Madeleine Albright addresses Girls Inc.

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December 10th, 2010

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Omaha, NE – The first female U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed a crowd of young women at the annual Girls Inc. luncheon in Omaha Friday.

Madeleine Albright addressed a crowd at the annual Girls Inc. fundraiser in Omaha (Photo Sam Petto)

About a dozen girls danced and showed off their times tables to a crowd of about 1,200 people at the Girls Inc. fundraiser. They told their stories about joining the girl-empowerment group, Girls Inc., and their dreams for their own futures – to go to college and be mentors for other young girls.  A little later, they introduced the keynote speaker.

“Dr. Albright didn’t just break the glass ceiling, she smashed it to bits; she pulverized it; she dominated that glass ceiling making way for Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton to follow in her footsteps… Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together, the honorable Madeleine K. Albright is in the house.”

The first female Secretary did not grow up in the same world as the young ladies on the stage. Madeleine Albright was born during World War Two in Czechoslovakia. After fleeing the Nazis and arriving in the United States, she went to college. Then, like most women her age at the time, married and raised a family. It wasn’t until age 39, she said, when she took her first professional job.

Madeleine Albright told a crowd at the Qwest Center the battle for women's rights continues around the world (Photo Sam Petto)

“And even then, I never considered the possibility that I might one day become Secretary of State. Now it’s not that I lacked ambition, it’s just that I’d never seen a Secretary of State in a skirt.”

During her time as Secretary in the late 1990s, Albright said she wanted to do everything her male predecessors did, but more. She wanted to reach out to women, she said, not to please her gender, but as a matter of logic.

“After all, one of America’s key objectives is to promote democracy. But democracy is not possible if women are treated as second class-citizens.”

Albright says the battle for women’s equality continues around the world. Though some people still tell her women’s rights are a sideline issue, she says she has one word for those “self-described experts: Afghanistan.” The Taliban, she says, provide evidence the mistreatment of women is not a side issue; it’s a symptom of the whole issue. And though progress has been made around the world, she says, some of that remains theoretical.

“The bad news is that often even if the laws on the books are changed, the reality in villages and communities has not,” she said. “So appalling abuses are still committed against women, and these include coerced abortions, sterilizations, dowry murders, honor crimes, and even the killing of infants simply because they are female.”

“Now, some say all this is cultural,” she said, “and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. I say it’s criminal and we each have an obligation to stop it.”

Albright took questions from a lineup of girls, who asked her what steps they should take if they want to become Secretary of State one day, and what her days were like, now that she’s no longer in the position. She said she continues to work, on the board of the Council of Foreign Relations and teaches at Georgetown University in Washington. She keeps busy, she said, fighting the same fights for women she always did, just with a new perspective. It took her a while to find her voice, she said, but now that she has it, she never stops using it.

Listen to Madeleine Albright’s full 15 minute speech here.

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