Oh, thank you. Thank you. Wow. This is about as good as it gets – (laughter) – to be here on the day to celebrate Women’s History Month with our Speaker and with so many friends. (Applause.) And I mean, it is a special blessing and I am so grateful to look around and see so many of you with whom I have worked and done so many important tasks and taken on so many difficult issues on behalf of our country. I am delighted to be here to be able to thank Nancy Pelosi for her leadership, to thank her for her courage – (applause) – and to see all those who made it possible, from, of course, Steny Hoyer and so many of you who have been in the trenches. I was so thrilled when that vote finally closed. (Laughter.)
I don’t know, Nancy, I mean, I kept thinking, oh, Lord – (laughter) – what might happen next. And I know what a challenge this was. I have the scars to prove it – (laughter) – and they’re fading fast now that I know I will have universal quality affordable health care. (Applause.)
But this bill, which will finally see its last action in the House after coming over from the Senate this afternoon, this bill means so much to our country, but it is particularly important to women. Women who have for too long borne the burden of our broken system, who have taken care of so many others as the caretakers and had to interact on so many different levels with our healthcare system. And we all could be here all night talking about those whom we know, those whom we love, maybe ourselves, and all of the challenges. I will never forget being in Cleveland, Ohio at the Babies and Children Hospital there and talking to a father who had two children with cystic fibrosis, another healthy child. He could not get insurance for his two sick children. And he told me he went from place to place. He was a successful man. He offered whatever it would take. And finally one of the insurance company reps just looked at him and said, “You just don’t understand. We do not insure burning houses.”
There are millions of stories like that, which now because of this Congress will be stories of the past, not our future. So thank you all so much. (Applause.)
And it such an honor to serve with Hilda Solis and Lisa Jackson and the other women – (applause) – in the Obama Administration who are pushing the envelope every single day, and to look here and see so many of my former colleagues. The Speaker mentioned Charlie Rangel. (Applause.) I would not have run for the Senate without Charlie’s gentle nudging – (laughter) – and I’m forever grateful. And of course, Chairman Reyes and Chairman Levin and so many of the people that I work with on a daily and weekly basis. And here we are in Statuary Hall to celebrate Women’s History Month, and I had no idea I had Lynn Woolsey to thank for that. (Laughter.) And I am so glad – (applause) – publicly to thank you both. (Applause.)
I am so privileged, as the Speaker said, to travel around the world on behalf of our country, on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of all of you. And I have traveled a lot of miles in the last 15 months, and I have had the great privilege of speaking with world leaders about everything from nuclear nonproliferation to Iran, to China, to the Middle East, to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and our Western Hemisphere and every place in between. But I always raise, wherever I go, the rights of women. (Applause.) Because I believe that women’s rights, roles, and responsibilities, is the last piece of unfinished business that we must confront together.
Nick Kristof said about two weeks ago something that has really stuck with me. He said, “You know, in the 19th
century, the great moral struggle was the struggle against slavery. In the 20th
century, the great moral struggle was the struggle against totalitarianism, and in the 21st
century, the great moral struggle is to finish according women and girls everywhere – (applause) – the same opportunities and rights that their men and boys in their societies have. (Applause.)
There are so many brave and courageous women whose names we will never know. As Lynn read out some of the names of women in our history, including our Speaker, we could think of others that come to mind. But there are so many millions throughout our history and millions more in the world today whose accomplishments are unheralded. Just look at how few women we have here in Statuary Hall or throughout the Capitol. Slowly but surely, we are writing women back into history, as the National Women’s History Project says.
And I was very proud last year when Sojourner Truth took her rightful place here in the Capitol. (Applause.) My friend Sheila Jackson Lee and I labored on that for years. And I could have told everybody in the Capitol, you’re going to say yes to Sheila sooner or later. (Laughter.) But we fought for that statue and we had the help of so many of you because the history of this country cannot be told without including the ongoing narrative of American women working, organizing, educating, inspiring, galvanizing, and leading all of us to push for a fuller expression of our rights. And I am here very grateful for this moment and thankful to share it with all of you.
But I’m thinking about the women around the world whose voices need to be amplified by ours. Think about Aung San Suu Kyi standing up for democracy (applause) – years and years of house arrest that have never broken her spirit, dented her courage, or in any way stripped her of the grace that she conveys under the most difficult of circumstances. Or think about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leading Liberia – (applause) – into the future after years of civil war. I am so touched and moved when I see women leading in their societies, but I’m equally touched and moved when I meet those who are breaking ground, who are truly pioneers.
Earlier this month, I met a woman from Afghanistan who has joined her provincial council. She’s pushing for educational opportunities for girls. She’s working to recognize the rights of the mentally disabled. I met another who’s leading an effort to recruit thousands of women into the Afghan National Police Force to better protect women and girls. These are profiles in courage. They may never be included in a book. But they get so much encouragement by knowing that we know their stories, by sharing them with each other. Women in Iraq turned out not only to vote in record numbers but even ran for office, refusing to submit to fear and intimidation. (Applause.)
There are women who, tonight, will go out continuing to rescue girls from brothels in Cambodia, to heal women injured in childbirth in Ethiopia, or to find them as they’ve been abandoned in the forest in Eastern Congo after being brutally assaulted, and bringing them to safety. There will be women who are cleaning up and giving comfort in the wake of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The list goes on and on. And they won’t be enshrined in bronze or marble in a magnificent hall like this, but they are the authors of a new chapter in the march toward human equality and progress.
So as this Women’s History Month draws to a close, let us redouble our efforts to make sure that all the women and girls in our own country have a chance to live up to their own God-given potential. And then let’s make sure that we keep reaching out to more girls and women around the world. So this is not just a celebration of Nancy or me; this is a celebration of all the women and girls who may not ever get called Speaker or Secretary of State, but who in their own ways are making it possible for generations to come after them to seize and hold their rightful place.
I am thrilled to be representing our country at this time in our history, where we’re really on the cusp of being able to relate to and work with countries in a different way, to convey to them that open hand that President Obama spoke about in his inaugural, if they will unclench their fist. And the greatest beneficiaries of this kind of positive engagement will be girls and women because they are still too often the unfed, the uneducated, the uncared for.
A few weeks ago, I was looking at a magazine, and I thought at first it said “Genocide.” And then I looked more closely and it said, “Gendercide.” Because there are so many girls who never get to their first birthday, and who are still not valued, who don’t have that special support of a family that loves them and thinks that they’re pretty special. And so we have not only the opportunity to pass laws, as you’ve done on healthcare, and to speak out – as so many of you, as I look around here, know you do every single day – to tackle problems, like Kilda does, of unfair working conditions; or as Lisa does, about pollution and climate change that literally sucks the breath out of children, but also to make sure we are connected literally around the globe in a great network of support and caring and commitment.
So thank you for what you did here in this House, the People’s House, to make healthcare finally a reality (applause) – to deliver on that promise. (Applause.)
And thank you for the support that you are giving us in our efforts to really make a new world, a world filled with possibility, potential, and opportunity, where equality is taken for granted. That is our mission, and let’s go out and make some history again.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)