Fifteen years ago, delegates from 189 countries met in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women.
And First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke up that day loudly and clearly:
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.
This week, on the anniversary of the Beijing Conference, Secretary of State Clinton was at the United Nations, still leading from the front.
[That] was a call to action – a call to the global community to work for the laws, reforms, and social changes necessary to ensure that women and girls everywhere finally have the opportunities they deserve to fulfil their own God-given potentials and contribute fully to the progress and prosperity of their societies.
And for many, those words have translated into concrete actions. But for others they remain a distant aspiration. Change on a global scale cannot and does not happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and persistence. And as hard as we have worked these past 15 years, we have more work to do.
(From her Remarks at the UN Commission on the Status of Women).
Women's empowerment and gender equality, she said, are linked to economic development, ending poverty, and improving health. And added, to loud applause from the dozens of government ministers and more than 2,000 women activists attending the conference, "The status of the world's women is not only a matter of justice. It is also a political, economic, and social imperative."
Deliberately echoing her own words of 15 years ago, she then ringingly declared, "Women’s progress is human progress, and human progress is women’s progress.”
Thank you, Secretary Clinton. Thank you for your continued advocacy on behalf of women and girls. For far too long, over half of the population has not been treated as full and equal human beings with their own rights and aspirations, but as lesser creatures undeserving of the treatment and respect accorded to their husbands, their fathers, and their sons.
I remember once driving through Africa with a group of distinguished experts. And I saw women working in the fields and I saw women working in the markets and I saw women with wood on their heads and water on their heads and children on their backs. And I remarked that women just seem to be working all the time. And one of the economists said, “But it doesn’t count.” I said, “How can you say that?” He said, “Well, it’s not part of the formal economy.” I said, “Well, if every woman who did all that work stopped tomorrow, the formal economy would collapse.”
Go Hillary. The fight for equality for the world's women and girls is truly the moral imperative of the 21st century.
So today, let us renew our commitment to finishing the job. And let us intensify our efforts because it is both the right thing to do and it is the smart thing as well. We must declare with one voice that women’s progress is human progress, and human progress is women’s progress once and for all.
Listen to her speak. It's Women's History Month, after all.
Photo credit of Hillary: by Mario Tama/Getty Images North America
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