Tuesday, September 2, 2014

From Malala to Hillary

Malala Yousafzai and Hillary Rodham Clinton-- 
two women's lives that span more than two thousand years.    

My mother-in-law, Rizz Arthur Dean, always gives me books for my birthday and always makes excellent choices, often signed by the authors. 

This year my birthday surprise was hardbound copies of Hard Choices, Hillary's fifth book, and I Am Malala, the young Pakistani girl's first book.  And yes, Hard Choices bears the hand-written signature of (perhaps) our next president of the USA.  

What a collector's item each is--and what a pair they make together!

Malala represents young women who are still being denied even high school education, while Hillary stands among the few who have achieved the highest levels of political leadership.  The two are polar opposites in today's world.

Malala survived an assassination attempt for her vocal support of young girls' right to be educated, and Hillary also is risking her life as a high-profile woman leader. 

We have come such a long way since 1962 when President John F. Kennedy first ordered a commission to examine the status of women in the US.

Episode 9 of CNN's documentary The Sixties shows a woman challenging JFK to do something about women's inequality and later him starting that commission, which was headed by Eleanor Roosevelt and published its report shortly before his death.

It's just shocking that in 1960 women couldn't do things we take for granted today: serve on a jury, get birth control pills (even if married), get a credit card without a husband's signature, attend an Ivy League college, find minimal equality in the workplace.

Prior to 1960, there had only been one woman in the US Senate at any one time; today we have 20 women senators out of 100 and we have a serious candidate for the presidency.

If we go back to January, 1920, women in most states couldn't even vote.  Not until August 26 of that year was the 19th Amendment to the Constitution ratified by enough states to become law. 

Receiving these two books from a woman whose life spans many these amazing changes is another point of significance.  

Rizz's own mother was not expected to go to college, though she grew up in New York City in an affluent family.  She had to argue to be allowed to attend Smith College in 1917 because her parents saw no need for it.  For Rizz in 1940, however, as well as her daughter and her granddaughters, college education was expected..

Today Malala and other girls in Pakistan, Nigeria, and other nations are being denied the opportunity to attend not just college but elementary and high schools.  Women's long road to equality stretches before them with difficulties we find hard to imagine.

May we all support Malala, Hillary, the kidnapped girls of Nigeria, and other women in their struggle to use their gifts and advance the cause of human rights. 

Hilary's account of her challenges as Secretary of State records additional milestones for women.  She was preceded by both Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice in holding that position, fourth in line of succession in case of the death of the president. 

I'm so grateful to Rizz for these two memorable and well-chosen gifts on my 66th birthday.

On the history of progress for women, see also:

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