Gloria Steinem Speaks at 'Make Equality Reality' Event

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Below is a transcript of Gloria Steinem's speech at 'Make Equality Reality' on 4 November 2013 in Beverly Hills, CA. (Photo: Getty Images for Equality Now).

I want to thank Paul for his great generosity of spirit in being here tonight—and to thank each of you for taking time out of your busy lives. Here's why I had the chutzpah to ask.

I'm sure we would all agree that the human race is like a bird with two wings—if one wing is broken, the bird can’t fly.

Yet now, we have arrived at a place—probably for the first time in human history—when females are no longer half the human race. The world sex ratio is now 101.3 men per 100 women in this fragile Space Ship Earth.1 This has happened because of prejudice and violence.

Why? Well, some groups and religions have tried to out-populate others by taking reproduction away from its natural control by women, by enforcing child marriage—and also by forbidding contraception and abortion. Pregnancy is now the Number One cause of death among adolescent girls worldwide.

At the same time, an economic preference for sons over daughters has caused some poor cultures to distribute food and healthcare and education to boys first—or only. Every year, 2 million more girls than boys die—simply because they are female.2 In other places, son preference takes the form of sex-selective abortion. Both result in a son surplus and a daughter deficit. More girls have been killed in the last fifty years because they were girls than men have been killed in all the battles of the 20th Century.3

Confining some women to —reproduction—and taking away their control of sexuality—has been accompanied by assigning other women only to sexuality. Prostitution is not the world's oldest profession. It's the world's oldest oppression. Now, sex trafficking is a worldwide industry that rival arms and drugs for profit—and is way less prosecuted. Each year, up to 4 million women and children are bought and sold into sex and labor slavery. Wherever there is less equality between men and women, there are more women and girls forced into what is called survival sex. In this country, the average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen.

Now, a majority of women experience physical or sexual injury in their lifetimes. The U.S. is far from immune, and Equality Now follows the money and laws where ever they go. If you add up all the women who have been murdered by their husbands and boyfriends since 9/11—and add up all the Americans killed in 9/11, in Iraq and in Afghanistan—more women have been murdered by their husbands and boyfriends than all those killed since 9/11.

This is the transnational bad news. But the worldwide good news is that women and men know equality and an end to sexualized violence are possible. Many of us in this room started imagining change in the 1960s—and have seen a lot happen. Equality Now has been continuing this vision and change, from local advocacy and reform in national laws to the U.N. and the International Criminal Court. Indeed, it was Navi Pillay, a judge there and a founder of Equality Now, who changed history by recognizing rape as a war crime.

Twenty years ago when Jessica Neuwirth started Equality Now, human rights did not include women's rights. What happened to men was political, but what happened to women was cultural. Thanks to Jessica—who understands how to make change, from the grassroots to the United Nations—we now know that whatever the question, the female half of the world is a key to the answer. With a board composed of women from different continents who have on-the-ground knowledge, Equality Now has done everything from convening the first Afghan Women’s Summit following 9/11 to pioneering anti-trafficking laws and shutting down sex-tourism companies in the US that supplied customers to other countries. From the Netherlands to Zambia to Japan, Equality Now has held governments accountable for discriminatory laws, and connected women and men working against sexualized violence in different countries.

Now that Sue Smalley, a scientist and activist from this continent, has joined our board, she has raised our sights and expanded our effectiveness. We wouldn't be meeting you tonight without her, and our light would still be under a bushel. I've only known her three years, and she's already changed my life. With a Board of global and grassroots activists—and our Global Director, Yasmeen Hassan, whom you will meet in a few moments, Equality Now is about to expand and partner with many more governments and grassroots activists alike. Just as an example of her courage, Yasmeen researched and wrote the first report on abuse of women and girls in her home in Pakistan before such violence was ever socially or legally acknowledged. Other Equality Now activists have been organizers since the age of 9 when they helped their own sisters run away from forced labor, or from an honor killing, or from being sold into slavery.

So we know that change can happen. We know that the broken wing of the human race can be mended. We know that future generations will soar. And we want to share with you the excitement, purpose and community that comes from being a part of this global, magical flight.


1. Hudson, Valerie M., Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, Chad F.  Emmett. Sex and World Peace. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012 (4)
2. Kristof, Nicholas D., WuDunn, Sheryl, Half the Sky. New York: Random House LLC, 2009 (Introduction, xvi)
3. Hudson, Valerie M., Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, Chad F.  Emmett. Sex and World Peace. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012 (4)