Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid released the following statement today to commemorate International Women’s Day.
“Today is International Women’s Day, which we celebrate each year on March 8. The day, created by the labor movement in Europe and North America at the dawn of the twentieth century, was originally intended to protest poor working conditions and unequal pay and to fight for suffrage. Now, it affords us the opportunity to reflect on past accomplishments; to assess the current status of women and girls around the world; and to set new and lofty goals in the on-going struggle to achieve full equality for all, regardless of gender.
“This year, the United Nations’ theme for International Women’s Day is Women in Decision Making, and there is certainly progress to celebrate on this front. In Rwanda, for example, nearly 50% of the members of parliament are female. This is the highest percentage of any similar governing body in the world, and more than three times greater than in the U.S. Congress, where 15% of members are women.
“Indeed, the participation of women in new and developing democracies is truly astounding. In the recent elections in Afghanistan, 43% of women who were registered to vote did so. Women were elected to 31% of the seats in the Iraqi National Assembly. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was recently elected president of Liberia, making her the first female chief executive on the African continent.
“But the efforts of women to build stronger communities and to secure opportunities for future generations are not limited to elected office. Shirin Ebadi, for example, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003 for her work to promote democracy and human rights in Iran. Ebadi has been a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer, and activist. She has risked her personal safety to represent the families of murder victims, to fight for freedom of the press, to bring cases of child abuse before the courts, and to teach classes on human rights. She is truly a champion for justice and equality, and the embodiment of International Women’s Day.
“Wangari Maathi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, becoming the first African woman to be so honored. The Committee was struck by her work to promote sustainable development, to end government corruption, and to cancel Africa’s unpayable debt to the Western world. As a direct result of her efforts, 20 million trees have been planted in Kenya. Her Green Belt Movement has empowered and educated women throughout Africa, using the environment as a catalyst to bring about social change. Maathi has also worked to promote family planning and to address the HIV/AIDS crisis.
“Indeed, when I think about the challenges facing women in Africa, I am struck by the enormity of the AIDS epidemic. There are 40 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. 25 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, and only 12% of those receive the drugs they need to fight this deadly virus. It is women who increasingly are the victims of HIV/AIDS, outnumbering male victims 3 to 1 in some African countries.
“As we reflect on Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathi, and other inspirational, trailblazing women, we should remember those who will never receive the world’s acknowledgement and praise. The woman in rural Peru who struggles to grow food for her family and with the legacy of decades of guerilla fighting. The woman in Sarajevo, one of 20,000 victims of systematic rape, who each day must deal with the lingering pain and insecurity. The adolescent in Cambodia, caught in the web of human trafficking and sexual exploitation that affects 600,000 to 800,000 people annually, mostly women and girls. We must also think on these nameless, faceless individuals and understand how far we still have to go.
“So today, as we reflect on International Women’s Day, I know that all of my colleagues will join me in celebrating the astounding progress of women. But we also look forward, cognizant of the real situation of women throughout the world and hopeful for still more advances in the future.”