I have always been struck by the remarkable courage and determination of women journalists. So many women journalists have shown us how difficult and often dangerous it can be to speak up, but they also have shown us how important it is. Thanks to their efforts we know the stories of heroic women like Dr. Hawa Abdi, who has faced down armed militia in order to take care of 90,000 Somali women and their families who have been displaced by the conflict in Somalia. Or Natalia Kolyada, the co-founder of the Belarus Free Theater, who managed to escape from Belarus shortly after the post-election crackdown to tell the world about the repression that is occurring in her country.
I think of the brilliant, young reporter Chouchou Namegabe, whom I first met a few years ago. As so many stories about her have documented, in the midst of the raging violence and sexual brutality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she found that her radio reporting skills as a fearless journalist gave her a unique ability to speak out for women silenced by the crimes committed against them. Through the power of her broadcasts she has not only reported on the sexual violence in the Congo, but empowered the survivors to break the curtain of silence imposed on them and even provided them with hand-held radios in the rural areas to connect them to the world beyond their remote villages.
I had the opportunity to salute the courage and achievements of women journalists when I delivered the keynote speech at the International Conference for Women Media Leaders in Washington, D.C., on March 23. This landmark event, organized by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF), drew 80 delegates from around the world.
The IWMF puts the spotlight on the many women journalists who risk their lives to cover human rights stories and so many other stories that are critically important for the public to know. This conference was organized to discuss ways to effectively address the gender gap in news organizations, and released a new IWMF study that documented the continuing challenges to female journalists. They also developed a "Platform for Action" to achieve gender equity in newsrooms and news coverage -- to end discrimination, under-representation, and the untapped potential of women in the media.
Women in the media do so much to make a difference every day from Belarus to Somalia to Afghanistan and to so many places in between! I know first-hand the difference it makes -- Afghan women journalists I met in Kabul told me how the training they received not only made them more effective reporters but enabled them to confront the tough challenges they face.
Humanity has no greater underutilized resource than women. If there is to be any remedy for the injustices and inequities women suffer, their stories must be told, not simply passed over as being "less important" or less than newsworthy. To the contrary, we believe they are increasingly important and newsworthy. Whether the issue be women entrepreneurs, human trafficking, land tenure rights, equal educational opportunities, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, addressing violence against women, or any of the other political, economic, or social themes that affect women, this reporting will continue to be decisive in bringing about the changes that we so greatly need to achieve.
Today, women are increasingly taking on the hardest issues -- issues of war and peace -- in the hardest environments. I believe our opportunity to act as agents of peace and stability has never been greater, or more necessary.
We have seen women on the frontlines of progress in their countries and in recent weeks we have seen them participating in the demonstrations across the Arab world. They need to be included fully and equally in the transitional governments, the constitutional review committees and other decision making bodies that will shape their countries' futures. Today, women in Tunisia and Egypt are working to ensure that the transitions taking place in their countries do not derail the transition to democracy. As one women's rights activist in Cairo said recently, "We will have to fight for our rights. It will be tough and require lobbying, but that's what democracy is all about."
After so many years of struggling for gender equality, the struggle clearly is not over, but I want to believe that we are closer to a tipping point -- a time when women's progress can be consolidated and a time when women's equality (what has been called the moral imperative of the 21st century) can truly become a reality.
The right thing to do -- and what we are in fact beginning to do -- is to ensure that women have full access to educational, economic and political opportunities. Given that access and those opportunities, women are changing the world and will continue to change the world.
I thank all journalists around the globe for their commitment to making sure that women's stories -- all women's stories -- are heard.
One other highlight of speaking at this conference was the opportunity I had to meet the newest generation of journalists as represented by GlobalGirl Media's Tebogo Tsotetsi from the Soweto Bureau and Rocio Ortega from the LA Bureau. GlobalGirl Media is a non-profit organization that trains girls from underserved communities to be digital media/ web 2.0 journalists.
Posted By: Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Source: U.S. State Department