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Women's Equality Day
“Half a democracy is not a democracy,” Kuwaiti pioneer Rola Dashti once said in summing up why she was pressing for women’s suffrage in her country. In 2005, Kuwaiti women finally won the right to vote and four years later saw four of their own – including Ms. Dashti – become the first women elected to their parliament. Today, on Women’s Equality Day, we remember all the women who have fought for their rights to be recognized, how far we’ve come, and how far we still need to go. Less than a century ago – in 1919 – the women’s suffrage movement in the United States finally succeeded at giving women the franchise. Thanks to the efforts of women like Susan B. Anthony and many others, women have made great progress over the past several decades. Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1981; Condoleezza Rice, who grew up in a segregated Alabama to become the first female African-American U.S. Secretary of State in 2005; and Nancy Brinker, who, at a time when the word “breast” could not be published in a newspaper, launched a worldwide movement to overcome breast cancer by founding Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 1982. These women pioneered the way. But there is still a long way to go. Today, we also acknowledge the desire and hope of women and girls around the world that are fighting for equality so they can realize their full potential. Women’s rights are human rights. Too many women around the world do not even have basic opportunities, such as to obtain an education, gain access to health services, and or find gainful employment. The statistics are stark reminders of the obstacles women face: •Women earn just 10 percent of the world’s income, despite making up half of the world’s population. •More than two-thirds of the nearly 800 million illiterate adults in the world are women. •Lack of access to health services results in more than 350,000 maternal deaths per year worldwide. A century of progress has shown us that when you educate and empower women, you improve nearly every other aspect of society. As the great Egyptian poet Hafez Ibrahim said at the dawn of the 20th century, "When you educate a woman, you create a nation." Studies show that when women are educated, their children are more likely to be educated, healthier and their family more prosperous. Girls who have the opportunity to attend school tend to delay marriage and choose to have children at an older age, when their bodies are more developed and able to survive childbirth. And the likelihood that her child will see his or her first birthday increases up to 10 times when the mother survives. Research also shows that when women are included in the economy, countries are more stable and prosperous. Investing in women has proven to be the best return on investment - with far reaching implications. When we invest in women, we invest in future generations, promote stability in communities and stimulate prosperity in countries. Today, as we remember the brave pioneers who struggled to give women opportunity in the U.S., we must follow in their footsteps and forge the way for women and girls around the world who, given the opportunity, will transform their countries.