Marna S. Tucker, one of the District's most prominent lawyers, has worked for more than 20 years to get the legal system to give women, children and the disadvantaged equal opportunity under the law. She's ready for the next stage.

About 700 people, including prominent lawyers and civil rights advocates, attended a recent dinner at which she received the National Women's Law Center's annual award for outstanding leadership on behalf of women. She spoke movingly of past struggles, and then she challenged the women who have made it to the top to help others, not just at home, but also around the world.

She joined a growing chorus of American women who are training their sights on foreign policies in which, as Tucker put it, "too many countries we call friends subject their women to grinding degradation."

Tucker, a partner in Feldsman, Tucker, Leifer, Fidell & Bank, has her credentials in order. She was the first woman to be president of the D.C. Bar. She has been an officer in the American Bar Association and she is president-elect of the National Conference of Bar Presidents. She has an eye-popping professional resume.

She is married and has two children, and has successfully combined a family and a high-powered career. But what is even more remarkable is that she has never faltered in her bedrock commitment to empowering women.

Marcia Greenberger, managing partner of the Women's National Law Center, recalls how Tucker helped develop the first courses on women and the law and taught them at schools here. "She's been a champion for women and the disadvantaged not only in her own practice but through the D.C. Bar and the ABA."

In her speech, Tucker reminisced about the early days of women's legal struggles: "Sex discrimination was rampant, and so was ignorance. It was a way of life in this country. Women couldn't serve on juries; women coudn't own businesses in their own names; girls were barred from sports and schools for no real reason, except tradition . . . . Women were barred from jobs."

Twenty years later, she said, "we have armed our daughters with equal opportunity in education and they have gone to the best schools," the professions are open to them and they have a generation of mentors to help them. "Now is when the real challenge comes. What is yet to be done will be far harder and slower going than what we have done."

And then she spoke of her three dreams.

"What we have done for women at the top of society, I want to do for the women at the bottom of society. Equal education and sports in college are meaningless to 14-year-old mothers who drop out of high school. Women partners in law firms mean nothing to women too poor to hire a lawyer to fight off eviction.

"That women may now get a fairer share of property and more child support in divorce does nothing for black mothers whose children are enslaved by drugs, when 25 percent of their young sons are in jail or on the way."

The second dream, she said, was to see "society make the crushing burden of work and family more bearable for everyone," by restructuring the workplace not only to accommodate "but also to nurture {a} new army of working mothers and fathers."

And the third dream, she said, was to make the elimination of sex discrimination a part of our foreign policy, just as the elimination of race discrimination is. "Some countries that receive millions of dollars of American tax money -- yours and mine -- still practice female circumcision.

"Right now American fighting women stand ready to give their lives in defense of a country that does not recognize the most basic elements of their own women's humanity. Not only are they not allowed to own property, but they themselves are property.

"What would we say if we sent black American soldiers to defend apartheid in South Africa? We cannot stand silent for our foreign sisters."

She spoke of meeting last year with Chinese women who bore physical scars from the Tianamen Square massacre and who had walked for three hours to meet with a group of American women who are lawyers. "They were attempting to do for their torn nation's women what we have done for ours. You have no idea the courage these women displayed merely by thinking to challenge the old order.

"I want to realize for women all over the world what we long ago accomplished for ourselves. To accomplish these dreams we must direct our energies to those economic and social issues, where nations led by men have failed.

"As women, we will make a difference only if we do it differently. It will be far more difficult to achieve than electing the first woman mayor of the District of Columbia. It will be more grueling work than the last 20 years, but that is our legacy."