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Laura Bush's Bully Pulpit

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By Kathleen Parker
Tuesday, October 28, 2008; 6:32 PM

WASHINGTON -- Women, not men, will save the world.

First lady Laura Bush didn't say those precise words, but her remarks Monday to a small gathering of biographers, historians and journalists implied as much.

If she's right, America's first lady will have played a significant role in that evolution. Women's gains around the world, in places like Kabul and Riyadh, are occurring in no small part because of Laura Bush's quietly feminist maneuvering as wife of the U.S. president.

The purpose of Monday's meeting, which included lunch and a curator-led tour of the second-floor residence, was to allow the first lady's potential chroniclers access to her thoughts and future plans.

Sitting in the Yellow Oval Room that leads to the Truman Balcony, Mrs. Bush said she intends to continue helping women and children through her education and health initiatives. She also hopes to include women's leadership training as part of her husband's planned Freedom Institute at Southern Methodist University.

Fittingly, The Washington Post's front page Monday featured a story about Rwandan women running the show where once they were victims of systematic rape during that country's 1994 genocide. Last month, the Rwandan parliament became the first in the world with a female majority (56 percent), and women hold a third of all Cabinet positions, including Supreme Court chief and police commissioner general.

Inside the paper, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wrote about Burma, where Mrs. Bush has played a leading role in pushing for release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 13 years under house arrest. Hiatt criticized a new International Crisis Group report that urges the West's cooperation with the human rights-abusing Burmese government. The same report also denounces Laura Bush's "megaphone diplomacy."

About that megaphone. Could we possibly get the lady an amplifier?

As one who traveled last October with Mrs. Bush to the Middle East to advance the State Department's breast cancer initiative, I've been privileged to watch her in action, as well as to appreciate the life-saving results of her efforts. Largely because of her, and the breast-cancer-crusading Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization, women in that harshly patriarchal part of the world have been given an empowering voice.

More importantly, women are surviving.

Before Mrs. Bush began meeting with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, 80 percent of Middle Eastern breast cancer victims died. Already, those figures are expected to drop as women relieved of shame seek earlier diagnosis and treatment.

As Mrs. Bush noted Monday, health is a freedom issue. To be free, one must first be alive. Then, one must be educated.


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