One hesitates to roll with anything sponsored by the United Nations, shameful as it is, especially if it has Soviet roots. But today is designated International Women’s Day, and we’re here to make the best of it–by highlighting some women who should be International Women’s Day poster women, if the world of the U.N. made sense. Women the world should know–some activists, some struggling for their lives and the lives of others, some living lives of quiet grace; most are living, others are memorialized here. Thanks to the group National Review Online has gathered, their names are highlighted here today, their praises sung.
I’d nominate Sherri Mandel who, along with her husband, started the Kobi Mandell Foundation after losing her son in a brutal murder by terrorists in Israel.
On International Women’s Day, I would like to honor my wife, Gretchen Bolton, who actually got to the U.N. before I did. In 1980 she became chief of the Washington office of the International Organization of Migration, and in 1985, she represented IOM at the U.N. Conference on Women in Nairobi and at the U.N. General Assembly here in N.Y.
From her earlier work on behalf of refugees and migrants, to her current professional role in her business as a financial consultant, not to mention as my partner in parenting our daughter, Gretchen’s energy and activism are quite a challenge to anyone who would think of restricting the role of a woman. Here in New York she is an essential partner with me while still commuting to meet the needs of her business and clients. She handles the large number of social and diplomatic events required of U.N. diplomats, and she has carved out a special place for herself in Secretary Rice’s international initiative to encourage broader participation of women in political and civic life.
–John R. Bolton is United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
The ideal woman at the utopian United Nations would have to be a woman with political power. So Hillary Clinton should probably be the U.N. poster child. Yet, in the same way that the U.N.’s attempts to help the hungry with the Oil-for-Food program ended up a foul-smelling mess, so too their ideals for womanhood are impoverished.
Hillary was once described as “brittle.” Funny, but I always figured the ideal woman would be soft–soft and friendly and understanding. One of the greatest women I have ever known was Joan Prince. She never really had a career, yet that didn’t stop her from being a great force for the good. She would give of herself generously in every relationship, so that everyone felt they were her closest, dearest friend. The love she had for others was infectious. “Don’t you just love Beth?” she would ask. And you’d decide that you did, even if you hadn’t really thought about it before. She admired her husband so much, we couldn’t help but think of him as some sort of hero.
She literally gave her life for her children. She found out she had breast cancer during one of her pregnancies, and when the doctor told her euphemistically that he needed to “interrupt” the pregnancy, she jokingly asked him when she could resume it. As her precious body nourished her unborn baby, it also allowed the cancer to flourish.
She spent the last days of her life writing soft, feminine, intelligent advice to her girls. “Always wear skirts if you can because men love it.” “Smile when you don’t know what to say.” “Always remember, I’ll be your angel watching you from heaven.”
–Ann M. Corkery has served as a representative to the United Nations at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
Zainah Anwar is a woman’s-rights activist in Malaysia, founder of Sisters in Islam, an organization that arms women (and men) with Koranic arguments to challenged extremist clerics. She has successfully waged campaigns against domestic violence and polygamy, and is a testimony to the fact that “reformist” Islam exists and can be effective in countering radicals when the institutions of free press and freedom of association are in place to give room for such activists and voices to emerge.
Unlike many women activists in the Middle East who are ardently secular to the point of being anti-religion, Zainah works within the framework of religion and can speak to the masses of women who do not want to choose between their rights and what they believe is God’s will.
Kathryn Jean Lopez
If we’re talking about women who make the world better, I can’t let the opportunity pass without giving props to the women of Sisters of Life. A Catholic religious order founded by the late John Cardinal O’Connor of New York, they are as pro-life as you get. Opposed to abortion, they will take in a woman in need for a long as she needs, get her on her feet, become dear friends and mentors and mothers to her, and aunts to her child. They care for and pray for women who are so often invisible–women who have had abortions and face the emotional fallout of pain and regret alone. But that’s only a part of their story–they nurse and teach and research…lead by former Columbia University professor Mother Agnes Mary Donovan. The Sisters of Life are women who exude a love for life–you have never met happier, healthier-looking women. They remind you in their smiles and their quiet work of the dignity of every human life.
The Sisters don’t live too far from the U.N. I’d love to get them in there for the current women-focused assembly. Imagine if their infectious attitude started circulating there…
–Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
Maria Corina Machado, a 37-year-old mother of three, encapsulates the best of womankind and the difficult times many women face around the globe. Machado is the vice president of the Caracus-based group, Súmate, a pro-democracy nonprofit in Venezuela that has clashed with President Hugo Chávez as he works to consolidate power in Venezuela. Machado now faces charges of conspiracy against the government–in part for accepting funds from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy–which could result in more than a decade in prison.
In 2003, Súmate led a petition drive for a recall election of Hugo Chavez. Last summer, the Wall Street Journal’s Mary O’Grady profiled Machado and her efforts to defend Venezuela’s institutions and traditions, including free, transparent elections, the separation of powers, and an independent judiciary.
In December, Súmate supported a boycott of Venezuela’s national election to demonstrate the widespread lack of confidence in the fairness of the election system. In the end, five opposition parties boycotted the election. Just 25 percent of the citizenry turned out to vote–seriously undermining Hugo Chavez’s claim to a popular mandate from the citizens.
Now, under the threat of trial, Machado is a reluctant heroine who admits to being scared at the prospect of jail. But in spite of her fear, she is standing firm against the injustice in Venezuela and serves as an inspiration for women everywhere.
–Carrie Lukas, an NRO contributor, is the director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s father was a Somali pro-democratic guerilla leader and her family was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. She was forcibly circumcised and, when she was sent to Canada for an arranged marriage, she deplaned in Germany and found asylum in the Netherlands. After a job as a cleaner, she graduated from Leiden University and worked for the Labor party on issues faced by Dutch Muslim women.
Her outspoken advocacy earned her death threats from Islamists and rejection by Labor, so she joined the Liberals and was elected to the Dutch parliament. She then wrote Submission, a documentary on Muslim women, directed by Theo Van Gogh and shown on Dutch television in 2004. Two months later, Van Gogh was butchered by Mohammed Bouyeri, who left a note to Ali, pinned to the body by a knife, saying she was next. She went into hiding, but has since reemerged, albeit with bodyguards and a secured house. Throughout she has remained unbowed and outspoken in her defense of universal human rights, especially religious freedom and women’s equality in the Muslim world.
She is also gorgeous. If Hollywood really had the courage that it currently trumpets, her life would become a movie, and Halle Berry would call her agent.
–Paul Marshall is senior fellow at Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom and the editor of, most recently, Radical Islam’s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari’a Law.
While readers know about Steven Vincent–the freelance reported murdered in Basra on August 2, 2005–few know about the courage of his translator and assistant, Nour T. Hoyday.
Nour was an indispensable part of Steven’s first book In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq. Working with Steven and networking among Iraqis, she fought tirelessly for freedom, democracy, and human rights. She knows the stakes. Like too many women, she was victimized in Saddam’s prisons. She is a statistic that survived grievous crimes. She exemplified the struggle of many Iraqi women to grasp newfound opportunity in the face of family and social pressure.
On August 2, a Shiite militia death squad kidnapped Nour and Steven. She saw him murdered before they shot her and left her for dead. But she clung to life. U.S. personnel transferred her to a hospital in the Green Zone. The FBI held her as a witness for three months while they investigated Steven’s murder. Then they abandoned her in the Red Zone with no money, no security, and no family in Baghdad. She is in hiding but is dedicated to finishing Steven’s second book. She hoped to travel to the U.S. briefly to speak to a publisher. The embassy has said she does not qualify for a visa. Let us hope they change their mind. She is a symbol of Iraqi strength that we should support.
When she enters the room, Rebecca Garang’s demeanor of quiet, intense focus commands respect, even more than her near seven foot frame. Madame Minister is the 49-year-old minister of transportation in the government of Southern Sudan.
She assumed her post after the death of her husband, John Garang, in a helicopter crash For 22 years, he had led the southern Sudanese resistance, the SPLM, against the forcible imposition of Islamic law in the southern Christian and animist homelands. After last year’s peace agreement that resolved the conflict, in July he became president of the new South Sudan government and first vice president of Sudan’s National Unity Government. At his funeral three weeks later, Madame Garang consoled her countrymen: “The lion is dead and we will see what the lioness will do.”
A mother of six, she sees her post as key to development, and set about building a transportation network throughout the south and connected the world. She plans roads for food distribution and a growing economy, to prevent famines like that in 1998 that killed tens of thousands, to dredge the Nile and use barges to repatriate the 4.5 million southerners displaced, forced into exile, or enslaved during the war. In Washington this winter, she reminded us that South Sudan has neither tarmac roads nor a single hotel. Knowing that transportation has usually been a man’s world, she has a woman chauffeur and is personally teaching 25 women how to drive. As I listen to her, my stomach is in knots, but she sounds undaunted, calm, confident, even mighty.
–Nina Shea is the director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom.
Pia de Solenni
There’s only one person I know of who has about a 90-percent success rate in helping addicts to overcome their addictions and resume normal, healthy lives with their families. Growing up with an alcoholic father, this woman learned firsthand the characteristics of an addict and their way of life. Several years into her career of providing a variety of social services, she decided to dedicate her life to helping addicts. She did this in two ways: First, she promoted ways and programs to strengthen the family, because strong families are the most natural and effective antidote for addictions; Second, she formed homes for addicts. To date, she has founded 46 homes for men, women, and street children. Her homes have been fantastically successful at helping addicts. Her recipe for success: prayer and hard work. She demands both of everyone. I visited one of her homes for women in Italy and another for men in Bosnia Herzegovina. Rather than pity them, I admire the people I met there and their strength. In learning to take on their challenges, they have become models for the rest of us; but they learned this from her. She has no PhD or any other degree. She’s an Italian nun named Sr. Elvira.
–Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian living in Washington, D.C.
Josephine Butler (1828-1906) was the unrelenting force behind the first international anti-trafficking movement in behalf of women in prostitution. In the 1860s a series of laws known as the Contagious Diseases Acts (CDA) legalized prostitution in several of England’s garrison towns. Butler rightly viewed this state regulation of prostitution as government-sanctioned enslavement of women, and ignited a national campaign for the repeal of the CDA. She wrote volumes and traveled widely to communicate her moral indignation at the CDA. To give you a sense of her righteous anger: Before a conference of men in 1870, she stated that those affected by the CDA, “are to be no longer women, but only bits of numbered, inspected, and ticketed human flesh, flung by Government into the public market.” (A viewpoint I wish someone would communicate to certain Dutch and German government officials today!)
In taking on this issue, Butler rocked the social norms of her time not only because she spoke out on the shameful subject of prostitution, but also because she dared to publicly address audiences of men at a time when women were expected to be silent regarding public affairs.
Why did Butler bravely face public criticism and even occasional mob violence in order to advocate on behalf of the demimonde, the most unpopular of underclasses?
First, she was greatly influenced and motivated by her evangelical Christian beliefs. Like many Abolitionists a generation before who had supported the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and insisted on the humanity of the slave, Butler insisted on the humanity and God-given dignity of those caught up in the sex trade.
Secondly, she understood that the lack of education and work opportunities for women, as well as views espoused by Positivists and others that marriage was the only “career” open to women, were factors driving women into prostitution more “than any amount of actual profligacy.”
Furthermore, she understood the demand dynamic. Instead of adopting the ever popular “blame the victim” attitude (unfortunately still widely with us today) toward those who were caught up in prostitution by the sinister recruitment methods of traffickers, or various means of force and coercion, or because they were desperately attempting to survive poverty and support their children, she reserved her wrath for those who engineered prostitution’s normalization and expansion, and who were profiteers or partakers of the “trade.”
During the course of many years the CDA were repealed and Butler helped form and head the International Abolitionist Federation which fought on behalf of sexually trafficked women around the world. By the end of her life, Butler had engaged in efforts to promote the higher education of women, supported women’s suffrage, took prostituted women into her own home for care and restoration, founded the “House of Rest,” a refuge for former prostitutes, revolutionized the role of women in politics, and helped elevate women some viewed as “the sewers of society” to places of safety and positions of dignity and respect. What a woman!
–Lisa Thompson is Liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking at the Salvation Army.
Susan E. Wills
Selma Reddy was born in Chicago to German immigrants in 1920. She was born with a “birth defect”: Her left arm ended in a stump about 5 inches below her elbow. She never allowed this to impose limits on what she’d undertake. By her early teens, she had mastered much of the Classical and Romantic keyboard repertoire, rearranging the compositions, and using her left arm as a 6th finger, while her right hand flew to fill in what would have been covered by a full left hand. To hear her perform works by Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin, or Mendelssohn, one would think there were four hands on the keyboard, not just six “fingers.” She performed on radio variety shows with Judy Garland and other child stars of the period; she toured the country, and looked forward to a promising career. Then she met my dad, an Army officer, who left to fight in Europe a year after they were married. Their first child was born while he was still overseas, and three more followed in the next decade. Caring for four kids gave her little time for practice and none for recitals. (Next time you peel a potato or tie a child’s shoelaces, try doing it with one hand!) But she managed, and started teaching piano wherever we lived. My dad’s career meant moving every few years for better jobs. By word of mouth, she’d have more than 30 pupils within six months. Many of these students still correspond with her by e-mail today. She’s 85 and still teaching about three-dozen adults and children, admirably transmitting a love of classical music, and the skills to perform it, to four generations of Americans. And she raised four kids, all with advanced degrees, including medicine and law, who try to emulate her example of sacrificing for others and making the world somewhat better for their having lived. I think she represents the great swathe of American women who make good use of their intellect and talents and, seeking no recognition for themselves, gain the satisfaction of enriching society, one person at a time.
As I sit here at the U.N.’s annual conference on advancing women’s rights, it is easy to choose the woman who deserves praise and honor. And I will venture that every other woman highlighted on this International Women’s Day, most chosen for political and career successes, would themselves stand in awe of Joan Blinn.
Joan is the homeschooling mother of 13 children, including a severely handicapped adopted son. The oldest have graduated to become a law-review editor at Washington & Lee, a missionary, and an Air Force Academy cadet. At one point she had six boys under the age of six–and a tidy and organized home!
But this is not enough to keep Joan busy. She is a Bible study teacher in her church, a counselor, and she leads the nursing-home outreach. The daughter of Baseball Hall of Famer and Senator Jim Bunning, Joan publishes “Nourishment for Your Spirit” for her mother’s Bible study group.
When their adopted infant son came off the plane from Korea and had dozens of seizures before they left the airport, their friends and pastor counseled her and her husband Rick to send him back. Instead, they have fought for 20 years as Sam’s greatest advocates and fans. And he rewards them with the heartiest of laughter.
When Joan learned that Chinese refugees who had fled from forced abortion and sterilization were being held in American jails as our government denied them asylum, she juggled baby bottles with phone calls to plead for their release. She even flew to Washington, D.C., with me for a week to lobby congressmen as two concerned citizens.
Two years ago she faced the diagnosis of breast cancer. Her deep faith and humor buoyed her family through the crisis, and now as a survivor she counsels other cancer victims.
Many women honored on this day receive accolades for their professional accomplishments. But too little attention is given to the women who nurture a stable and compassionate society through their daily humble caring of their families and communities. Joan is an example to all those who do not seek to advance themselves or their rights, but find joy in serving and advancing those they love.
Gianna Jessen was born April 6, 1977, two months premature . . . after surviving a saline abortion.
As a result of oxygen deprivation from swallowing the saline in utero, Gianna has cerebral palsy. Gianna was a teenager when she found out the reason for her disability. Her response? “Well, at least I have cerebral palsy for an interesting reason.”
Gianna has set out with incredible determination to turn that reason into something far more than merely interesting. She is a walking indictment of an ideology that has sanctified choice over humanity. In 2000, she testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee on the Born-Alive Victims Act, courageously asking the august assembly: “Where is the soul of America?! Members of this committee: where is your heart?”
When Gianna was a baby, the doctors told her foster mother that she would never walk. Last year, she ran Nashville’s Country Music Marathon.
She finished last. In 7 hours and 35 minutes.
This April, she’ll run the London marathon.
That’s the kind of story of strength, determination, and inspiration that would land any other young woman on the cover of magazines like, say, Ms. But don’t look for feminists to spread the word.
So let’s do help tell her story: Gianna Jessen is a woman the world needs to know.