Hillary Clinton’s fight for women isn’t over. ‘This is the great unfinished business of the 21st century,’ she says. Eleanor Clift reports from the Women in the World Summit. Plus, John Avlon on Hillary’s good fight.
It felt more like a rock concert than an issues powwow when Hillary Clinton appeared on stage to a standing ovation, luminous in bright pink, to take stock and address the unfinished agenda in the fight for women’s equality around the world. “We’ve come so far together, but there is still work to be done,” she said as she highlighted the accomplishments of women in far-flung places. But too many women remain marginalized at best and treated like a subhuman species at worst, she said. “This is the great unfinished business of the 21st century.”
If there is an issue Hillary Clinton owns, this is it. She has made the status of women and girls a centerpiece of her life, and as secretary of State, she elevated it to a focal point of U.S. foreign policy. “I have always believed women are not victims,” Clinton told the sold-out David H. Koch Theater at the Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center. “We are agents of change. We are drivers of progress. We are makers of peace. All we need is a fighting chance.”
For her efforts, Clinton said, she has been “kidded about it, ribbed about it, and challenged in boardrooms and government offices around the world.”
But no one is eye rolling at Clinton’s agenda these days. Just as the issue of women’s empowerment is coming into its own, so is Hillary Clinton.
“Fighting to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t a nice thing to do.”
She is the most dominant figure on the 2016 presidential landscape, her influence unparalleled, and her passion unrivaled for the issues that have motivated her since she was a young woman. “Fighting to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t a nice thing to do,” Clinton said. “This is a core imperative for every human being and every society. If we do not complete a campaign for women’s rights and opportunities, the world we want to live in, the country we all love and cherish will not be what it should be.”
Invoking the role of women in the Arab Spring and Egypt and the brutal rape in India that awakened that country to its problem of sexual violence, Clinton called this moment in history a “remarkable moment of confluence” between political activism and technology, in which “there is a powerful new current, a grassroots activism ... We need to seize this moment.” But, she cautioned, “we need to be thoughtful and smart and savvy.”
Clinton’s speech was chock-full of evidence that equality for women is a powerful driver for economic and political development. “Extremism thrives amid ignorance and anger intimidation and cowardice,” Clinton said.
She noted, too, that the problems of equality are not limited to the developing world. “Because if America is going to lead, we need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society,” Clinton said. “We need to make equal pay a reality. We need to extend 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.”
But it was the end of her speech that brought the audience to their feet—again. “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights, once and for all,” words she first uttered in Beijing two decades ago. They may well ring out again on the campaign trail as her enduring signature.