Bella Abzug at the 42nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, March 16, 1998

Bella Abzug: "Thank you, Madame Chairwoman, members of the bureau, delegates, NGOs and fighters for women's freedom, because that's what we are. And that is the challenge of this Commission on the Status of Women and those who are here to participate together not only at this meeting but every single day of our lives.

We celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. Some of you may not be too shocked to hear that I myself personally have been fighting for human rights for sixty-five years, and especially for the rights of women. And I say that at this moment it is for us to think in these terms.

Many of us here have made the pilgrimage to the Great Wall during the Beijing women?s conference. But the role of the women here today and the men who are our allies is to scale the great wall of gender apartheid. Because unless and until we scale that great wall of gender apartheid we will not eliminate the abuses of human rights that have dogged women every single day of their lives.

This is the time to declare as we approach the great millennium that women must be made free. We cannot be free as long as our human rights are violated, as long as we don't have economic equality and as long as we are not participating in gender-balanced political bodies. This is a wonderful commission and I congratulate it for its gender-balance. Let us hope that as we move toward the millennium every single meeting of the United Nations and of governments will be gender-balanced so that side by side men and women can make the difference between life and death.

Some of you have heard me say, and I said it in Rio meeting to the heads of State, that we have done almost everything in pairs since Noah except govern. And the world has suffered for it. And we must make it our business to make certain that as we move into the millennium, the millennium will be not only the year but the century of the woman. And until we understand that our economic and political power is also deeply wound up with human rights, we will not achieve that.

Yes, we are here to speak on behalf of those who have not had an opportunity to go to school: the girl child.

We are here to speak of the thousands of women who have been destroyed through war, who have been raped, battered and butchered.

We are here to speak of the violence against women done every single day in the family, in the home, on the street.

We are here to speak for the women who have struggled in a life that may be different from that of many of us, but as the bell tolls for them, we must hear another sound.

We must hear the sound of a whistle. We must hear the sound of a whistle blowing, demanding that freedom is our right, that liberation is our right. In my own country 150 years ago, women gathered to get the right to vote.

In all of our countries women have been in the forefront of the struggle for freedom and liberation, not only for themselves but for others, as well as themselves, to create democracies instead of hypocrisies which seek to deny them equality.

I want you to understand that today is a very auspicious day. The United Nations has shown its strength by preventing a war. But a war still continues against the women of this world. And we must use the strength of this women?s commission and the strength of the United Nations to end that war, to end the war against the civil rights of women and the human rights of women, and our children and people everywhere.

This I suggest to you is the purpose of our meeting. But in my role as President, and my name by the way is Bella Abzug, of the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) I?m here to formally present a report called Mapping Progress. It?s been compiled and issued by WEDO but it?s not a WEDO report. This is a movement report. This is a report of women moving everywhere all over this world since Beijing, but way before Beijing. This reflects two years of the work of women, but women have been building a movement since the day they?ve been born, in every single country. Because in every single country they have not been considered part of the beginnings, or the structures, or the constitutions of their countries.

And we have begun to change most of that and we will change all of that. We will reach the day because of the nature of the movement that we have in which women will be sharing space in the political arena side by side with men to make a better world, not only for women, but for men, women and children. We will be making space in every single institution, national, international, regional and local in which we find that men and women do not share power equally.

Thank you very much."

Citation: "Remarks by Bella Abzug at the 42nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women." March 16, 1998. Women's Environment and Development Organization, accessed 1999; available at


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Bella Abzug at the 42nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, March 16, 1998." (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <>.