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Remarks at the International Republican Institute's Women's Democracy Network

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Remarks at Jeane Kirkpatrick Awards Dinner
Washington, DC
March 6, 2008

Good evening, distinguished guests and Members of the Board of the International Republican Institute. Thank you, Lorne, for that warm introduction. It’s an honor to be with you this evening.

I’d also like to thank Judy Van Rest and Gretchen Birkle for pulling together tonight’s celebration and for your important work on the Women’s Democracy Network, which was founded at the time of the 2005 International Women’s Day Events hosted by First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary Rice. It has been a real privilege for me to be involved in this initiative, which offers a dynamic path-breaking opportunity to link women from around the globe to collaborate together in the common cause of freedom. I’d also like to acknowledge Barbara Haig, Vice President of the National Endowment for Democracy, who is with us this evening and who was also a founding member of this network.

I am incredibly honored to receive the first Jeanne Kirkpatrick Award from IRI. Ambassador Kirkpatrick was a personal role model and hero for me throughout my professional career in foreign policy, because she showed that it was possible to be tough and effective in the foreign policy arena by using the power of our values and our personal connections to the issues we care about.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to work with her in many different incarnations over the years, and was always struck by her common sense, straight talk, love of country, and compassion. She stood up for American values and was proud to serve her country in whatever way she was asked. I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of this great woman. She was a champion of freedom and human rights.

I am also humbled to share this award with two amazing women – Nang Charm Tong and Nang Yain.

Having seen Charm Tong and her colleagues in action on other occasions, I have no doubt about the ultimate outcome of Burma’s struggle for democracy, human rights and national reconciliation.

I first came in contact with Burma’s dramatic struggle for democracy as it was unfolding on the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay in 1988. I was inspired by the passionate commitment to democracy among those university students – too many of whom paid the ultimate price for freedom that still eludes Burma.

Michele Bohana is in the audience – she always talks about the “sisterhood” that serves as the global support network for Burma’s democracy movement, especially our “sisters” inside Burma who lead that movement: women like Su Su New, Nilar Thein, Phyu Phyu Thin, and the countless other brave women who keep Burma’s Revolution of the Spirit alive.

In the U.S., there are many supportive groups and dedicated individuals working for change in Burma, including Mrs. Laura Bush. Since arriving at the White House, Mrs. Bush has undertaken countless effective efforts to improve the lives of men, women, and children in Burma. She is a defender of human rights, democracy, and education and a supporter of courageous reformers -- reformers like Aung San Sui Kyi, who has spent years in prison or under house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma.

In a 1995 recorded message that was smuggled out of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi told the Beijing NGO Forum on Women “The adversities that we have had to face together have taught all of us involved in the struggle to build a truly democratic political system in Burma that there are no gender barriers that cannot be overcome.” As women involved in your own countries’ struggles for democracy, liberty, and human rights, you too have faced and overcome these barriers.

In my role as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs for the past seven years, I have had many amazing opportunities to see women overcome barriers that were previously thought to be insurmountable.

In Iraq, my office oversees the Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative, which supports women’s participation in politics. To date, these programs have trained some 7,000 Iraqi women in areas such as leadership skills, political participation, rights advocacy, coalition building, and media skills.

In Afghanistan, I serve as co-chair of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, together with Afghan Foreign Minister and Minister of Women’s Affairs.

Women in Afghanistan are making remarkable progress. Let me give just one example. On our first visit to Kabul in 2003, our Council met with three Afghan women from Herat who were opening their first microfinance bank to provide women with access to capital. A year later, we met with 80 women entrepreneurs who had businesses doing everything from manufacturing kites, to managing cement factories, to making furniture – virtually everything you can think of.

On our last visit in 2007, we met with the Afghan Women’s Business Federation, a consortium of business associations that work together to engage in economic development initiatives and provide business services to increase the earning potential of Afghan women.

We were so impressed with the quality of products that these women were producing, and with their new branding label called Afghan Mark – “Made by Afghan Women.”

In Cuba, it has also been my privilege to work with and support the Ladies in White. These are the wives, sisters, and daughters of political prisoners seeking the unconditional release of their loved ones. Additionally, in partnership with Central and Eastern European countries, my office has led efforts to create a “Friends of a Democratic Cuba” network, a forum developed to share experiences and lessons learned with Cuban civil society and to help them develop their own democracy toolbox.

This room is full of remarkable women and remarkable stories. My experiences with women around the world – whether they are fighting to lead their country to freedom or fighting to get their daughters an education -- have inspired me to make sure that the United States government is doing all it can to support them. Thank you for being that inspiration for me, and for the countless others who can dream of a brighter future because of your efforts.

Released on March 6, 2008

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