How Hillary Can Serve Women Now

During her meetings at the U.N. General Assembly this week, the secretary of State, a longtime promoter of women’s empowerment, should press for action against rape as a tactic of war, says Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli.

The annual United Nations General Assembly begins this week, with the world’s leaders gathering to launch the general debate, and one of the most important meetings chaired by the United States will be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s working lunch for the Women Leaders’ Working Group.

The meeting Clinton chairs on Monday could help move a few of the key issues that are pending, in particular those where U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has responsibility for implementation.

Created in 2006 by then-Secretary Condoleezza Rice, the group is focused on ways to make women’s education, political and economic empowerment, and access to justice international priorities. The membership comprises female heads of state, ministers, and high-ranking women officials from across the globe. These women leaders pledge to work together to promote women’s empowerment and meet challenges facing women in many parts of the world. Their approach has been a practical, problem-solving one: They have put aside traditional national hostilities—former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel, for example, participated alongside a host of Muslim ministers—to focus on the increasingly difficult plight of women worldwide.

Secretary Clinton’s continuation of this important effort is worth noting. Women’s issues cannot be the sole responsibility of any one political party, and progress will only be possible if we build on the work that has come before. Clinton, a longtime promoter of women’s empowerment, made the right decision to continue her predecessor’s work by extending an invitation to the Women Leaders’ Working Group. The meeting she chairs on Monday could help move a few of the key issues that are pending, in particular those where U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has responsibility for implementation.

Despite the fact that in regions where conflict is ongoing, women and children are the most vulnerable part of the population, just one woman is among more than 50 U.N special representatives of the secretary-general. These officials of the United Nations are key to peacekeeping and conflict resolution. Women need to become partners in this effort, where they bring experience and commitment. Another important task is the expansion of all-female police units to complement U.N. peacekeeping forces. Liberia has reported a dramatic decline in violence against women since the deployment of the all-women police force. As a side benefit, the efforts of the government to recruit and train Liberian women for the force increased.

Violence against women and lack of access to justice remain critical, especially in zones of conflict. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1820, focused on Women, Peace and Security, was passed June 19, 2008, during the U.S. presidency of the Security Council. Because Secretary Rice chaired the meeting, other foreign ministers and senior officials, including the U.K. attorney general, attended. In a packed session, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the work painstakingly undertaken by the U.S. and members of the Women Leaders’ Working Group for many months preceding the adoption of the resolution.

In addition to calling for the recognition of the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict, the resolution asks for action against the use of rape as a tactic of war. It calls for the special protection of women and girls and notes, for the first time, that rape can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or even a constituent act with respect to genocide. Resolution 1820 raised the bar for the international community and tasked Secretary Ban with certain responsibilities in its follow-through.

Secretary Clinton will serve the world’s women well by pressing on these issues during her working lunch with women leaders and also in her meetings with the secretary-general.

Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli was appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as senior adviser for women’s empowerment. She highlights the importance of women’s empowerment as an element of U.S. foreign policy and designs programs to implement that goal. She spearheads the efforts of the secretary’s Women Leaders’ Working Group, composed of nearly 40 foreign ministers and heads of state, and promotes women’s empowerment through political participation; economic empowerment; education; and justice.