Brenda Lawrence

International Women's Day Women's Freedom Forum - March 4, 2015

Brenda Lawrence
March 04, 2015
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And now we're happy to have a visitor today, one of our supporters, Representative Brenda Lawrence from Michigan who is in her first term as a congresswoman, and she comes to Washington after three terms as the mayor of Southfield, Michigan, the first woman and first African-American male at that great city. So thank you for joining us today.[applause]

It is an honor to be with you today and it’s an honor to be here on a common goal and mission. Your theme, “Women’s Freedom Forum,” reading the statistics, seeing unfortunately some of it being played out on TV and other mediums, where we recognize the challenges that we have in so many different places in this world, being here in the United States of America, enjoying so many freedoms that we here in America have, we cannot sit back and be content with that. I am now one of 104 women in Congress, the largest number we’ve ever had in the history of the United States. [Applause]

So there were many journeys and many fights for our rights in this country. Many of them can be best practices that we can use in other countries around the world. I want to share with you some of my travels and when I travel, I always look at the woman element of a country.

Saudi Arabia was extremely challenging for me. But, I met some amazing women in Saudi Arabia who, despite what I feel a very stifling and just restrictive environment, were still fighting for a woman’s voice. And I had a conversation with the women in Saudi Arabia and I said, “Why aren’t you fighting to be able to drive a car?” That drove me crazy that you couldn’t drive yourself around. And she very eloquently stated, “Of the priorities we have, that is not one.” She said, “We just,” and I was there right after the King had bequest that women will get the right to vote this year, and she said, “You know how many of us as women, if we are abused and we go to the courts, they take everything from us, because there’s only men in the courts. We are so excited to be able to elect women to sit in the courts and to be able to hear our voices. Do you realize that if I am a CEO of a company, I can’t manage my own money? That money has to be managed by a man and at any time that can be taken away from me. We have issues with abuse and we need to have those rights.” And she said, “Frankly, having someone chauffeur you around isn’t a bad thing, so.” [Laughter]

But the other thing was the education of women and I will say as we talk about women’s freedoms, the main thing that has been used repeatedly, country after country, has been if you want to oppress someone, if you want to imprison them, don’t educate them. And that seems to be a core in a lot of these countries—we see the abuse, it’s the lack of educating of girls, and that is something as an American, as a woman in this world that I feel that we can join hands on to ensure that we are on a campaign to allow our girls and our women to be educated. Women hold leadership positions in so many different places, but the abuse that we heard that’s happening around this world, I want you to know that I will lend my voice to support you.

I’m a member of Delta Sigma Theta, and I remember joining my sorority when we had campaigns all over Michigan, “Bring Our Girls Back,” “Bring Back the Girls.” And that showed that here in America where we can increase awareness, heighten the education of so many people who are just totally disconnected, that we must work together. We must use our strength of being an ally and sanctions to countries that violate and oppress our women.

So I want you to know is that I continue here and I’m so excited to be a freshman in the U.S. House of Representatives, but I understand I have a responsibility. And it is personal, being a woman, and I’ve travelled to Saudi Arabia, to Israel, to Japan, to Turkey, and I will continue to travel and those are the things that I will be looking at: What is our relationships and what is the state of freedom of women in your country?

So thank you, keep me informed, and I will stay close to you and continue your work. Thank you so much. [Applause]