Nearly 300 friends and supporters joined IWHC in honoring Christiane Amanpour at our annual gala on April 8, 2013, at The Pierre in New York City. As CNN’s chief international correspondent and the global affairs anchor for ABC News, Amanpour has maintained an unwavering commitment to telling the stories of women and girls around the world. IWHC President Françoise Girard and Board Chair Marlene Hess presented Amanpour with an honorary tribute for being a “champion for women and girls.” The following are her remarks at the gala.
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Thank you very much, Françoise and Marlene. Thank you to Alex Farman-Farmaian, who is my childhood friend who got me over here and introduced me fully to this wonderful organization. Great to see Kati Marton and all the other ladies and gentleman. It’s fantastic to have my husband here, one of the greatest activists for women’s rights, and to have some of my colleagues and friends who I can see through this lovely, lovely, lovely dinner. The invitation says “Come festive.” And I feel that it’s festive. I feel the energy in this room. And Francoise mentioned that she was kind of worried about Margaret Thatcher’s passing, that I’d go. But, I think it’s kind of fortuitous that I’m here tonight on the day that she died because whatever one might think of her politics, she did something incredible for women. She was the first female leader of a major democratic state and it’s pretty incredible, and particularly to stand here in the United States and know that little old England had their first female leader and we’re still waiting for the first woman president of the United States.
The reason I mention it is I believe very strongly that it is through the grassroots electoral politics and running for office and winning all sorts of elective offices from the very bottom to the very top that that will make the ultimate big difference in women’s lives. And I also think that leveraging our economic potential and our economic heft will make the big difference in women’s lives. I think that having seen what IWHC has done over the years since its founding and knowing that you work with 50 or so different NGOs in more than 20 countries and in many of the countries that I’ve covered. Whether it be in Latin America, Asia, or Africa, in many, many of the countries and situations that I have covered it is imperative that women grab their rights and no longer wait to be given their rights. To me, it’s appalling that I open the “New York Times” today and I see–or actually, sorry, “The Wall Street Journal” (I read them all)–but, I see this picture with the caption “Woman addresses Mormon conference.” It’s not okay that it’s still a big deal that women do X, Y or Z. It’s absolutely imperative that women are equal, have parity, have equality in every single field from every single range everywhere, wherever you look in all the parts of the world.
And I think that having read the great tribute to Joan Dunlop and having heard, well, read what my friend Tim Wirth of the United Nations Foundation wrote in his introduction, all her accomplishments, but also said that she had this beautiful, charming smile and this stainless steel backbone. That is the combination that makes a difference. That is certainly what Margaret Thatcher had. One of the great achievements of Joan Dunlop and Bella Abzug and Jane Fonda and Adrienne Germain and Nafis Sadik was in preparing the way for the United Nations Conference in Cairo in 1994, the population and development conference. I happened to have had the good fortune of working for CNN and Ted Turner was our boss and Ted Turner, as you probably all know, is a great believer in the United Nations and a great believer in the power of television to tell the story. So, I was under strict orders for every single UN conference starting in 1992 in Rio for the environment to do a half hour program from whatever conference it was: Rio in ’92, Cairo in ’94, Copenhagen later, I didn’t go to Beijing. But, we did a half hour program live every single evening. And I look back on ’94 and I remember what an electrifying moment it was. I remember the very severe arguments and divisions and people wondering whether there was going to be a consensus on fundamental women’s rights. I remember the headline when finally the Vatican decided not to contest some of the language that was in some of the proposals.
I also remember something that sticks with me and it always will. At that conference we at CNN did a report, my colleagues Mary Rogers and Gayle Young, did a report on what’s politely known as female genital mutilation; the horrendous process of abusing in the most appalling way a young girl for life. And it was the first time I’d ever seen this really happen and my colleagues had gone to a family who had allowed them for the very first time to tell this story and to film this whole appalling practice. And they did. And it was the most heart wrenching, the most riveting piece of television, one of the best told stories on this issue that I’d ever seen and it stays with me to this very day. Because I think that is what points out why your work is so important. That no matter the laws that are imposed–for instance in Egypt in ’94 we were told that female genital mutilation was outlawed, that it wasn’t allowed–and yet, it continued with impunity. And when we told that story and we broadcast it on CNN around the world at a time when the whole world’s attention was riveted on Egypt, on President Mubarak, on the hosting of this conference, it created an absolute uproar.
We, CNN, were practically kicked out of the country.
I did actually get an interview with President Mubarak the day after it aired and I asked him about it and, again, he promised me that it wasn’t allowed, it wasn’t the law and it would not be allowed. But, at the same time we were being practically chased out of Cairo by his people, by the authorities, by the Minister of Information, by this, that, and the other, and it was incredibly difficult. And it was with great force that we insisted on staying and refused to leave and continued to do our work. And I remember that moment, for me, crystallizes how we can never give up this fight because it’s never going to be over until it’s over. And even in places 20 odd years later, whether it be Pakistan, whether Afghanistan, wherever it might be even when the United States and western forces and other forces are engaged and surely should help change the environment, it is, to me, unbelievable that today in 2013 a 6-year-old girl in Afghanistan still is at risk of being sold off to pay her father’s debt.
I covered that 20 years ago. It’s still happening. It’s against the law, but it’s still happening. It’s amazing to me that in Pakistan and elsewhere, women are still having acid thrown in their faces. It’s against the law, but it’s still happening. It’s amazing to me that in India, in wherever we look these days including in the United States of America, that gang rape continues. It’s against the law, but it continues and why? Because there is not enough of a wave to stand up and say “This is not all right.” Every single case, every single case in whatever country has to be prosecuted. As long as one case is not prosecuted, as long as one incident goes with impunity, it will never stop. And that’s why this work of IWHC, among all the other things it does, is so important.
And so, it’s really fantastic for me to accept this award. I feel very, very passionate about covering all the women’s issues that I do. And it’s almost not on purpose that I do. That it’s because all the wars that I’ve covered in the last 20 odd years, more than 20 years, have been wars against women and children. They’ve been wars against civilians. But, always the people who pay the highest price are women and children. And at a time when we have struggled so mightily for civil rights, for gay rights, for rights all over the world, it is still incredible to me that women are the last minority who can have their rights trampled, and children, too, with virtual impunity. And that must stop. That has to stop.
At the same time as I say this and I regret this very deeply: I am absolutely convinced that obviously in many places the tide is turning and so much good is happening in the issue of women’s rights and I know from personal experience that whenever a woman is at the table, it makes a difference, it makes a difference in the outcome. Whether it’s in the board room, whether it’s around the peace table, in the negotiating room, wherever it might be. Economically, in every way, having women at the table makes a huge difference.
So, when we all get up here and lobby for women’s rights, it’s not that we’re saying women should rule the world, it’s that we’re saying women should take their rightful place in this world. And that women should have parity and equality and that it is a shame that in 2013 even in the most powerful, most progressive democracy, the one built on the very idea of freedom and equal rights for all, women’s right are still not fully achieved.
And it is incredible and that’s why I hope that you will always, always continue this fight and I really, really appreciate you having me here tonight and there’s so much more out there to do. And there is so much of a difference that all of us and all of you can make. I really hope that one of our takeaways will be, I think it was Madeline Albright who said it, in any event, she’s been quoted a lot over the last few weeks said, “There is a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help women.” That does not apply to the IWHC. But, it does apply to the people who are, for some unknown reason, piling on Sheryl Sandberg for trying to say “Hey, ladies, grab your rights.” For some reason, it’s okay to cyber bully Anne Hathaway. For what reason? I don’t know. For some reason, it’s okay to throw date rape drugs at a young girl in Steubenville, Ohio. Thank God that went to trial and thank God the perpetrators were sentenced and convicted.
I just feel that we all have to help each other and we all have to help ourselves and we all have to help the world and I really admire what you all do on a daily basis. And I especially admire people who, like Margaret Thatcher, got up and did what she had to do without even a thought, but carrying on. And talking to John Major, the former Prime Minister, today he said “You know, it wasn’t that she was an actual feminist. It was that she got on with it and did her job and really was incredibly competent. But, she wasn’t above using her feminine wiles.” And we should also understand that that’s okay too. I have got into so many rooms and so many doors by being a woman and I’m very proud to say that. Very proud indeed. And I’m not making a political statement, but I’ve been in turmoil all weekend at that the thought that President Obama had to apologize for telling the attorney general that she was good looking after first having called her brilliant, tough, smart, and everything else. Nobody has to apologize for telling me that.
Thank you very much.