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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > What the Secretary Has Been Saying > 2005 Secretary Rice's Remarks > March 2005: Secretary Rice's Remarks

Remarks at the U.S. Agency for International Development Reception on the Occasion of International Women's Day

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC
March 8, 2005

(6:30 p.m. EST)

Thank you very, very much. I would first like to say to my good friend, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who has arrived, to Ministers Jalal and Othman, with whom I met earlier, to the distinguished guests here, the members of the diplomatic corps, the members of USAID who do so much good work every day, and to you, Andrew, thank you very much for what you do for USAID and what USAID does for the world in the name of the United States of America.

This is an exciting time. It's an extraordinary time. I spent some time today with women from the Middle East and North Africa, part of our broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative, I'll just say founding mothers of their countries, women who have gone through struggle, women who have gone through difficult times, women who have faced down terrorism and terrorists to vote and to show the way to a better and more democratic future.

And it is really an honor to be in the presence of women like you who have taken the challenge of giving to their fellow country people the opportunity for democracy and liberty and for freedom. It is not easy to struggle for freedom. In fact, when I think about the founding fathers of America, I think about wonderful, insightful men, but indeed, flawed men like Thomas Jefferson, a man who wrote the wonderful words, "The God that gave us life gave us liberty at the same time," but still owned slaves.

These were flawed men, but they were men who gave us institutions that were capable of correcting those flaws. And so, throughout the two-plus centuries of America's history, it has been a history of people struggling to correct those flaws, to correct America's birth defect of slavery, a birth defect that made my ancestors three-fifths of a man at America's birth, to correct the defect that women were not full citizens and not allowed to vote until early in the last century, to correct these many defects that led even to a time when I was a child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama where there was separation of the races, so that I did not go to school with white children until my parents and I moved to Denver, Colorado when I was in tenth grade.

That's what the struggle has been like in America. But do you know what we've learned from that struggle? We've learned that the walls and the difficulties and the imperfections break down piece by piece at the hand of individuals who are willing to take a risk. And so, it was an individual woman, a woman named Rosa Parks in Birmingham, Alabama, who, just one day, as she said, was sick and tired of being sick and tired and she refused to move to the back of the bus. And there are many stories like that in the history of countries, like Lech Walesa, an electrician in Poland who was just tired of being told lies by the system and climbed over a fence to start a revolution in Poland.

And there are stories in Afghanistan of the first woman voter, a 19-year-old woman -- a first voter, a 19-year-old woman, or in Iraq where a policeman threw himself on a bomb so that people could vote. These are not the stories of the founding fathers and of people with magnificent degrees and magnificent titles. These are the stories of individual common people, one by one, who say, "Enough, enough of the humiliation of dictatorship, enough of taking away my human dignity to say what I wish, to worship as I please, to educate my children, both boys and girls." These are the sounds of those people and the actions of those people that lead to freedom for us all.

And so, I have been greatly honored to be in the presence of some of those people who are taking that leadership role for their countries. Now, we know that the road ahead is hard, that the road ahead is difficult, that democracy is never won without sacrifice and that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. But whether it is the sacrifice that is needed to return a country to civility and to democracy in places like Afghanistan or in Iraq or to return a country to the ability to work again and function again after the natural disasters of the tsunami, it is the human spirit that triumphs in all of these. And as I was walking by and I was looking at the faces in this exhibition, what you see is the face of the human spirit.

And so, I say to everyone who is gathered here, thank you for what you do every day to express that human spirit. You can always know that in the United States of America, you will have a friend; you will have a partner in that journey toward democracy because it is a journey that we ourselves have made in the United States. You will never have, in the United States, those who are somehow haughty about what we have achieved or arrogant about what we have achieved, because we know that it took America a long time to achieve what we have. And you know what? We're still struggling. We're still struggling every day for equality of our races and equality of men and women.

So, as you go through the struggles, remember that while democracy is a difficult and long journey, it is a journey worth making. It is the only system of liberty and freedom that gives the full expression to human creativity, to human pride and to human dignity. Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

2005/298


Released on March 9, 2005

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