The closing statements of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Keynote Address at the Beijing World Conference on Women, 1995, epitomise the message she presents in her speech. Although she addresses a specific audience and follows a specific purpose, the values she extols of tolerance, equality and peace are universal. In the opinion of this responder, it is the treatment of these fundamental human beliefs and aspirations that makes this speech so significant.
As an inhabitant of a developed nation in which the spread of democracy and the importance of woman rights have significantly decreased the advent of inequality and intolerance, Suu Kyi’s ideas are all the more important. It is essential not to take for granted our fortunate and prosperous way of life – we must learn from the messages her speech provides, even if it does not appear at first glance that they apply.
This too is my response to Anwar Sadat’s Speech to the Israeli Knesset, 1977. Like Suu Kyi, Sadat addresses a specific audience with a specific purpose, and the message he conveys to put an end to the conflict and injustice is based on the key values of tolerance and peace. Suu Kyi’s landmark speech came at the end of the two waves of feminism in the Western world, however the effects of these were still not readily visible in non-democratic countries, such as Suu Kyi’s Burma.
By addressing this international forum, Suu Kyi’s purpose is to speak about “peace, security, human rights and democracy” in the context of “the participation of women in politics and governance”. This intention is reflected in the final paragraph of her closing statement, reinforcing her role primarily to inspire her audience, and set the tone for the remainder of the forum. Her message is centred on the idea that the traditional roles of women “nurturing, protecting and caring for the young and the old” may be modernised and applied to politics.
Her use of animal imagery and simile in “brave as lionesses defending their young” serves to emphasise their positive characteristics, reinforcing the message that if women are empowered through tolerance and equality, it “cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all”. On a personal level, Suu Kyi’s aspirations are noteworthy, but the generalisations she makes seem to misjudge the complexity of the issues.
While Suu Kyi’s address is more ideological, Sadat’s speech proposes change to a specific instance of conflict, and involves the direct confrontation of what are, in essence, political opponents. Sadat describes it as his fate beneath God Almighty and his responsibility before his people to end the conflict and suffering. At the time, military spending was having a large impact on the Egyptian people.
Given the nature of the conflict and mistrust between the Arabs and Israelis, Sadat attempts to unite his audience, reflecting the necessity of unity of purpose for peace to be achieved. He unites his audience through their shared beliefs “We all, Muslims, Christians and Jews”, and hence their shared values of “love, sincerity, purity and peace”. This noble goal of unity is shown too in Suu Kyi’s closing paragraph, and the assertive language of “these, then, are our common hopes that unite us”.