Speech accepting the Unifem/Noel Foundation Award
|Document type:||public statement|
|Venue:||United Nations Building, New York|
|Source:||Thatcher Archive: COI transcript|
|Editorial comments:||Between 1850 and 1915.|
|Themes:||Women, Leadership, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (Asia), Parliament, Education, Foreign policy (International organisations)|
Madam Chairman, [ Javier Perez de Cuellar] Secretary-General, [ David Rockefeller] David, Ladies and Gentlemen:
May I thank you, David , for your very kind words. I am very grateful to you and to UNIFEM and to the Noel Foundation for this honour and particularly glad to receive it at the hands of David Rockefeller, who I know has for years devoted so much of his own time to public work and good causes everywhere.
It is only but a short time ago since we were sitting in this room for the Children's Summit. There were seventy-one Heads of Government around the table—there were only three women. I was one of them, Eugenia Charles, a tremendous character, who is Prime Minister of Dominica, was another and President Chamorro, who won the election in Nicaragua superbly against all odds, was the third (applause). Frankly, of course, it was not enough. Just remember that was a Summit concerning children and there were only three of us.
As I have been around the world, I have met a number of other women Prime Ministers across my time, both as leader of my party and also as Prime Minister.[fo 1]
It was a great privilege to meet Golda Meir; also a great comfort to me because she took office for the first time after she was seventy so that does augur very well for some of us! (applause) But she was a fantastic personality, a tremendous pioneer who saw her country through very very difficult times; shrewd, remarkable judgement, great determination and enormous humanity, and I always thought that she was played brilliantly by another very great woman, Ingrid Bergman, in a lovely film. So first Golda Meir—she was the first woman Prime Minister that I met.
And then I knew Mrs. Gandhi very well. She was a lovely and remarkable woman and a wonderful Prime Minister. Notice that hitherto I have been speaking about women Prime Ministers of comparatively small countries. Mrs. Gandhi was Prime Minister of the biggest democracy in the world—quite remarkable (applause)—and one with very great problems of poverty. You have seen some of the problems on that most excellent film and I would like to congratulate whoever made it but Mrs. Gandhi really faced them for many many years and she was a superlative Prime Minister.
Mrs. Bandaranaike was nearby in Sri Lanka. These are just a few.
We watched that film referring particularly to the developing world. We saw the work of UNIFEM, enabling women to use their other talents as well as bringing up their children, for business purposes which brought them both satisfaction, fulfilment and a little bit of independence—all very very important for women.
There is, in fact, nothing unusual about women bringing up a family and being in business. If you really want to go and look[fo 2] at one of the earliest examples, I advise you to do what I did tonight, look up the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 31. Now perhaps you will go home and look up the Book of Proverbs—and what does it say?
It describes the wife of a noble character and you will know one of the phrases: "worth far more than rubies". What so many people do not observe is what that chapter went on to say: She gets up while it is still dark and provides food for her family—well some things have not changed! (laughter)—and then she considers a field and buys it out of her earnings and she plants a vineyard. She sees that her trading is profitable and her lamp does not go out at night.
This was the remarkable woman who was praised vividly—not only a very good manager in bringing up her family, very good at home economics because she brought them up well too, but also a good businesswoman who made a profit, so there is nothing unusual about combining the two roles, that of being a wife and mother and that in fact of having a career (applause).
Unfortunately, for many years, many opportunities were denied to women. Although we gradually had more and more education, the choice of jobs was very very small indeed but since then, with the advance in technology, it really has liberated women from much of the drudgery which used to be associated with the kitchen and far more women wish to have both looking after a family and having a career as well and there is no reason why they should not. It happens in the Third World, it happens in the Western World.[fo 3]
I was talking about women Prime Ministers a moment ago. One thing that has always struck me is that there have been more women Prime Ministers in the developing world than in the Western World and you notice those whom I mentioned—Mrs. Gandhi and of course Benazir Bhutto, Eugenia Charles, Mrs. Chamorro, Mrs. Bandaranaike—and I think in the Western World only Mrs. Brundtland and myself and Mrs. Brundtland and I have sat together in NATO many times. Very strange that the opportunities for women were comparatively small in developing countries but the opportunities and value of women politicians have been seized upon in developing countries, greatly to the advantage of women and to those developing countries.
There is one thing which I feel very strong about. We now have opportunities for women to become Members of Parliament in many many different countries, to become Members of Congress, to become Members of the Senate. In some cases with women, we have qualified women with few opportunities perhaps in the developing world when they cannot use their graduate degrees to find an appropriate job but in the case of democratic representation, we have the opportunities and far too few women coming forward.
I can only speak on behalf of many women Members of Parliament and on behalf of many women Prime Ministers: we shall be absolutely delighted when we are not a rarity, when our presence is no longer remarked upon but there are so many of them that we are not conspicuous any more (applause).
In my own country, we have very few more women in Parliament now than we had in the 1930s, although the opportunities are there but women still seem to be a little bit shy about coming forward.[fo 4] I hope the fact that one has got to the top in Britain and also in Norway will encourage many other women to come forward and take upon themselves this enormous and very important role.
We now have educational opportunities, we now have women at the top in the professions, we now have far more business opportunities than ever before, we now have very distinguished scientists but too few coming forward for politics. I find it easier to get people into the House of Lords as women—perhaps because I nominate them (laughter)—than it is to have them chosen for selection to stand for Parliament (applause).
We can do a very great deal. I can assure you the work is most satisfying and believe you me, it does not stop at what one might call the traditional woman's role. I do want to make this clear: defence is just as important to women as it is to men because it is the security and whole future of the country. Women should be extremely good at finance because most women are natural managers in their household. Women should be passionately interested in education because that is our whole future and we know full well that the success of a child in education depends upon the interest of the family. Women should be very good at transport, very good at foreign affairs, very good at the whole range of things. It is just that we want more of them.
May I thank and congratulate you for doing so much to help women who have talents and abilities to express those talents and abilities in business by the work you are doing and hope that through the work of UNIFEM, we shall in fact have far more women in Parliament in the United Kingdom, in the United States and perhaps[fo 5] we shall have my counterpart in the great United States of America as President (applause).
I should like to say "Thank you" to the [ Javier Perez de Cuellar] Secretary-General. I know how busy he has been because of the Children's Summit and then the General Assembly today and he has seen many Heads of Government. We are very lucky and very fortunate in having such a marvellous Secretary-General (applause).
May I also ask you to excuse me because I have to be in London by eight o'clock tomorrow morning and it is already about one o'clock there so I have to dash and catch a plane.
Thank you for a wonderful evening! (applause)