Persistence in the Face of Inequality

Thank you for Kathryn Berge, Q.C. for bringing this to my attention.

Receipt of 2009 Annual Alice Award at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
June 8, 2009

Excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s speech:

Alice Paul was a visionary and a pioneer. She believed that gender equality was a moral imperative as well as a foundation for progress. And her struggle for women’s rights was built on the premise that no society or nation can reach its full potential if half of the population is left behind.

And we know that where women flourish, families flourish, communities flourish, and nations flourish. That’s why this important mission of extending women’s equality and full participation is not finished, and we each have a role to play.

What made Alice Paul so special was her fearlessness. I mean, she went where most men and women would not have gone. She took on every obstacle that came her way. She was a tireless human rights activist, an unyielding advocate for the equal rights for all women. Her Quaker upbringing instilled in her the value of simplicity, and to her, it was very simple: Gender equity was so self-evident that she often would express frustration that her motivating idea that women and men should be equal partners in society caused such a ruckus in so many places – not that I ever experienced that.

But Alice Paul had learned this ideal in her family, and she made it the cause of her life. And unlike many suffragists who left public life after the 19th Amendment was passed and finally became part of our Constitution, she never stopped her pursuit of equality. She worked not only for the enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, but for women’s rights around the world. She established the World Women’s Party, headquartered in Switzerland, which worked with the League of Nations to include gender equality in the United Nations Charter, and she helped to establish the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

If she were with us today in physical form, as well as I’m sure she is in spirit, she would be heartened by two recent U.S.-introduced resolutions, a United Nations General Assembly resolution to promote political participation among women, and a United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s Economic Empowerment.

So we have traveled a long way, but I don’t think we have yet reached any destination that we can call our own and which gives us the opportunity to rest. There is so much work to be done to improve the status of women and girls in many parts of the world. Every single day, you can pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV or log on to a website and see the reports of terrible assaults on women’s progress. We have to fight these attacks on women’s rights, and we have to address the conditions that hold women back and continue to make them the majority of the world’s poor, hungry, and unhealthy. We have to lend our voices to those who have struggled on behalf of equality and human rights, like Aung San Suu Kyi or those who are being silenced and subjected for expressing their ideas and beliefs.

Alice Paul was once asked why she never stopped fighting for women’s equality. She answered with a saying from her mother: “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.” So Alice Paul never put that plow down. Her work continues today not only through this wonderful home that was hers and a headquarters for the National Women’s Party, but through all of us, I look around this room, and like Audrey, I am so impressed by the faces that I see and the stories that I know of so many of you who have carried on this work in your own way, in politics and in the private sector and academia, in advocacy, in just so many ways. And that goes for the hearty men who are with us as well who have similarly taken on this struggle.

So if we all hold on to the plow, it’ll go a little faster, we might get to the end of the row a little quicker. And if each of you think about ways that you can here at home and around the world make the continuance of this work part of your own lives, it will make a difference.

So giving heart and support to women who are willing to take steps to have their voices heard, to really take the risks that go with speaking out, running for office, starting a business, defending the rights of others, is so important. And it means so much. I sometimes think we don’t give enough weight to what it means to just reach out person to person and say we’re with you, we care about you; to look for ways to support projects, by setting up foundations and going even on to a website like Kiva, K-i-v-a, and helping a woman who wants to start a business in El Salvador or who wants to create a better opportunity for her community somewhere in Africa. We have so many tools at our disposal that Alice Paul never had. And each of you here today has a unique ability to carry that message.

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