring the rights of women and girls is not only a matter of justice. It is a matter of enhancing global peace, progress, and prosperity for generations to come.
When women are afforded their basic rights, they flourish. And so do their children, families, communities, and nations.
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