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Public Statements

International Women's Day

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I support this resolution commemorating an extraordinary holiday, International Women's Day; a day that is celebrated around the globe to mark women's achievements and to recognize pressing gender inequities still to be erased.

There is no doubt that women have made tremendous strides toward equality and justice in the last century. International Women's Day provides an important chance to acknowledge women who have pioneered change and paved the way for millions of women and girls to access equal education, employment and opportunity. On the other side of the coin, International Women's Day provides an opportunity for us to make a new "to-do" list and highlight what remains to be done, both at home and abroad.

Women's rights, or lack thereof, in the Middle East and South Asia assumed special prominence in the days and weeks after the tragic events of September 11. Americans became familiar with the Taliban's horrendous repression of Afghan women and girls. Two years after the United States removed the Taliban from power, Americans watched as the Afghan loya jirga, or grand council, met to adopt a new constitution-an opportunity to debate and create enforceable women's rights. Yet it remains to be seen whether the country's constitution establishes tangible improvements to the plight of Afghan women. In a similar vein, the fall of Saddam Hussein has given Iraqi women an opportunity to engage in public life and seek equal rights. Indeed, the interim Iraqi constitution sets aside 25 percent female participation in the interim government. But the challenges to women's rights in that region of the world abound, ranging from engrained religious and cultural norms to poverty from years of strife. I am convinced, however, that lasting stability and representational government depends upon the emancipation and full participation of women in the Middle East and South Asia. International Women's Day is a chance for us to reiterate that message, in those regions and around the world, that empowering women is the key to lasting peace and prosperity. And to that end, the United States should provide critical resources to help support and empower women and girls around the globe-an articulated priority to this administration, but as of yet an unmet goal.

A fitting tribute to International Women's Day would be ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, also known as the International Women's Rights treaty. It sets out basic women's rights-such as the right to an equal education and the right to own and inherit property. These rights are well settled in the United States, but unfortunately, they are not the norm in too many places around the globe. The treaty is stalled because of the administration's interminable treaty "review." After first telling the Committee on Foreign Relations that it supported the treaty, it has commenced a review of the treaty that has now lasted nearly 2 years. To date, 174 countries have become party to the treaty. The United States stands with the likes of Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan as those few countries that have yet to become a party. This is not the company that our country-the place where the women's movement began-should keep. An administration that cares about the promotion of women's human rights should declare its unwavering support for the International Women's Rights treaty.

International Women's Day is also a perfect time for my Senate colleagues to recognize and address the plight of refugee women. I urge them to show their support for the Women and Children in Armed Conflict Protection Act of 2003, the "Protection Act", S. 1001. There are nearly 20 million people homeless today because of war and internal conflict-and the majority of them are women and children. A tragic irony is that women and kids who find their way into refugee camps sometimes face abuse and exploitation in the very place that is supposed to provide security and safety. The Protection Act of 2003 requires the United States government to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect women and children in all stages of conflicts, and sets out specific codes of conduct for agencies running refugee camps. In addition, the bill supports a variety of programs that are providing help to women in war-torn countries, programs that range from tracing lost relatives to providing legal aid for rape survivors. Most importantly, the bill backs up all of its directives with money-$45 million per year-money that can make a real difference to women in such extreme crisis.

According to Government reports, some 800,000 to 900,000 people are trafficked across international borders worldwide to be enslaved as sweatshop workers, prostitutes, agricultural workers, or domestic servants-up to 20,000 of them are trafficked into the United States. A recent New York Times Magazine article profiled the gory details of sex trafficking in America's towns and suburbs. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act is the first Federal legislation that attacked head-on the very serious crime and aftermath of human trafficking. The legislation is wide in scope, tackling among other items, Federal penalties for trafficking, international ramifications for trafficking and the immigration needs of trafficking victims. But there remains much to be done. I want to make sure that we have provided law enforcement all of the legal tools and financial resources they need to go after criminals who engage in trafficking. I want to find out if criminal penalties-both here and abroad-are sufficient to deter traffickers. I want to explore if there are innovative things which can be done with extradition and witness protection to encourage fearful victims and witnesses to come forward to help make these cases. Women and girls are overwhelmingly the victims of trafficking. Stepping up our attention to this crime means speaking up for international women's rights-a perfect endeavor on International Women's day.

I will close my remarks on International Women's Day with a topic that my fellow Senators know animates me-ending violence against women. One in three-that is how many women worldwide are raped, beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime. Violence against women is the quintessential global issue. It strikes in wealthy and poor countries, ravages war-torn countries and peaceful ones alike, and plagues disparate cultures. In a nationwide poll, women in the United States recently named domestic violence as their number one concern-number one. Guaranteeing women safety and immediate accountability for violence is the first step towards creating equal opportunities in the public realm-it is the sock that must go on before the shoes. Our attention and efforts to eradicate violence against women must not wane, and indeed, we need to redouble our efforts. Our International Women's Day and every other day, women all over the world deserve nothing less.

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