Inspiring

10.22.13

Madeleine Albright: Women Are On The Right Path

The former U.S. Secretary of State delivered a rousing speech at the United Nations that praised the gains of women around the globe. Here, we present the text of the speech on the occasion of her reception of the Inspiration Award from the Dag Hammerskjold Fund for Journalists.

Thank you, I am delighted to be here and honored to receive the Inspiration Award today.

I would also like to take a moment to honor Edie and Evelyn—their names conjure many thoughts: trailblazers, masters of the UN stakeout, reporters of courage and integrity, and friends. Thank you for all you have done here at the United Nations, and for women around the world.

To begin, I would like to congratulate all of you on your support of the Dag Hammerskjold Fund for Journalists.

During the past half century, the fund has not only served as a living memorial to the second Secretary-General, but it has also provided journalists from developing countries with the funds, education, and community necessary to expand their expertise in covering foreign policy.

I am quite pleased to return today to a place I once called home. I have a special affection for the United Nations and those who serve its mission. In that regard, I can think of no better example than Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold.

He was a man who believed, and I quote, “That no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country—or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions.” Unquote.

Secretary General Hammerskjold’s career spanned over three decades, and in that time his convictions helped to shape the procedures and tactics that are now critical to the UN’s mission. He cast the mold for how a Secretary General could and should affect events by exhibiting great leadership during an extraordinarily difficult time. He was the most selfless of diplomats, and I believe his legacy is suitably honored by the Fund for Journalists.

Despite some sparring with members of the profession during my career, I must confess that one of my earliest ambitions was to become a journalist.

While studying at Wellesley, I hoped to pursue a career that reflected both my interests in journalism and world affairs.

But I was also in love and planned to get married right after graduation, which I did.

Unfortunately, my new husband happened to work for the same newspaper in Chicago that I aspired to write for, which led to a complication.

Shortly after our marriage, one of the editors said to me, “Honey, you may want to be a reporter, but it’s against company policy for both a husband and wife to work here; and it’s against common sense that you would write for a competing paper. So go home and forget about it.”

I did go home, but I didn’t forget a thing.

Looking back so many years later, I know what I should have said then. But it was a very different time.

I had a wonderful experience at Wellesley and received a fine education; but the young women of my era were being groomed more for marriage than for anything else.

We were part of what was called the silent generation, but we were also in the process of transition.

In the decades since, I believe the world has made significant progress in women’s equality, and I must applaud the great work of the United Nations on this front. From the creation of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women to the many resolutions passed by the General Assembly protecting the lives of women and girls—it is clear we are on the right path.

Our collective experience has shown that when women have the power to make their own choices, good things happen.

The cycle of poverty can be broken.

The spread of sexually transmitted disease is slowed.

Environmental awareness increases.

Socially constructive habits are more likely to be handed down to the young.

And the forces of conciliation and peace have a better chance of success.

I say this because I believe it—and I believe it because I have seen it.

I have seen women in Angola who had to tie leashes to their children in order to keep them from wandering into minefields left over from that nation’s civil war.

I have seen Hutu and Tutsi women working together in Burundi to resolve ethnic tensions and to prevent in their country what happened in Rwanda.

I have seen women in Central Europe and Southeast Asia striving to end the practice of human trafficking.

I have seen women from Guatemala and Haiti to Afghanistan and Burma risking their lives to build democratic societies and to improve respect for basic human rights.

Our collective experience has shown that when women have the power to make their own choices, good things happen.

Too often, women are forced to play the role of victim—a part they do not choose—but in the absence of power, cannot escape.

The good news is that women’s empowerment is gaining ground because so many brave women have been unwilling to accept anything less.

Today, we are mindful that progress in women’s rights occurs step by step and that each victory becomes a platform upon which the next may be built.

Our shared task is to keep building until we have raised enough platforms high enough to transform the very horizons of the Earth.

This is a difficult challenge to undertake. But one that I believe can be made easier in part by the Dag Hammarskjold Fellows and other journalists in the room today.

Although it may be just a coincidence, I believe it is particularly fitting that the 2013 Fellows being honored here today are all women. For it is all the more compelling when female journalists speak truth to power and cover the myriad crimes and abuses committed against women all over the world.

Their efforts are sorely needed as we work to transition from a tradition of silence to the empowerment of truth—so that victims get help, the culture of impunity ends, and those who inflict abuse either change their ways or lose their freedom.

The single best way to deliver this truth is by nurturing the growth of a free and independent press.

Those seeking to dominate others will move rapidly to define what is true according to their own ambitions and interests.

But modern technology has made it harder to conceal facts; information today can follow many paths from darkness to light.

Some see this advance as a cause for celebration and, to an extent, it is.

When a massacre occurs, or a defenseless village is bombed, or unarmed demonstrators are fired upon; chances are better that the world will be made aware—not eventually, but quickly—and that is all to the good.

But we also know that technology has no inherent morality; it can be exploited and abused.

In the 1930s, the Nazis rejoiced in the capacity of radio to spread Hitler’s ideology of resentment and hate.

In the 1970s, Ayatollah Khomeini employed cassette tapes to fuel a movement that promised liberty but delivered tyranny.

Today’s terrorists rely on the Internet to identify recruits and defend their vicious ideas.

Through history, we have learned to cherish freedom, but we have also discovered that liberty’s survival depends on how wisely that freedom is used.

In our era, we need not worry about a clash of civilizations, but there is no escaping a clash of ideas.

As America’s Secretary of State, I was given the chance to sit down with leaders from every corner of the globe, representing a wide variety of national interests, religious backgrounds, stages of development, and cultural and racial characteristics.

And when I compared what I knew from my job to what I saw in the media, I began to suspect that the easier a story was to tell, the more likely it was to be wrong; especially when simplistic labels were attached to complex movements, or when stereotypes drowned out what individuals were trying to say.

I came to recognize that none of us have a monopoly on wisdom and that we all have a duty to consider opposing points of view.

The world is complicated and there are many sides to truth.

But that doesn’t mean that all ideas have an equal claim on our hearts or brains.

Advocates of liberty must speak up—because listening is not the same as agreeing, and communication will lead to understanding only if minds on all sides are open.

We should debate every issue, but also demand that governments respect the rights of their people, including the right to dissent in a peaceful and organized way.

We should learn all we can about different cultures and creeds, but also insist that there is no cultural or religious sanction for terrorism or murder.

We should acknowledge that no democracy is perfect, but also point out that the only legitimate power is that which comes from the people.

Finally, we should support those who bear witness—including the many journalists who risk their lives daily in areas of war and suffering; let us pay tribute to their bravery, honor their sacrifice, and—above all—act on the information they provide.

The victory of truth depends on our capacity to use the means of modern communication to educate, and not to inflame, and to convey ideas with balance and context, so that emotions are informed by knowledge.

It relies on our judgment in discerning, amid the many complexities of our age, the fundamental difference between right and wrong.

And it will be based, finally, on our courage in honoring the vision of Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold and the fund that bears his name, by demonstrating our commitment to international cooperation, our support for the role of civil society, and our dedication to the dignity of every human being.

To the fulfillment of that high purpose, I pledge my own best efforts, and respectfully ask that you continue yours.

Thank you very much.