|Remarks by Kati Marton, IWHC Board Chair|
Dear friends, welcome and thank you for joining us tonight. We could never have reached—indeed exceeded—our goal of one million dollars without the help of every one or you…
Meeting Global Challenges: Healthy Women, Healthy World
|IWHC Board Chair Kati Marton addresses the crowd.|
I especially wish to thank our two new board members who have traveled so far to be with us: Dr. Bernard Kouchner, the great activist doctor, France's former Minister of Health and founder of Doctors Without Borders, Bernard injects a badly needed dose of gallic charm into our board...and Dr. Brian Brink of South Africa, chief medical officer of the Anglo American corporation, the South African mining giant. I also wish to welcome Virginia Joffe, our newest board member, who has already proven her mettle.
Thanks also for our many friends and supporters with us tonight. I can't possibly name you all, but let me single out Mark Malloch Brown, Tim Wirth, and the most powerful woman in New York—that is, when Hillary is out of town—Betsy Gotbaum.
Since we first planned this dinner, an immense natural catastrophe has washed away hundreds of thousands of lives. We at the Coalition are concerned that women will be doubly victimized, as they have been in so many other crises. Our effort at the Coalition is to see that this does not happen. Later tonight Adrienne Germain will tell us more about how our colleagues in Sri Lanka are working with local groups to make women safe.
But our greatest challenge this past year has been a man-made—or, to be more precise, man spread—catastrophe: AIDS. In many parts of the world—especially Africa—over half the victims of HIV are women. And victims is the operative word here because there is one basic reason AIDS now wears a woman's face: women still do not have the rights men have, not in their relationships with men, nor in their societies. In places where women have the least power, HIV is the most dangerous threat to their health and their lives.
I'm afraid it's that simple.
Our leaders must address the realities of girls' and women's lives in their response to the aids pandemic. Being monogamous and faithful—goals we support—is inadequate defense for girls and women. Marriage has become a danger zone, not the sanctuary we imagined, for many women.
In fact early marriage is killing thousands of young women. A child bride, as young as 12, or 13, is controlled by her husband and in-laws. She knows little about sexuality, contraception or HIV—but she is expected to bear children immediately.
The doctor who diagnosed the first case of AIDS in India, Dr. Suniti Solomon—who now barely keeps up with her workload—said this summer, "a sex worker can tell a client, use a condom or get lost. A housewife in India can never do that."
Nor can a wife or girlfriend in south Africa or Zimbabwe. We need to hear African and Asian and Caribbean leaders speak out against the prevalent custom of older men marrying—or "dating"—much younger women. Leaving aside the morality issue for a moment, let's focus on the fact that this is how AIDS is spread: older, promiscuous men infect their young brides or girlfriends. In the age of AIDS, turning a blind eye to sexual coercion and violence is tantamount to condoning a death sentence on hundreds of thousands of innocents.
Let's be clear about one thing; we are not here to merely address a terrible imbalance in relations between men and women. We are concerned about the entire societies and countries threatened by the loss of women as mothers, caregivers, wage earners—productive members or fragile societies.
Tonight we celebrate an anniversary; ten years ago—at the historical international conference on women in Beijing the world officially recognized that the "human rights of women include the right to have control over matters related to their sexuality—including reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence."
There are many international conferences in the world. This one left a legacy: an international network of people who found a common cause. Many of them are here tonight. We at the coalition are proud to have been among the founders of that network which sent forth powerful and, to some, dangerous ideas—such as the shocking thought that, in the words of our speaker tonight, "Human rights are women's rights...and women's rights are human rights."
Hillary Rodham Clinton's words almost panicked the conference's host nation, but left an enduring legacy which we celebrate and build on tonight.
In the past four years Hillary Rodham Clinton has made her mark as our senator, but we saw her mettle at that historic conference in Beijing. Some of you here tonight remember the excitement in the air that September day as leaders from all over the world gathered. Nongovernmental leaders had been deliberately isolated at an out of the way conference site, miles from the official meetings. But Hillary's speech transformed the dispirited—galvanized the standing room only hall.
Hillary did it again in 1997 in Buenos Aires, when she told an audience of 2,500 women that access to all health services, including reproductive health and family planning are central to women's empowerment. It was difficult to hear her over the thunderous applause.
Then, in 2000, I was privileged to be one of her hosts at the Beijing Plus Five conference at un headquarters, here in New York. I saw her inspire one thousand people, who rose spontaneously at the end of her speech to sing—in the many accents of the world, "We Shall Overcome." It was an unforgettable moment.
So, tonight, a decade after Beijing, thanks in great measure to Hillary Rodham Clinton, a new generation of women—joined more and more by men—has emerged ready to stand with us and speak up for the human rights of both sexes.
Now, as a United States Senator representing this great state, she continues to break new ground and embody the aspirations of women for a world in which equal rights will lead to equal opportunities—and we are proud and honored to have her with us. Hillary...
Click here to read Senatory Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks.