Meeting Global Challenges: Healthy Women, Healthy World
IWHC's Fifth Annual Gala, January 19, 2006
Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for the warmth of your welcome. Let me first of all acknowledge Kati Marton, Adrienne Germain, and Glenn Close for their work for this evening. And in particular to mention Joan Dunlop, who I saw coming in. And who I remember if I am correct was the first person to take a risk on getting me involved in some New York eleemosynary activity when she invited me to go on the Board of the Population Council, at the request of Mr. Rockefeller many, many, many years ago. And it is great to see her here and I should acknowledge the tremendous contribution that Joan has made to so many things in this community.
I greatly appreciate this award tonight because I had the opportunity for ten years to be involved in issues that related to women—the issues related to choice, to sexuality, to abuse, to the issues that Kati spoke of this evening—when I was at the World Bank.
And I should tell you that that started rather aggressively when in my first speech overseas in September of 1995 I made the mistake of going to the Conference of Women in Beijing.
You will remember that that was the third conference and Bella Abzug was speaking. And Bella, whom I had met but not very closely until that time, gave a fifteen-minute speech about my deficiencies. As only Bella could do.
And she tore me apart. She hardly knew me but she tore me apart. But more than that she was tearing apart my institution, which was then the World Bank. Saying that we did not understand the issues of women. That we basically didn't understand anything. And I felt deeply cowed by that, because the entire audience of women, every time she would make one of these points, would cheer. And I don't know whether Joan, you were at that meeting, but it was perhaps the worst meeting I have ever been to.
But it had the effect of making sure that I never forgot the women's issues in the next ten years. And I don't know whether Bella is somewhere in this room tonight but Bella, thank you for doing that because it changed my life and I think changed to a degree the issues that the World Bank was addressing.
And what you were saying was of course very clear-it was not just limited to the extremely important issues that this organization faces, of sexuality and education for adults and for young people, for access to services of all types in terms of contraception and abortion. And the protection of sexual rights, which are at the core of the activities of this organization. But what I thought was more important for the World Bank was not to try and emulate the activities that are being so well done here, but to try and take this extraordinarily important set of issues and put them in the context of the overall issue of women in society, the role of women in my case, because of my activities in the World Bank, in development.
And I soon learned that the issue of women—the issues that have been raised in relation to sexuality, to abortion, to unwanted children, to AIDS, which has become in that ten years such a central issue—it is really only part of a much broader issue.
It is a broader issue that relates to the role of women in society. A role that is not recognized in all too many societies in our world. As I have images of women being herded like sheep in some Arab countries—as I know of the treatment of them in many African countries. And as I have been, because of my years in the Bank, at the forefront of the issues of what is the role of women in a society that needs to deal with the issue of poverty, equity, and social justice.
And I think this organization coming at it as it has after a distinguished history in relation to the activities of the International Women's Health Coalition, has to understand that women's health can not be dealt with outside the general issue of women in general and their role in society. It is not something that you can deal with like measles, or that you can deal with like some disease. It requires a change in perception, a change of mind, a change in understanding, a change if you like in the relationship historically between men and women to share the responsibility for development on our planet.
And as we look to the next fifty years when the developing world of five billion out of six today will become eight billion out of nine, and we think in terms of the issues of poverty, and we think in terms of the issues of education, and we think in terms of the cultural crosscurrents which there are within our global society, the role of the International Women's Health Coalition—which is not just limited to those issues, but which also is involved in the politics of women's issues-becomes extraordinarily important.
I believed and still believe that there is no way that we can address the question of equity and social justice, that we can address the question of economics, that we can address the question of poverty, until all of us—the men and women in this room and millions and hundreds of millions outside—understand that the role of women has been grossly underestimated and under-reflected in many societies around the world.
And that it is crucial that all of us even in the Cipriani in a luxury dinner understand that every one of us can make some sort of difference in terms of opinion setting. In terms of the movement of international views and the movement of funding, and the movement of seeking to do something which gives a greater sense of equity, equilibrium and social justice to the role of women.
There is no way that we can deal with the question of health or sexuality or violence unless at the same time we deal with the question of the role of women in terms of education, in terms of opportunity, in terms of economics. You cannot take, in my judgment, a single issue, and seek to succeed with it—unless we look at it within the context of a comprehensive approach.
And I have seen in the last ten years quite some movement in terms of the recognition of this issue, but it is not fast enough. It is not deep enough. There are still too many jokes made by men about the role of women. Too many jokes made by women about their own position in society. But I am absolutely clear that if we are to make a difference in society, that the role of women as has often been said is not just the role of educating one man to make him educated. The role is educate a woman and you educate a family.
And that we must do. We must make more equal the opportunities for education. We must make more equal the opportunities for finance. We must make more equal the opportunities for political movement for women. All these things must come together because we will not solve the question of women's health unless we solve the question of the recognition of the importance of women, the rights of women, and the equity of women.
I learned this in my ten years at the Bank. I believe it passionately and believe it is not just as a single other cause that you come and make a speech about. To me the issue of the half the planet which are women, and the role of women in society, is really the issue of whether we are or are not going to reach the question of equity, social justice, and dealing with the issue of poverty.
To me tonight it is not just another dinner. It is a chance in a very serious way before what I am sure will be a great dinner, to say that the issue of the role of women in society—the issue of the health of women and the issue of the equity of women—to my judgment is at the core of the issue of peace and development.
I don't say this because there are so many of my friends here who would beat me up if I didn't say it. It is a passionate commitment on my part. And I am extraordinarily grateful for the recognition, and I am deeply grateful that all of you are here and I hope that you will go out of here recognizing that tonight was not just another dinner, but that it is one of the fundamental issues of our times.
Thank you very much.