WOMEN AS HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Narrated by Mrs. Laura Bush
VO: Women everywhere play a vital role in advancing the peace and prosperity of their countries. In places where tyranny and injustice threaten freedom, women stand side by side with men, demanding human rights and representative government.
During the 1980s and 1990s the people of Liberia suffered under a series of dictatorships and civil wars. A group of Liberian women united to demand an end to the fighting. Their efforts and a demand from President Bush helped to send Liberian dictator Charles Taylor into exile.
These women met hostility with dignity and grace, and they helped bring about the election of the first female head of state in Africa - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF (LIBERIA):
Particularly as 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, and they marched every day. They sat in the sun and the rain, you know, being able to petition the African leaderships in other countries to bring peace to the country.
VO: Rebiya Kadeer was a prominent business woman in China who used her stature to protest abuses against Muslim Uyghers in China.
REBIYA KADEER (CHINA):
The Chinese also realized that I am this person and tried to shut my voice down by arresting my children and confiscating all my wealth. They tried all the pressure in the world to stop me. But I will never stop. I am the only way for my people’s destiny to be changed. I am their voice. It is my responsibility to lead them. Therefore, I chose this path. Therefore I made this sacrifice.
VO: Women in Cuba have spoken out after watching family members suffer violent reprisals for opposing the Castro regime.
BERTHA 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. Defending my brother I started to get involved in that struggle. And I don’t regret taking part in it.
VO: In 2003 the Cuban government imprisoned 75 dissidents. The three-day wave of arrests became known as the “Black Spring.” In response, a group of women known as the “Las Damas de Blanco” or “Ladies in White,” began marching to demand the release of the political prisoners.
The Cuban government retaliated against them with more violence and arrests. But the “Ladies in White” persevered and their courage has brought new attention to the brutality of the Cuban regime.
Despite the death of Damas de Blanco founder Laura Pollan in 2011, the “Ladies in White” continued to speak out against the regime’s campaign of fear and intimidation.
People all around the world have been inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi and the women of Burma, who persevered despite decades of oppression.
Aung San Suu Kyi led her political party, the National League for Democracy, to a landslide victory in the 1990 elections. Yet the Nobel Peace Prize winner spent most of the next two decades under house arrest as Burma’s military regime sought to suffocate her influence among the people of Burma.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi is now running for office again in Burma. Twenty one years after that first landslide victory.
Other Burmese women, like Charm Tong, have stepped forward to call attention to the offenses of Burma’s military dictators.
CHARM TONG (BURMA):
Our organization, the Shan Women’s Action Network, have been documenting about the use of systematic rape where women are raped by the regime’s troops in front of their families. Mother and daughter were raped at the same time. You know, young girl of six was raped and burnt alive. You know, and also involved with torture and gang rape and rape in front of the military base. And some women are kept and raped up to, repeatedly up to four months.
VO: Although the Iranian government has sought to limit information about dissident protests, in 2010 video footage of the brutal death of Neda Agha-Soltan rallied thousands to march in her memory.
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.
MOHSEN SAZEGARA (IRAN):
And so in any freedom movement like Green Movement naturally they are more active than boys. So this is a very, very good signal from the society of Iran, you know, because the women are the mothers of the society, and the next generation will be grown up by these brave and knowledgeable women.
VO: In too many places around the world women suffer harsh restrictions within their society or endure punishments without cause.
President Bush and I are proud to support women around the world who are fighting for liberty and justice. And we want them to know that the people of the United States stand with them.
All Rights Restricted, © 2012 George W. Bush Presidential Center