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Talking It Over
December 13, 2000
As I write this, my husband, my daughter and I are in Northern Ireland. This is my fifth trip here -- an especially meaningful one, as it is probably the last overseas trip we will take together as a family while my husband is President.
We are very pleased to be returning at this historic time. Despite the obvious obstacles that remain, the Good Friday agreement is working. For the first time in 30 years, politicians across the divide are coming together to address the issues that most affect the lives of people here.
As we touched down and drove through the streets of Belfast, my husband and I reminisced about our earlier trips. One memory that will stay with us both is lighting the Christmas tree at Belfast City Hall five years ago, with thousands of people who were finally able to celebrate the holidays with hope -- after so many seasons of darkness.
I will never forget two students who stood with us that day: Mark and Cathy, one Catholic and one Protestant who shared the same dream. When she was 12, Cathy wrote to my husband: "My dreams for the future, well, I have a lot of them: Hopefully the peace will be permanent, and one day Catholics and Protestants will be able to walk hand-in-hand ... Catholics, Protestants, black or white, it is the person inside that counts. What I hope is that when I have my own children there will still be peace, and Belfast will be a peaceful place from now on."
Today, we have moved so much closer to that day. Building peace is never easy -- and there are always people who would rather throw up their hands than roll up their sleeves. But not the wives and mothers, daughters and grandmothers of Northern Ireland. They have lived for, died for, and now voted for peace.
This is one of those special moments -- a moment in which you have the chance to defy generations of hatred -- the kind of moment that comes around only once or twice in a generation.
The women of Northern Ireland, whose whispers of "enough" joined to become a torrent of voices that brought us to this day, have taken that chance. Although they may worship in different churches on Sunday, they pray the same prayers -- for their children to return home from school safely; and that the violence and despair that tear at families will stop.
In the last few years, I have met women of many nations who are raising their voices in political systems and a new economic system once reserved only for men. Just over three years ago, anxious to harness the growing chorus of these voices, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and I launched the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative. Vital Voices embodies our commitment to the advancement of women as a U.S. foreign policy objective. Vital Voices programs, which now reach thousands of women around the world, strive to ensure that democracies succeed, economies prosper, and peace agreements take hold -- understanding that no democracy, economy or peace agreement can ever fully succeed when one-half of a nation's population remains unrepresented.
I was pleased to be able to announce three new initiatives here that continue the important work of Vital Voices in Northern Ireland. First, there will be a conference for women Parliamentarians next year so that the recently elected women of the new Assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will have an opportunity to learn from their counterparts in Westminster and the Dail. Next, political and media experts from the United States will come to Northern Ireland next spring to host small-group training sessions for hundreds of community activists.
And finally, in an effort to ensure that women are not left on the wrong side of the digital divide, Vital Voices Northern Ireland will host a Women and New Technology conference next March. This conference will help make women part of the revolution in information technology that are transforming economies all over the world.
Working with the women of Northern Ireland, as well as those in other countries I've visited over the past eight years, has been one of the greatest privileges of my lifetime. As I close this chapter to begin another, I know that their voices and their prayers will be with me every day, as we continue to work to fulfill our children's dreams of peace.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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