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Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader and now Member of Parliament, once said: "I think more women should be involved in politics for the good of the human race." That’s excellent food for thought on International Women’s Day, when we pause to recognize both the accomplishments and the continued struggles of women around the world.
Some of our heroes are well known, including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose sacrifices helped bring about political openings in Burma that few thought possible. Her story of courage, conviction, and perseverance is an inspiration to men and women alike who struggle for their political rights and civil liberties.
Some of our heroes may never be household names, but we should honor them just the same. Through the Bush Institute’s Freedom Collection we are documenting the stories of brave individuals—both famous and unfamiliar—who have led or participated in important freedom movements. Here are a few excerpts from men and women sharing their perspective on the role of women in defending basic liberties:
Berta Antunez (Cuba): “I saw my brother suffer all sorts of humiliations inside the prison. I went to see my brother and I found out about things I didn´t know. It didn´t occur to me that in Cuba the prisoners were battered so violently. They received horrible beatings inside the prisons. They were deprived of all their rights…. I started defending my brother and I ended up defending all the political prisoners.”
Charm Tong (Burma): “So we have to continue to work and bring the struggle, you know, for the gender equality as well as for political change in Burma. And women will be one big force, you know, for changing human rights and democracy in Burma.”
Nima Rashedan (Iran): “Let's not forget, in a country in the Middle East—if one girl comes into the street and you can see that on the TV, this particular one girl will bring thousands of men who feel very humiliated sitting at home and watching this footage that their sisters on the streets are being beaten by the government agents, and they are sitting at home and watching. So I think either this way or that way, future of Iran is in the hand of women.”
Ahmed Samih (Egypt): “I didn´t stand up in Tahrir Square looking around me and say ‘What are the women doing here?’ That was not my main question. My main question is which one of this woman are going to do this next heroic move? And it seems that all of them have the capability of doing this.”
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia): “We were going through the period of conflict and people were dying and destruction was all over. It was the Liberian women who stood up, who gathered women from all walks of life, you know, from the grassroots, from the professionals—they all got up and then marched every day.”
To hear more inspiring stories about the struggle for democracy and freedom around the world, visit www.freedomcollection.org.
This post was written by Amanda Schnetzer, Director of Human Freedom at The Bush Institute.
Amanda Schnetzer is Director of Global Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. In this role, she is responsible for developing innovative research, programmatic, and policy efforts to advance societies rooted in political and economic freedom and to empower women to lead in their communities and countries. Previously she served as the Bush Institute’s founding director of the Human Freedom Initiative.
Amanda has twenty years of experience in the international arena and a background in public policy research and analysis, public affairs, and management of diverse, high-level stakeholders. As senior fellow and director of studies at Freedom House in New York, Amanda guided research for the organization’s definitive studies of freedom. She began her career at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, supporting research on U.S. foreign policy and international politics. Amanda is a published writer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
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