Keynote

04.05.13

Hillary Clinton: Helping Women Isn’t Just a ‘Nice’ Thing to Do

Women’s rights are still human rights, Hillary Clinton said at the fourth annual Women in the World Summit—and we must seize this moment for change. Watch the full video with transcript of Hillary Clinton's speech.

Thank you so much. Oh, what a wonderful occasion for me to be back here, the fourth Women in the World conference I’ve been privileged to attend, introduced by the founder, creator, and my friend, Tina Brown. When one thinks about this annual conference it really is intended to, and I believe has, focused attention on the global challenges facing women from equal rights and education, to human slavery, literacy, the power of the media and technology to affect change in women’s futures and so much else. And for that I thank Tina and the great team that she has worked with in order to produce this conference and the effects it has created. It’s been such an honor to work with all of you over the years though it’s hard to see from up here out into the audience, I did see some faces and I know that this is an occasion as well as for so many friends and colleagues to come together and take stock for where we stand and what more needs to be done in advancing the great unfinished business of the 21st century—advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls.

Now this is unfinished around the world, where too many women are still treated at best as second-class citizens, at worst as some kind of subhuman species. Those of you who were there last night saw that remarkable film that interviewed men primarily in Pakistan, talking very honestly about their intention to continue to control the women in their lives and their reach. But the business is still unfinished here at home in the United States, we have come so far together but there’s still work to be done.

Now, I have always believed that women are not victims, we are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace—all we need is a fighting chance.

And that firm faith in the untapped potential of women at home and around the world has been at the heart of my work my entire life, from college and law school, from Arkansas to the White House to the Senate. And when I became Secretary of State, I was determined to weave this perspective even deeper into the fabric of American foreign policy.

But I knew to do that, I couldn’t just preach to the usual choir. We had to reach out, not only to men, in solidarity and recruitment, but to religious communities, to every partner we could find. We had to make the case to the whole world that creating opportunities for women and girls advances security and prosperity for everyone. So we relied on the empirical research that shows that when women participate in the economy, everyone benefits. When women participate in peace-making and peace-keeping, we are all safer and more secure. And when women participate in politics of their nations they can make a difference.

But as strong a case as we’ve made, too many otherwise thoughtful people continue to see the fortunes of women and girls as somehow separate from society at large. They nod, they smile and then they relegate these issues once again to the sidelines. I have seen it over and over again, I have been kidded about it I have been ribbed, I have been challenged in boardrooms and official offices across the world.

But fighting to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t a nice thing to-do. It isn’t some luxury that we get to when we have time on our hands to spend. This is a core imperative for every human being in every society. If we do not continue the campaign for women’s rights and opportunities, the world we want to live, the country we all love and cherish, will not be what it should be.

It is no coincidence that so many of the countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity. Think of the young women from northern Mali to Afghanistan whose schools have been destroyed. Or of the girls across Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia who have been condemned to child marriage. Or of the refugees of the conflicts from eastern Congo to Syria who endure rape and deprivation as a weapon of war.

It is no coincidence that so many of the countries where the rule of law and democracy are struggling to take root are the same places where women and girls cannot participate as full and equal citizens. Like in Egypt, where women stood on the front lines of the revolution but are now being denied their seats at the table and face a rising tide of sexual violence.

It is no coincidence that so many of the countries making the leap from poverty to prosperity are places now grappling with how to empower women. I think it is one of the unanswered questions of the rest of this century to whether countries, like China and India, can sustain their growth and emerge as true global economic powers. Much of that depends on what happens to women and girls.

None of these are coincidences. Instead, they demonstrate—and your presence here confirms—that we are meeting at a remarkable moment of confluence.

Because in countries and communities across the globe where for generations violence against women has gone unchecked, opportunity and dignity virtually unknown, there is a powerful new current of grassroots activism stirring, galvanized by events too outrageous to ignore and enabled by new technologies that give women and girls voices like never before. That’s why we need to seize this moment. But we need to be thoughtful and smart and savvy about what this moment really offers to us.

Now many of us have been working and advocating and fighting for women and girls for more decades than we care to remember. And I think we can be and should proud of all that we’ve achieved. Conferences like this one have been part of that progress. But let’s recognize much of our advocacy is still rooted in a 20th century, top-down frame. The world is changing beneath our feet and it is past time to embrace a 21st century approach to advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls at home and across the globe.

Think about it. You know, technology, from satellite television to cell phones from Twitter to Tumblr, is helping bring abuses out of the shadows and into the center of global consciousness, Think of that woman in a blue bra beaten in Tahrir Square, think about that 6-year old girl in Afghanistan about to be sold into marriage to settle a family debt.

Just as importantly, technological changes are helping inspire, organize, and empower grassroots action. I have seen this and that is where progress is coming from and that’s where our support is needed. We have a tremendous stake in the outcome of these metrics.

Today, more than ever, we see clearly that the fate of women and girls around the world is tied up with the greatest security and economic challenges of our time.

Consider Pakistan, a proud country with a rich history that recently marked a milestone in its democratic development when a civilian government completed its full term for the very first time. And it is no secret that Pakistan is plagued by many ills: violent extremism, sectarian conflict, poverty, energy shortages, corruption, weak democratic institutions. It is a combustible mix. And more than 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists in the last decade.

The repression of women in Pakistan exacerbates all of these problems.

More than 5 million children do not attend school—and two-thirds of them are girls. The Taliban insurgency has made the situation even worse.

As Malala has said and reminded us: “We live in the 21st century. How can we be deprived from education?” She went on to say, “I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”

How many of us here today would have that kind of courage? The Taliban recognized this young girl, 14-year at the time, as a serious threat. You know what? They were right— she was a threat. Extremism thrives amid ignorance and anger, intimidation and cowardice. As Malala said, “If this new generation is not given pens, they will be given guns.”

But the Taliban miscalculated. They thought if they silenced Malala, and thank god they didn’t, that not only she, but her cause would die. Instead, they inspired millions of Pakistanis to finally say, “Enough is enough.” You heard it directly from those two brave young Pakistani women yesterday. And they are not alone. People marched in the streets and signed petitions demanding that every Pakistani child—girls as well as boys—have the opportunity to attend school. And that in itself was a rebuke to the extremists and their ideology.

I’m well aware that improving life for Pakistan’s women is not a panacea. But it’s impossible to imagine making real progress on the country’s other problems—especially violent extremism—without tapping the talents and addressing the needs of Pakistan’s women, including reducing corruption, ending the culture of impunity, expanding access to education, to credit, to all the tools that give a woman or a man make the most of their life’s dreams. None of this will be easy or quick. But the grassroots response to Malala’s shooting gives us hope for the future.

Again and again we have seen women drive peace and progress. In Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant women like Inez McCormick came together to demand an end to the Troubles and helped usher in the Good Friday Accords. In Liberia, women marched and protested until the country’s warlords agreed to end their civil war, they prayed the devil back to hell, and they twice elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first woman president in Africa. An organization called Sisters Against Violent Extremism now connects women in more than a dozen countries who have risked their lives to tell terrorists that they are not welcome in their communities.

So the next time you hear someone say that the fate of women and girls is not a core national security issue, it’s not one of those hard issues that really smart people deal with, remind them: The extremists understand the stakes of this struggle. They know that when women are liberated, so are entire societies. We must understand this too. And not only understand it, but act on it.

And the struggles do not end. Struggles do not end when countries attempt the transition to democracy. we’ve seen that very clearly the last few years.

Many millions including many of us were inspired and encouraged by the way women and men worked together during the revolutions in places like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. But we know that all over the world when the dust settles, too often women’s gains are lot to better organized, more powerful forces of oppression.

We see seeing women largely shut out of decision-making. We see women activists believe they are being targeted by organized campaigns of violence and intimidation.

But still, many brave activists, women and men alike, continue to advocate for equality and dignity for all Egyptians, Tunisians, and Libyans. They know the only way to realize the promise of the Arab Spring is with and through the full participation of half the population.

Now what is true in politics is also true economics.

In the years ahead, a number of rapidly developing nations are poised to reshape the global economy, lift many millions out of poverty and into the middle class. This will be good for them and good for us—it will create vast new markets and trading partners.

But no country can achieve its full economic potential when women are left out or left behind… a fact underscored day after day and most recently to me a tragedy in India.

Concerning the young 23-year-old woman, brutally beaten and raped on a Delhi bus last December she was from a poor farming family, but like so many women and men she wanted to climb that economic ladder. She had aspirations for her life. She studied all day to become a physical therapist, then went to work at call centers in the evening, she sleep two hours a night. President Mukherjeeof described her as a “symbol of all that New India strives to be.”

But if her life embodied the aspirations of a rising nation, her death and her murder, pointed to the many challenges still holding it back. The culture of rape is tied up with a broader set of problems: official corruption, illiteracy, inadequate education, laws and traditions, customs, culture, that prevent women from being seen as equal human beings. And in addition, in many places, India and China being the leaders, in skewed gender balance with many more men than women, which contributes to human trafficking, child marriage, and other abuses that dehumanize women and corrode society.

So millions of Indians took to the streets in 2011, they protested corruption. In 2012, came the Delhi gang rape, and the two causes merged. Demands for stronger measures against rape were joined by calls for better policing and more responsive governance, for an India that could protect all its citizens and deliver the opportunities they deserve. Some have called that the “Indian Spring.”

Because, as the protesters understood, India will rise or fall with its women. Its had a tradition of strong women leaders, but those women leaders like women leaders around the world like those who become presidents or prime ministers or foreign ministers or heads of corporations cannot be seen as tokens that give everyone else in society the chance to say we’ve taken care of our women. So any country that wants to rise economically and improve productivity needs to open the doors.

Latin America and the Caribbean have steadily increased women’s participation in the labor market since the 1990s, they now account for more than half of all workers. The World Bank estimates that extreme poverty in the region has decreased by 30 percent as a result.

Here in the United States, American women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs forty years ago to nearly 48 percent today. And the productivity gains attributable to this increase account for more than $3.5 trillion in GDP growth over those four decades. Similarly, fast-growing Asian economies could boost their per capita incomes by as much as 14 percent by 2020 if they brought more women into the workforce.

Laws and traditions that hold back women, hold back entire societies, creating more opportunities for women and girls will grow economies and spread prosperity. When I first began talking about this using rape data from the World Bank and private sector analyses there were doubters who couldn’t quite put the pieces together. But that debate is over. Opening the doors to one’s economy for woman will make a difference.

Now, I want to conclude where I began, with the unfinished business we face here at home. The challenges and opportunities I’ve outlined today are not just for the people of the developing world. America must face this too if we want to continue leading the world.

Traveling the globe these last four years reaffirmed and deepened my pride in our country and the ideals we represent. But it also challenged me to think about who we are and the values we are supposed to be living here at home in order to represent abroad After all, our global leadership for peace and prosperity, for freedom and equality, is not a birthright. It must be earned by every generation.

And yes, we now have American women at high levels of business, academia, and government—you name it. But, as we’ve seen in recent months, we’re still asking age-old questions about how to make women’s way in male-dominated fields, how to balance the demands of work and family. The Economist magazine recently published what it called a “glass-ceiling index” ranking countries based on factors like opportunities for women in the workplace and equal pay. The United States was not even in the top 10. Worse, recent studies have found that, on average, women live shorter lives in America than in any other major industrialized country.

Think about it for a minute. We are the richest and most powerful country in the world. Yet many American women today are living shorter lives than their mothers, especially those with the least education. That is a historic reversal that rivals the decline in life expectancy for Russian men after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Now there is no single explanation for why this is happening. Prescription drug overdoses have spiked: obesity, smoking, lack of health insurance, intractable poverty. But the fact is that for too many American women, opportunity and the dream of upward mobility—the American Dream— remains elusive.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. I think of the extraordinary sacrifices my mother made to survive her own difficult childhood, to give me not only life, but opportunity along with love and inspiration. And I’m very proud of my own daughter and I look at all these young women I’m privileged to work with or know through Chelsea and it’s hard to imagine turning the clock back on them. But in places throughout America large and small the clock is turning back.

So, we have work to do. Renewing America’s vitality at home and strengthening our leadership abroad will take the energy and talents of all our people, women and men.

If America is going to lead, we need to learn from the women of the world who have blazed new paths and developed new solutions, on everything from economic development to education to environmental protection.

If America is going to lead, we need to catch up with so much of the rest of the world and finally ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women.

If America is going to lead, we need to stand by the women of Afghanistan after our combat troops come home, we need to speak up for all the women working to realize the promise of the Arab Spring, and do more to save the lives of the hundreds of thousands of mothers who die every year during childbirth from preventable causes and so much more.

If America is going to lead, we need to stand by the women of Afghanistan after our combat troops come home, we need to speak up for all the women working to realize the promise of the Arab Spring, and do more to save the lives of the hundreds of thousands of mothers who die every year during childbirth from preventable causes and so much more.

But that’s not all.

Because if America is going to lead we expect ourselves to lead, we need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society, we need to make equal pay a reality, we need to extending family and medical leave benefits to more workers and make them paid, we need to encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in math and science.

We need to invest in our people so they can live up to their own God-given potential.

That’s how America will lead in the world.

So let’s learn from the wisdom of every mother and father all over the world who teaches their daughters that there is no limit on how big she can dream and how much she can achieve.

This truly is the unfinished business of the 21st century. And It is the work we are all called to do. I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead. Lets keep fighting for opportunity and dignity, let’s keep fighting for freedom and equality, let's keep fighting for full participation. And let's keep telling the world over and over again that yes, women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights once and for all.