Hillary Clinton: “Women’s rights are human rights”
“At this very moment, as we sit here, women around the world are giving birth, raising children, cooking meals, washing clothes, cleaning houses, planting crops, working on assembly lines, running companies, and running countries. Women also are dying from diseases that should have been prevented or treated. They are watching their children succumb to malnutrition caused by poverty and economic deprivation. They are being denied the right to go to school by their own fathers and brothers. They are being forced into prostitution, and they are being barred from the bank lending offices and banned from the ballot box.”
The most emblematic conference on women’s rights in history turned to be the UN 4th World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing, China in 1995. Many powerful speeches were given, but one of those that have remained engraved in mind was one of Hillary Clinton. The message went out strong and clear: “women’s rights are human rights”.
Hillary Clinton, at that moment the first lady of the United States, strongly criticized violation of women’s rights all over the world and in China. By doing so, she defied pressures that her own administration and Chinese authorities made on her to soften her message.
To read the text click here.
Aung San Suu Kyis: “Freedom from fear”
“It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. “
Aung San Suu Kyis is the 1991 Peace Nobel Price, laureate of the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and symbol of non-violent resistance. She pronounced those words in 1990, when in oppressed by a brutal dictatorship Myanmar, the military junta nullified the results of the democratic elections won by the democratic opposition and placed Aung San Suu Kyis, the leader of the winning formation, in the house arrest. She remained there during 15 years becoming one of the most prominent political prisoners in the world.
In her strongly inspiring speech Aung San Suu Kyis argued that fear is not an emotion of victims, but rather that of aggressors. It is not only a beautiful lesson of morality, but aver all a fine explanation of relations between fear, courage and freedom.
For the whole speech please click here.
Dolores Ibárruri or La Pasionaria: “¡No pasarán!”
“We especially call upon you, workers, farmers, intellectuals to assume your positions in the fight to finally smash the enemies of the Republic and of the popular liberties. Long live the Popular Front! Long live the union of all anti-fascists! Long live the Republic of the people! The Fascists shall not pass! They shall not pass!”
This speech given from the Ministry of the Interior in Madrid, 19th July 1936 is one of the most emblematic allocutions in Spanish history. Dolores Ibárruri, a communist deputy, pronounced those words when a military coup in Spanish Morocco led to an imminent beginning of the Spanish Civil war, a war that trespassed in its tragic meaning the boarders of the country as it allowed to Hitler and Mussolini do a military rehearsal and test their weapons as well as the will of other countries to stand for democracy’s principles.
The cry of rage “¡No pasarán!” (They shall not pass!) that ended Dolores Ibárruri’s speech became an international symbol of the anti-fascist fight. As for Ibárruri herself, after the Republican losing the war, she left to the URSS. She came back to Spain in 1975 when the dictatorship of Franco collapsed and once again became a deputy in the Spanish Parliament.
Simone Veil: plea for abortion rights
“Those women are not necessarily the most immoral or unconscious. They are 300 000 every year. We met them every day, yet we ignore their tragedy and their suffering. We should put an end to this disorder. It is injustice that should be discontinued.”
Simone Veil is one of the most outstanding French female politicians. French Jew, during the war she experiences atrocities of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bobrek and Bergen-Belsen. At the end of the war she returns to France, becomes a magistrate and starts her political career.
In 1974 she is appointed Minister of Health in the government of Jacques Chirac. The same year she has to defend a project of abortion legalization, the most controversial issue of France of the 70’s. In the parliament composed of 9 female and 420 male deputies and under the weight of the opposition’s booing, she gives a speech considered until now as one of the most powerful discourses ever made in French politics.
Unfortunately this speech is not translated into English, click here for the French version.
Evita Perón: “El renunciamiento”
“I have only one valuable thing and I have it in my heart. It burns my soul, it hurts my body and smarts my nerves. This is the love for this People. If the People asked me my life, I would be happy to give it. Because a life of one descamisado is worth more than my one life.”
When Evita Perón died, two million people payed her a tribute and the government declared 30 days of national mourning. Shortly before her death, severely weakened by cancer, she spoke the last time to her descamisados. “Without shirts” – in those affective words Evita and Juan Perón called their supporters. The mass of the working class was the strength of the Peron’s system and the majority of political projects was aimed to improve their situation and give voice to the part of the Argentinian society who was silenced for centuries.
On October 17, 1951 in front of a million of descamisados Evita Perón publicly quitted the office of the Vice-President and took that opportunity to say farewell to the Argentinian People. Artfully creating an extremely emotional atmosphere, Peron made a highly patriotic speech assessing her commitment for her Homeland and its People, her husband and their political project.
To read fragments in English click here.
Christine Taubira: “mariage pour tous” (marriage for everyone)
“It was an institution of possession since the husband and father had absolute authority over his wife and children. It was an institution of exclusion, we have seen that civil marriage ended excluding non-Catholic believers and certain professions, therefore a variety of people. This marriage was an institution of exclusion, will finally become, by the inclusion of same-sex couples, a universal institution. Finally, the marriage becomes a universal institution! You can continue to refuse to see, to refuse to look around, to refuse to tolerate the presence, including near you, including, perhaps, in your families, same-sex couples.”
In 2013 in a half-empty parliament, Christine Taubira, French minister of Justice, defended the bill project allowing homosexual marriage. Commonly called „Mariage pour tous”, the law proposition strongly divided the French society and led to massive manifestations in favor and against it.
The speech of Christine Taubira, often compared to that of Simone Veil, carried an explicit message of historical change of cultural value that was taking place within the French society. Just like Simone Veil, Taubira was booed and interrupted several times by the opposition’s deputies. However she followed with determination the debate artfully defending her cause with historical, juridical but also republican and poetical arguments.
Indira Gandhi: What an educated woman can do?
“And one of the biggest responsibilities of the educated women today is how to synthesize what has been valuable and timeless in our ancient traditions with what is good and valuable in modern thought. All that is modern is not good just as all that is old is neither all good nor all bad.”
It is not easy to be a woman in India* and it was even more difficult in the 70’s. Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 until 1984, when she was assassinated, knew this taught reality and especially difficulties encountered by women to access education.
In her speech called “What an educated woman can do?” Indira Gandhi recognized the difficulty of living for women in the patriarchal society and at the same time called them to become genuine actors of change. She argued the necessity to give a proper education to both boys and girls. By the same token, she urged educated women to transform and modernize India as she considered educated women being a unique and extremely valuable asset of each country.
* In 2014 India was placed on the 114th position in the Gender Gap Report. The biggest gender inequalities exist there in Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment and Health and Survival.
To read the speech click here.
Julia Gillard: on misogyny
“The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs.”
When Julia Gillard started to speak in the Parliament nobody expected this kind of angry reaction. She was supposed to defend and ask for excuses in the name of the coming from her party House speaker, who was accused of sending sexually explicit messages.
Instead of arguing why the speaker should not lose his office, like asked by the opposition, Gillard gave an impassioned speech in which she firmly denounced hypocrisy of male politicians from the opposition and gave a poignant testimony of every-day sexism that exists in the world of politics.
The video of genuinely furious Gilliard who denounced various catcalls she had experienced became viral as a harrowing testimony that exist treatment concerns women of all levels. It became one of the most popular political speeches of 2012 hitting millions of viewers.
Benazir Bhutto: on Islam and women’s empowerment
“Empowerment is not only a right to have political freedom. Empowerment is the right to be independent; to be educated; to have choices in life. Empowerment is the right to have the opportunity to select a productive career; to own property; to participate in business; to flourish in the market place.”
The UN 4th World Conference on Woman was indeed a place of beautiful words and strong affirmations. Beside Hillary Clinton, quoted above for her speech about women’s rights being human rights, another woman outstood thanks to her powerful speech.
Benazir Bhutto, at that time the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first democratically-elected woman to rule a Muslim country, spoke about women’s empowerment and the place of women in Islam. She argued that empowerment is not only a personal liberty, but also a crucial condition for democracy and that its lack would lead to dictatorship. She also challenged the traditional Western standpoint about the discriminatory character of Islam and railed against misogynist interpretation of this religion. Finally, Bhutto created a vision of symbolical interactions between the West and East, based on mutual respect and partnership rather than on the antagonism.
To read the speech click here.
Ellen Johnson: “If your dreams don’t scare you…”
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. If you start off with a small dream, you may not have much left when it is fulfilled because along the way, life will task your dreams and make demands on you.”
In 2011 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, the first female Head of State in Africa and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, gave a commencement speech in her alma mater, Harvard University. In this very motivational talk, Johnson encouraged young people to look at their future fearlessly, dream big and act against all odds and despite failures they would face afterwards. She recalled her own exile and a tormented path she took afterwards. In a very optimistic and funny way, she argued that a difficult journey brings a brighter future.
To read the text click here.