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Speeches

U.J. Ogwu: Women and the World at a Turning Point

Address to a parallel event of the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
Forum on "Women and the World at a Turning Point"

Nigeria House, New York, USA, March 2, 2011


I want to thank you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, for coming to Nigeria House. When this theme was first announced a few weeks ago, none of us could have ever imagined the dramatic turn of events all over the world, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, where peoples from Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and other nations have stood up to demand freedom and increased participation in their system. And this included women and youth. So really, the world is at a turning point. The world has become almost freed and about to redefine itself.

Perhaps this morning should be a morning of reflection. We should take a moment to remember, even as we meet here in the comfort of New York City, in the safety of New York City, all around the world, that our brothers and our sisters, our children, are facing very grave dangers, not only from conflict and unrest but particularly from disease, from hunger, from lack of education and especially, from unemployment. Let us think that we are meeting here on their behalf. Let us empathize with them. And let us also hope and believe that we can make a difference.

Talking about peace, I think there is a consensus that the quest for peace is the primary concern for all humanity. Peace is indivisible. Peace cannot come through such external means as power and the barrel of the gun. Peace can come through empowering all citizens. And in the case of oppression and corruption, these will not bring peace unless there is a genuine reconciliation and an attitudinal transformation in all of us. It is often said that peace is a necessary prerequisite for development, and through tolerance and accommodation, we can come together to achieve peace, especially when we negotiate it.

A peaceful society must find a place for all its citizens, finding a place even for those who were once oppressors as well as the oppressed. And I believe that in this endeavor women can and should play the principal role in this challenging task of reconciliation and forgiveness. We believe that when women sit at the peace table, negotiations will not only move faster but they will be assured to achieve the desired results.

Lasting peace can only come about as a result of negotiation, mediation, discussions, and through a policy of inclusion, including components of the society. Most societies in this world are pluralistic, and the voices of all those components must be heard. Even more significantly, we need to ground our efforts in an enlightened set of values that move beyond tolerance to empathy and understanding of one another’s cultures and traditions.

In the world today, we all accept in broad terms democratic principles. Nobody wants dictatorships anymore. But again, within that context, we must also retain our cultural values. Democracy, as it is said, is not like a potted plant that you move from part of the room to the other. It must be organic to any society. We may not necessarily agree on all things.  Consensus is not always achieved. But, it is necessary to find a common ground based on the principle of the true human value of every man, woman, and child in any society. And I believe that the quickest way to reach that common ground will be through education, not just paper education but enlightenment, the enlightenment that comes from proper education. And then, of course, there is the spirit of service, and the spirit of compassion.

We need to teach our young people to become a new “generation of peace” — not war, not conflict, but a new generation of peace who practice compassion and render service. And I always try to minister to young people when I find them. Never try to harvest what you have not planted. There’s a time to sow and a time to harvest. From the very beginnings, young people must be nurtured and sustained so that there will be a good harvest time. Also, we must show our young people that diversity must be embraced — not ignored, not feared — and that our differences of race, religion, ethnicity, and indeed culture can make the tapestry of mankind even more beautiful and even more meaningful.

This is a time for new and rededicated leadership, and I say it unequivocally that it is a new era of understanding for the leadership of women. Women must seize the moment. I believe that now is the time for women to take the leading roles to organize the people in these times of radical change. We need genuine leaders who are not only caring but also tolerant, genuine, and most significantly selfless in the spirit of service. This task is far too important to be left to men. There must be a complementary. Working together with them, we can achieve our objectives.

Winston Churchill, quoting Alexander the Great, once said that a pride of lions led by a sheep will be defeated by a flock of sheep led by a lion. Yet those of us from Africa know very well that it is actually the lionesses that provide the leadership of the pride!

Throughout today, we will hear from our many exciting speakers about the unique and vital role of women in the task of creating peace, and through peace, development. Let us leave this place today not only empowered but strengthened to make a lasting difference in our world.