March 10, 2008
MRS. BUSH: Welcome, everyone, to the White House, for this celebration of Women's History Month and International Women's Day. A special welcome to the women members of Congress who are here, the women members of the President's Cabinet that have joined us today, the women members of the Diplomatic Corps who are here. And of course, a very, very special welcome to the distinguished women who have won the 2008 International Women of Courage Award. Thank you and all and congratulations. (Applause.)
Today we salute women whose triumphs are written in bold on the pages of history. And we call attention to those for whom the pages have yet to be written -- women from Afghanistan to Zanzibar, who struggle to achieve a better life and greater opportunities for themselves and their daughters and granddaughters.
The United States is working to bring more opportunities to women and children worldwide in the form of health, education and economic initiatives. We wholeheartedly support causes that improve the lives of women and children, wherever they live.
We used lessons from our own country's experiences with breast cancer to develop the U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research. This partnership will help women leaders teach and talk about the disease throughout the Middle East. They'll stress the importance of early detection, and erase the stigma and fear of talking about breast cancer in public. I look forward to launching a similar program with the First Lady of Mexico this Friday.
I've met with women across the continent of Africa that are living positive lives now because of receiving antiretrovirals for HIV/AIDS; and making sure that the babies they deliver will be free from AIDS because of the medicines they can take while they're pregnant.
I've met Afghan women who are heroes of their generation. Some risked their lives to teach in the underground schools. Others left their families and homes behind to pursue an education outside of their country. Because of their courage and determination, their children will inherit the fortune of freedom, and the fundamental right to be educated regardless of gender.
But as we celebrate this International Women's Day, we can't forget those in other parts of the world who are still oppressed by brutal regimes of their government. The opportunities that you and I enjoy every day do not belong to us alone. They belong to every person in every country. We care about the health and well-being of mothers, daughters, and sisters worldwide, and we're showing it through word and deed.
Now I'm proud to introduce a man who is one of the greatest advocates for women that I know. He's appointed capable, confident women to leadership positions and top posts throughout his administration. In every case, it's clear that the President values the wisdom and counsel of the women on his team. He also happens to have raised two pretty terrific women himself.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my husband, President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you. Please be seated. Welcome to the White House for this celebration of Women's History Month and International Women's Day, and we're glad you're here.
Every March, people around the world recognize accomplishments of strong, fearless women. I see a lot of many strong, fearless women in this room. (Laughter.) And I feel right at home -- after all, I was raised by one and I married one. (Laughter and applause.)
My advice to the next President is to surround him or her -- (laughter) -- with strong, fearless women. That's what I've done. People have served -- as Laura mentioned, people serving in senior positions in my administration have made great contributions to our country; people like Secretary Rice, Secretary Chao, Secretary Peters, Secretary Spellings, Trade Representative Schwab, White House Spokesman Dana Perino.
We've got a lot of strong women throughout our government, and that's the way it should be. And it's made my job a lot easier, and I appreciate them serving our country with such class and dignity. (Applause.)
I, too, welcome the members of the United States Congress. Thank you all for coming. We're honored you're here. Thanks for serving. (Applause.)
Members of the Diplomatic Corps. Laura and I had a opportunity to meet representatives from our U.S. Armed Services who are here, and we've got representatives of the representatives of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Thank you all for coming. Thanks for wearing the uniform. (Applause.) I appreciate the members of the Diplomatic Corps joining us. And I, too, want to congratulate the recipients of the International Women of Courage Award. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.) Why don't we have our award winners stand up. (Applause.)
During Women's History Month, we honor the courage, foresight, and resolve of women who have strengthened our democracy. Pioneers like Amelia Earhart, suffragists like Sojourner Truth, healers like Clara Barton, writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe. These women have helped our nation live up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all. At the same time, they have changed the way America views its women -- the way both men and women view America.
We take pride in the progress women have made here at home, and we know that millions of women abroad are still working to secure their basic rights. And as they do, the United States of America proudly stands with them. We do so because we know that liberty is the birthright of every person. And we do so because it's in our national interest. Societies where half the population is marginalized, or worse, are less likely to be prosperous and hopeful, and more likely to become incubators for hateful ideologies.
So the United States is working to help build more hopeful and just societies for women. In Africa, our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, called PEPFAR, and our Malaria Initiative are saving millions from the disease that devastate women. Our Millennium Challenge Corporation provides micro-loans that help women start their own businesses. Our international education initiatives have trained thousands of teachers and have provided hundreds of thousands of scholarships to help girls go to school.
The United States works to build more hopeful and just societies throughout the world, and in particular the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the Taliban once beat women without reason, and executed them without remorse. Today, because we acted, Afghanistan's women serve as teachers and doctors and journalists and judges. More than 80 members of Afghanistan's parliament are women. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein once used rape rooms to brutalize women and dishonor their families. Today, because we acted, Iraq's women voted in a free and democratic elections; they live under a constitution that protects women's rights. (Applause.) Freedom is powerful, and freedom is precious, and freedom belongs to all, and freedom will yield the peace we long for.
The United States is proud to be a part of the global advance of women's rights. Yet one thing history shows us is that the cause of women's rights is inseparable from the cause of human rights. So on this International Women's Day, we honor the women who work to secure both their liberty and the liberty for others.
America honors women like Madawi Al Hassoun of Saudi Arabia. An educator turned entrepreneur, she was one of the first Saudi women to work alongside men in a mixed business environment. Ms. Hassoun was the first female director of the women's branch of one of Saudi's largest banks. She manages her own successful business now. Ms. Hassoun was also one of the first female candidates in Saudi Arabia to run for office. And today she serves as an appointed member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce. As she has broadened the possibilities of Saudi women, Ms. Al Hassoun has also worked to bring greater economic freedom and prosperity to her own nation. She's on the forefront of change, and the United States strongly supports her.
America honors women like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. Early in her life, this woman waited tables to put herself through school at Harvard. She became an economist who returned to Liberia to serve her country -- only to see it destroyed by brutal warlords and dictators. In 2005, Liberians reclaimed their freedom, and chose Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to become the first woman ever elected president on the continent of Africa. Laura and I just recently visited the President.
I was impressed by how strong she is as a leader, and she's committed to fighting disease, and working to make Liberia's government more transparent and honest. The Liberians call President Johnson [sic] the "Iron Lady" and "Ma." (Laughter.) I'm proud to call her friend. She's a great, great lover of liberty, and we will support her.
America honors women like Iryna Kazulina. Iryna's husband, Alexander Kazulin, is serving a five year prison sentence for protesting Belarus' fraudulent 2006 elections. Iryna worked relentlessly for her husband's freedom. In doing so, she became a leading voice for all political prisoners held captive by the Lukashenka regime.
Iryna was also one very prominent in the breast-cancer awareness campaign in Belarus. A few weeks ago, the disease claimed her life. The Lukashenka regime refused to release her husband to be with his wife in her final days. That's the definition of brutality. And the United States calls upon that government to release Alexander Kazulin immediately, just like they ought to release every other political prisoner in Belarus. It's important for people to understand that this good woman, Iryna, set the stage for what we hope Belarus to become, a free and just and open society.
America honors women like Marta Beatr z Roque Cabello of Cuba. An economist and former math professor, Marta Beatr z is now a leader of a movement for a free Cuba. She spent years in Castro's dungeons for her activism -- because she spoke out about the universality of freedom, she has spent time in jail. She was recently released from her prison term because of her poor health. Yet neither her health nor the threat of danger has deterred this good woman, this pioneer for liberty.
Just last week, Marta was one of the 10 opposition leaders beaten by Cuban police and security forces for distributing copies of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. This courageous woman knows that freedom is not going to come to Cuba by trading one oppressive Castro regime for another. And today I have a message for the people of Cuba: Viene el d a de su libertad. Your day of freedom is coming. And until that day, the United States will stand with all the dissidents working together to bring freedom to Cuba, including a brave woman named Marta Beatr z Roque Cabello.
America honors women like Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. For 12 of the last 18 years, this extraordinary woman has been kept under house arrest by Burma's brutal military regime. Her only crime was to lead a political party that enjoys the overwhelming support of the Burmese people. During the long and lonely years of Daw Suu Kyi's imprisonment, the people of Burma have suffered with her. Aung San Suu Kyi has never wavered. Her courage and her writings have inspired millions, and in so doing, have put fear to the hearts of the leaders of the Burmese junta.
And that's why the regime has called a vote in May to ratify a dangerously flawed constitution -- one that bars Suu from ever leading her country. Aung San Suu Kyi has said to the American people: "Please use your liberty to promote ours." We're doing all we can, and we will continue to do so until the tide of freedom reaches the Burmese shores, and frees this good, strong woman.
Americans are inspired by the examples of these women, and the women we honor here today. We will continue to support their work, and the work of women across the world who stand up for the freedom of their people.
One of America's finest poets was a woman named Emma Lazarus, who is most famous for writing the verses carved into the base of the Statue of Liberty. Those verses describe the copper icon as "a mighty woman with a torch" a to light the way for all "yearning to breathe free." During Women's History Month, and at this celebration of International Women's Day, we are proud that the most recognizable symbol of America's love for freedom is "a mighty woman." And we reaffirm our commitment to light the way for all -- both women and men -- "yearning to be free."
And now, I'd like to ask Laura and Secretary Chao ad Secretary Peters and the Members of Congress who are here to join me on stage as I proudly sign Women's History Month proclamation.
(The proclamation is signed.) (Applause.)
END 3:34 P.M. EDT