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GWLI Presents Award to Burmese Leader Aung San Suu Kyi

On January 16th, the Wilson Center's Global Women's Leadership Initiative (GWLI) presented the prestigious 2012 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award to Aung San Suu Kyi at her private residence in Nay Pyi Daw, Burma.

GWLI Presents Award to Burmese Leader Aung San Suu Kyi

On January 16th, the Wilson Center's Global Women's Leadership Initiative (GWLI) presented the prestigious 2012 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award to Aung San Suu Kyi at her private residence in Nay Pyi Daw, Burma.

Following 15 years of house arrest as a political prisoner of the junta at the forefront of the democracy movement in Burma, Suu Kyi now heads Myanmar’s main opposition party, the National League of Democracy. She is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the recipient of the United States Congressional Gold Medal. This will be the first time a Ratiu Award nominee will be honored in her home country at a program that advances her cause among the people whose rights she defended and fought for.

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s lifelong dedication to the cause of democracy and the Burmese people makes her the perfect recipient of this year’s Ion Ratiu Democracy Award,” said Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of the Wilson Center. “Daw Suu is a world icon who has shown that grace and non-violence are the most powerful weapons against oppression.”

The Award Ceremony in Nay Pyi Daw followed a day-long workshop on January 15th in Yangon, Burma titled “Women Leading Democracy Building in Myanmar: Shaping Global and Local Strategies.” The workshop brought women from the rural Burmese provinces to Yangon to learn ciritcal lessons on leadership and democracy building.

Read below for the transcripts of remarks prepared by the Honorable Jane Harman and Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director of the GWLI, given to Aung San Suu Kyi. Clike here to read the press release about this event.

Visit the Ratiu Family Charitable Foundation website for their story about the event.


January 16, 2013

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, director of the Wilson Center’s Global Women’s Leadership Initiative: Good afternoon. Jane Harman, a nine-term member of the United States Congress who is now President and CEO of the Wilson Center, sends her deepest regrets that she could not join us. I will read the following remarks prepared for today on her behalf:

As a nine-term member of Congress who is now a director of the Wilson Center, it was a privilege for me to participate in the Women Building Democracy conference yesterday and to be introducing the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award ceremony today.

It was Aung San Suu Kyi who told me in Bangkok last May that we needed to get to know the women leaders from all over Burma and that she, personally, would help pull together an extraordinary crowd. That is what we did yesterday in Yangon and what you all are continuing to do today in Naypyidaw. The women in this audience are—and will become—the government and civic leaders of a democratic Burma.

Several of Burma’s women leaders already belong to the Wilson Center’s unique Women in Public Service network, whose mission is 50 by 50—50 percent women in public service jobs by 2050 (if not before then!). Our chief organizer in Burma, Soe Htet, is with us today.  

The Wilson Center is the living memorial to the United States’ first internationalist president, who advocated freedom and self-determination in his doctrine called The Fourteen Points. 

An editorial in the British newspaper The Guardian recently compared President Wilson to our special honoree today: Daw Suu. The article recognized both Nobel Peace Prize recipients as leaders who “incarnated liberty and justice for their own age” and “who seemed to embody the absolute best of ourselves.” 

Such leaders don’t come along often, and it’s a real privilege to honor one (who also happens to be a woman…) today.

Daw Suu and I first met in Bangkok this May during her first foreign trip in 24 years, and I also heard her speak this September when she was finally free to come to Washington to claim the Congressional Gold Medal, which she was awarded in 2008.

Today, it is particularly meaningful for us to give the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award to Daw Suu in Burma, the country she loves so much and has served so tirelessly for so many years. This is the first time the award has been given outside of Washington, and I can think of no better place to start this new tradition than here.

The Ion Ratiu Democracy Award brings visibility and international recognition to the ideas and accomplishments of individuals who are doing extraordinary work on behalf of democracy and human rights.

Sponsored by the Ratiu Democracy Center in Turda, Romania and the Ratiu Foundation in London, the award honors the deep commitment to democracy of the late Ion Ratiu, a Romanian politician and intellectual who was interested in and promoted democratic change worldwide.

Members of the Ratiu family, led by his son Nicolae, the president of the Foundation, are here with us today. Our thanks to them for their cooperation and support.

The Ratius’ choice of awardees is impressive: a professor who was arrested and prosecuted for supporting fair elections in Egypt; a Russian blogger who co-founded a pro-democracy youth movement that uses non-violent means to oppose authoritarianism; a Polish editor-in-chief and former parliamentarian who continues to promote activism through his newspaper; and a Bahraini human rights leader who currently sits in jail (we are part of a global effort calling for his release).

These are all people at the forefront of struggles in their countries.

This year, it is a great privilege for the Wilson Center to co-host this award ceremony, where one of the world’s most iconic women will be honored.

This year’s awardee, Aung San Suu Kyi, is a truly remarkable leader whose tireless and steadfast efforts have played a pivotal role in Burma’s peaceful—and ongoing—democratic transition.

Daw Suu’s personal story is riveting, and the sacrifices she’s made in her own family and life are enormous. But what fascinates me most as a longtime politician is how she is now focused on transitioning from an iconic figure to a functioning politician—and how she is thinking about the tasks ahead of her.

In my view, the closest parallel to her in the world is Nelson Mandela. Interestingly, there may also be a parallel between Burmese President Thein Sein and F.W. de Klerk, the white South African president who voluntarily gave up political power in order to help end his country’s practice of Apartheid.

De Klerk’s choice to relinquish power makes me think of something Daw Suu once said: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.”  That’s a critical message for leaders everywhere—from Naypyidaw to Washington.

You should all know that many in our government think that Burma is the beginning of a real success story. But the transition is not complete—and the piece yet to complete is women’s empowerment.

As Secretary of Clinton often says, investing in women is not only the moral thing to do but the smart thing to do. This concept is in Daw Suu’s DNA.

Daw Suu doesn’t like the word “icon.” In a recent speech at Harvard, my alma mater, she said: “I don’t like to be referred to as an icon, because from my point of view, icons just sit there. I would like you to think of me as a worker. I put a lot of faith in hard work.”  

As yesterday’s and today’s gathering show, we didn’t just come together to sit. We came together to work.

As a longtime parliamentarian in my country who also worked in the White House, I’m proud to join Daw Suu as founders of the anti-icon movement.

Daw Suu has two sons. She never had any daughters, but I don’t really believe that. The women in this room are her daughters…and my daughters…and our collective future.

Our deepest thanks and warmest congratulations to you, Daw Suu.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director GWLI
on the occasion of the Ion Ratiu democracy award ceremony convened by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Daw, January 16, 2013.

Our award to you, Daw Suu is a culmination of our symposium on Women Building Democracy. We want you to know that we responded to your call to support Burma’s women democracy builders.

We honor you best when we celebrate the women you have inspired to be in the frontlines of democracy and peace building in Burma.

We honor you because you have said  that  “There is nothing to compare with the courage of ordinary people whose names are unknown and whose sacrifices pass unnoticed”.

We honor you best when we celebrate Zing Mar Aung who spent eight years in prison but yet is here with us tonight as a peace builder  and shows us  that the courage of the human spirit triumphs.  We also celebrate  Tin Tin Zhuy  who spent four years in prison separated from her only child but yet on her release is known as the mother of the student union.      The courage of our sisters in Burma, in your own words “humbles and inspires and reaffirms our faith in humanity”.

In your honor we also celebrate Nila, the  new face of Burma who is passing on the torch to a younger generation of women.  Nila is running for office in 2015 and is committed to training the National Democracy League’s youth wing so that the pipeline is always full of a new generation of political leaders.

We honor Burma’s women democracy builders, Daw Suu because you have said,” Protecting democracy is the duty of every citizen and not just a chosen few”.

We honor you because in your own words democracy is an enduring value: “I believe we should not celebrate this kind of day only once a year. We should think of every single day as a day of democracy”.

In your honor,  Daw Suu, we reaffirm  our commitment to our sisters in Burma. Daw Suu, you have said it best when you said:” I think more women should be involved in politics for the good of the human race."

We honor you because  at that historic Women’s World Conference in Beijing in1995, which was a clarion call for women globally where both then first lady Hillary Clinton and  Aung San Suu Kyi electrified the world, Daw Suu  in her video message to the world spoke of the importance of “women participating in the highest levels of government”.

We celebrate the women peace builders of Burma because Daw Suu, you have said: “But it is women and children who have always suffered most in situations of conflict”.

We honor you, Daw Suu, because you have held fast to the principles of metta and karuna, loving kindness and compassion and said that women often value restorative justice more than retributive justice.

We honor you because you have spoken against rape as a weapon of war. You have stood up against rape of ethnic nationalities. You have said: “that every act of  rape divides our country”.

Daw Suu, we honor you today because you value pluralism not just as an added value but as central to democracy. You wrote in Letter from Burma:  “Unity in diversity has to be the principle of those who genuinely wish to build our country”.

We honor you because you have said,” women must partner with men. Violence starts in the mind you have said. So men’s mind sets must be changed”.

 We honor you, Daw Suu because you gave name to a new  and growing category of violence against women:  intellectual violence.  Many  women in Burma and around the world, face threats to their access to education that was so tragically highlighted recently when young Malala was shot at on her way to school in the Swat valley. 

Daw Suu, we honor you because you have said:

“Each country is linked to the others through the bonds of humanity”. And that is why we are here tonight to celebrate you.

This is a celebration of you, Daw Suu, the women of Burma and women all over the world  who strive for peace. This is a celebration of our sons and daughters, generations of women and men who are yet to come, who through the ages will be inspired by Aung San Suukyi.

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GWLI Staff

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Global Women's Leadership Initiative

The Global Women’s Leadership Initiative has hosted the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center since June, 2012. The Women in Public Service Project will accelerate global progress towards women’s equal participation in policy and political leadership to create more dynamic and inclusive institutions that leverage the full potential of the world’s population to change the way global solutions are forged.  Read more