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8/26/04 - WOMEN’S EQUALITY DAY - 2004-08-26

Today is Women’s Equality Day. On August 26th, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote. Enactment of this amendment was the culmination of a movement that had begun decades earlier. But black American women and men continued to face discrimination in voting and many other areas. It would take additional decades of activism to ensure that all American women and men were able to exercise fully their political rights.

Women’s Equality Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress women have made in winning basic rights and equal treatment under the law. In far too many places, including many Arab and Muslim countries, girls and women can still only dream of equality. Nevertheless, says President George W. Bush, there are reasons for optimism:

“We’ve seen the fall of brutal tyrants. . . . We’re seeing women take their rightful place in societies that were once incredibly oppressive and closed. We’re seeing the power and appeal of liberty in every single culture.”

The U.S. is now working with many Arab nations to promote liberty in the Middle East, including basic rights and respect for women. U.S.-supported programs include leadership and organizational training for women who seek to participate in politics and government. They have involved women from such countries as Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Algeria, and Morocco. And a U.S.-supported workshop on Arab Women and the Law in Amman, Jordan, attracted women from sixteen countries.

Clearly, says U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, “the momentum of freedom is building in the broader Middle East”:

“At Alexandria and Istanbul and the Dead Sea and Sanaa and Aqaba, political, civil society, and business leaders have met in the last years to discuss modernization and reform, and have issued stirring calls for political, economic, and social change. There will always be cynics who deride freedom and democracy as dangerous foreign imports -- just as there are cynics here at home who allege that Arabs and Muslims are somehow not interested in freedom, or aren’t yet ready for freedom’s responsibilities.”

“Yet,” says National Security Adviser Rice, “time and truth are on the side of liberty.”