Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto on 20 May 2005 addressed the International Women Business Conference in Damascus on the invitation of the First Lady of Syria Madam Basharul Asad. It was the first ever conference of its kind in the Middle East organised by the First Lady of the host country. The opening session of the conference was addressed by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto from Pakistan, Suzan Mubarik the First Lady of Egypt and the first lady of Turkey besides the First Lady of Syria.
Following is the text of the speech:
“I believe in life women have nothing to fear but fear itself. Women still have to go a long way, especially Muslim Woman. But we derive support from our religion. The Prophet of Islam (Peace Be Upon Him), condemned the practice of killing the girl child practiced in pagan times. The killing of the girl child was a symbol of violence against women. Violence is wrong. Yet violence against women continues in different ways. It continues through honour killings and genital mutilation as well as domestic violence and sexual assault.
I owe success to my father, a special man who insisted that I have a university education even though his sisters said, don’t do that because no man will marry an educated woman. Education is the first step to success and to independence as well as a satisfying life enabling a person to lead a stimulating, interesting and instructive life.
My life is not the simple life I dreamed as a student at Harvard and Oxford. I have lost my father when he was fifty years old. I lost two of my brothers. Many thought that as a woman, I would break. I did not because I believe that leadership irrespective of whether it is in politics or professions is born of a passion. It is a commitment and it becomes life’s mission. Women often have to make difficult choices. Sometimes choices that men do not have to make. Yet we make them because we must. While I was at Oxford University, the British Conservative Party nominated Margaret Thatcher as their Prime Ministerial candidate. She became a role model for me, an example of a woman in the world of politics who had the courage to take on the mantle of leadership. Women need role models for moral support, especially women in leadership positions. At Oxford, I was the first female foreigner to win the presidency of the prestigious Oxford Debating Society.
This new century of ours must, for once and for all, be a century that values the girl child, that respects the woman, and protects its daughters, mothers and sisters in peace and in war, that honours and dignifies its women with economic freedom and allows us to be judged by our individual achievements.
As prime minister of Pakistan, I took several steps to enable womenfolk to compete with men creating Women Bank, guaranteeing small business loans to women entrepreneurs and appointing women as judges in the higher judiciary of the country. It is ironic that most Muslim societies have women who face discrimination in one form or another. We need to stand up to this discrimination and reverse it. It is a gender bias dictated by tradition. As Prime Minister of Pakistan I used my office to try to reverse centuries of discrimination against women. The government I led instituted a new program of hiring women police officers to investigate crimes of domestic violence against the women of Pakistan. We condemned, as state police, of women who had been raped. We lifted the ban on women taking part in sporting events.
I see great progress looming as the forces that shape the new century and the new millennium come together around the world. It is a confluence of ideology that must shape a world free from gender exploitation, free from poverty, hunger and disease. In the new global community none of us can be free if some of us are enslaved. We are not free if children cannot read, for a child who cannot read has no future. I wonder how many of you know that in every hour, one thousand children starve to death on this planet. As long as these basic violations of human rights are allowed to continue, none of us — regardless of where we live, regardless of how elegant or civilized our life-styles, regardless of our own personal circumstances and comforts — none of us are free. But I do not despair. As I see women attaining rights, moving forward, making a success in business, politics and professions, I have great hope for a better world than the one bequeathed our generation.
The solutions may not be quick or simple. But history teaches us that ultimately the forces of justice triumph.”