None of this would have been possible were it not for the courage and strength of generations of women. It was women whose whispers of "enough" became a torrent of voices that could no longer be ignored.
We can hear the voices of women in Craigavon, who, instead of burrowing into their sorrow, used the power of the pen to heal by writing and sharing their poetry, short stories, essays and plays. In one poem, Madge Steele writes about finding common ground: "Weave the threads of real friendship with the colours of life / Use the pattern of Peace and leave out the strife / Thread the friends that are young along with the old / And you'll find on your loom a fabric of Gold."
If we listen, we can hear the voices of those who helped weave this fabric of gold - grassroots activists like the late Joyce McCarten, who literally wove communities together through the Troubles.
Three years ago, when I met Joyce at Ye Olde Lamplighter on Lower Ormeau Road. Around a small wooden table, we sipped tea and talked about what had brought these women together. How they realised that history and religion were keeping them apart even when they all wanted the same things. Good jobs and good schools for their children. Streets you could walk down safely. Security and prosperity you could count on. A future you could believe in.
Hardly a radical agenda. But for this Joyce was called a "troublemaker".Well, she had another name for herself, and when she met me she proudly announced that she called herself a "Family Feminist". Because saving families was the goal of all she did. I have met many family feminists around the world. In South Africa, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and China, Nicaragua, Brazil, Pakistan and India.
It was the smart thing for women to clear the path for reconciliation that brought us to this day. And it is the smart thing for women to play a central role in the reconstruction that will usher in a Northern Ireland that fulfills the promise of democracy, prosperity, and yes, peace, for all its citizens. Because as you well know the Peace Agreement was the beginning, not the end.
If the promise of peace is to be fulfilled, then all people must be safe from violence. And in particular all women must be safe from violence, whether it happens in their homes or on the streets. Domestic violence, which breeds the conditions of violence and aggressiveness, setting one person against another, must be seen for what it is: a crime, not a family matter.
If the promise of peace is to be fulfilled, then all women and men must feel free to make their voices heard through the ballot box and the soap box. But, as our country has learned, democracy is hard work. It is a never-ending struggle. You never get it right, there is no perfect democracy, and its success ultimately depends not just on laws and institutions, but on attitudes and values. On getting along with people with whom you have profound differences. On the lessons we taught children as they were tucked into bed at night.
If you think just about women and girls, what are some of those lessons we want women and girls here and throughout the world to be learning? Do we teach our girls that we value them, not for what they look like, but for what they think, feel, do and dream?
Will our businesses do more to help women get child-care and other tools they need to successfully balance work and family so that no women ever have to make the choice between the job they need to put food on the table and the time they must give to the children they love?
When a woman speaks up in the home, or the community, or the Assembly, will she be listened to as carefully and respectfully as if she were a man?
And, as women, will we finally respect each other's choices? Will we admit that there is no model for women today that is one-size fits all? And will we support the choices that each of us makes?
As you struggle both with issues unique to Northern Ireland and with ones experienced by women everywhere, I want you to know that the American government, the American people, and the larger worldwide community want to help you succeed.Reuse content