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International Women's Day

Secretary Colin L. Powell
The Treaty Room
Washington, DC
March 8, 2004

Video News Release: [DSL/Cable] [dial-up] [audio]

(10:05 a.m. EST)

Secretary Powell addresses the  International Women's Day Reception, in Treaty Room.  State Department photo by Michael Gross.Thank you very much, Paula, for that kind introduction. And ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure to be with you this morning. Excellencies, Secretary Veneman, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am delighted to join you all to celebrate International Women's Day. And also we gather not only to celebrate the day, but to champion the rights of women worldwide. I especially would like to thank the Minister again for her very, very powerful statement and for being with us today, and for all the wonderful work that she is doing as the Minister of Municipalities and Public Works. And I'm very pleased also to have Rend al-Rahim, Iraq's senior diplomatic representative to the United States, with us this morning.

What a great day it is to be celebrating an International Women's Day. Now, I would like to say that we delayed the signing from Friday till Monday -- (laughter) -- for this purpose, but that is not the case. (Laughter.)

But nevertheless, what a marvelous day this is. People wonder what we have accomplished in Iraq over the past, almost a year now. We have freed a people. We have liberated a people.

Read this administrative law, and read what the Governing Council has written for the people of Iraq. Read what it says about the rights of all Iraqis, the rights of women. Read what it says about a free judiciary. Read what it says about the military firmly being under control of the civilian authority. Read what it says about arms not being allowed within the society except under the control of civilian authorities. Read what it says about democracy, rights, liberty, and what the new Iraq will look like. Read what it says about the interim government that will be created in just a few month's time.

Read what it says, and you will see what vision the Iraqi people have for themselves. And let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that it is a bright future. As the Minister just said, the road ahead may be difficult, it may be long, but it won't be as difficult or as long as the road that was behind. And so today is not only International Women's Day; this is the day that we should celebrate as a day reflecting a bright future for the Iraqi people.  (Applause.)

Madame Minister, we do salute the tremendous role you are playing in rebuilding your country and promoting the equality of Iraqi women. This time last year, Saddam Hussein's republic of fear gripped Iraq. His torture chambers and the rape rooms were in full operation.

Today, we all know that that is no longer the case. You are free. The torture chambers and the rape rooms have been shut down. In their place, as you noted, grassroots organizations and women's self-help centers are blossoming from Baghdad to Babylon, from Basra and beyond.  And Iraq is moving toward democracy and prosperity under this new representative government that will respect the rights of all citizens.

I am so pleased that in the months and years ahead, I can say to you today that the United States will remain strongly committed to working with the men and women of Iraq to further democracy and equality for all. I cannot think of a better occasion than International Women's Day to announce two important initiatives for Iraqi women: the Women's Democracy Initiative and the U.S.-Iraq Women's Network.

The initiatives are part of President Bush's forward strategy for freedom in the Greater Middle East. The $10 million Women's Democracy Initiative for Iraq will provide training in leadership skills and organizing political activities and other civil actions. Under the initiative, Iraqi women will participate in workshops, workshops on constitutional law, on the independent media, on human rights and on how to build non-governmental organizations, how to create a civil society.

The new U.S.- Iraq Women's Network will bring together prominent American and Iraqi non-governmental representatives and business leaders. They will form public-private partnerships to improve the lot of Iraqi women and empower them to participate in the political and economic life of their country.

The U.S.-Iraq Women's Network is modeled after the pioneering work of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council. Thanks to that council, women's centers are being created in cities and rural areas throughout Afghanistan to provide job training and other economic opportunities.

One council project is training women to be journalists, a field that never really was open to Afghan women in the past. Another council-sponsored project enables 100 women to grow and market crops. The council provides technical assistance to 3,200 Afghan women, mostly widows, to help them support themselves by manufacturing clothing and quilts.

With the council's support, the first class of Afghan midwives will graduate in April, and many more will follow to help reduce Afghanistan's terrible maternal mortality rate. International Women's Day also is a fitting occasion to applaud the role Afghan women played in the writing of their constitution and the constitutional Loya Jirga. Women made up 20% of the delegates and they boldly stood up for their rights, just as you heard the Minister say a little while ago how Iraqi women stood up for their rights when they thought they were being challenged.

The just-ratified constitution in Afghanistan recognizes fundamental freedoms, including equal rights for women. That is an extraordinary achievement in a very conservative society. When you think of the movie Osama that we all have been watching, and now you see how the constitution will make sure that those days are gone.

Beyond our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is working across the globe to protect the rights and improve the political, economic and social standing of women. And I'll just touch on a few examples:

  • In post-conflict societies from the former Yugoslavia to Colombia and the Congo, we have championed efforts to ensure that women are included as planners, implementers and beneficiaries of international recovery and reconstruction work.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, we are supporting legal organizations that advocate for women's prosperity and inheritance rights and foster awareness of women's rights among judges and lawyers.
  • In Central America, we have given grants to improve working conditions for women engaged in manufacturing and agricultural firms and participating in international trade.
  • In Cambodia, we helped launch an "all women's radio" that gives women the chance to speak out about the issues that concern them most. The radio's slogan in Cambodia is: "Women Using the Media to Promote Social Change."

The United States is a global leader against trafficking in persons, as Paula mentioned, which is a terrible trade in human misery in which the vast majority of victims are women and children.  President Bush's 5-year $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will fund treatment and care to many millions infected or affected by the disease, and will prevent the infection from spreading to millions more. Women comprise a majority of those victims of HIV/AIDS. And women in poor countries will benefit from President Bush's Millennium Challenge Account Initiative -- the most substantial international development assistance effort since the Marshall Plan.

The Millennium Challenge Account will focus on reducing poverty through growth. The account's insistence on good governance, investment in education and health and democracy, the rule of law and entrepreneurial opportunities will benefit all members of society, and especially the women. We will ensure, as we develop the Millennium Challenge Corporation, that there are no policies left in place in these countries that in any way negatively affect the rights and opportunities available to women.

Developed and developing countries alike cannot hope to meet 21st century challenges without the full participation of women in all aspects of their national life. And so today, we celebrate the crucial contributions of women to international wellbeing. May we also rededicate ourselves to advancing the rights and opportunities of women everywhere.

This is a great day for international women's programs. It's a great day for the people of Iraq. I thank you all for participating in this, and I especially thank our Iraqi friends for being here with us today.

Thank you so much.   (Applause.)

Released on March 8, 2004

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