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Heroes for Us All

Posted on
March 5, 2013
- W. Robert Pearson in
Beyond Access team meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi
We’re going to celebrate International Women’s Day this week, and when we do, the ceremonies will focus on outstanding women. These women will be heroes for all of us - every man, woman and child around the world. When women are able to play more useful and important roles in our societies, everyone benefits, and our horizons keep expanding.
Margaret Mead is not one of the names that will be mentioned prominently on March 8, International Women’s Day. But she’s always been one of my heroes. Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.“ So when we look beyond all the wonderful names we’ll hear this Friday, think about the power of Mead’s truth for millions now and tomorrow.
That’s where IREX comes in. We’re 45 years young this year. We began in 1968 with a simple, powerful idea: that communicating across the frozen barriers of the Cold War would make peace more possible. Over the years, tens of thousands of wonderful women and men have taken advantage of the programs we’ve offered to prove that understanding leads to commitment and commitment to change for the betterment of all. We have changed the course of thousands if not millions of lives.  
Several years ago, we decided to emphasize the work IREX does on women’s and gender issues. We awarded a grant in 2008 to Women Journalists Without Chains, led by a young Yemeni woman named Tawakkol Karman, to support their work promoting freedom of expression. In 2011, she and her colleagues led and inspired hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Yemen to demand revolutionary change. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.
In Liberia, after a long and bitter civil war that devastated the country, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President and became the first woman to lead an African nation. In 2011, she too received the Nobel Prize for Peace along with peace and women’s rights activist Leymah Gbowee. IREX is implementing a five year program with Liberia to strengthen media and civil society’s capacity to expand stability and growth. When I visited the project in Monrovia last year, I was struck by the courage and determination of the many Liberian women community and NGO leaders I met.
Two weeks ago, in Burma, we met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991, and that country’s living symbol of commitment to democracy. We talked to her about using the country’s libraries as knowledge centers to help the Burmese people successfully transit the passage to a modern open society.  
In May, we are going to celebrate our 45th Anniversary where we will honor Ambassador Melanne Verveer, until recently the US Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues. The Ambassador’s tireless efforts have put women’s issues into more international discussions than ever before and greatly advanced the role of women in treating international crises.  
For these women, heroes for us all, the emphasis always has been on non-violent solutions to difficult problems. Their inspiration has touched the lives of millions to join the effort.