Clinton urges new fight for women's equality

Secretary of state gives speech on closing the gender gap

Published March 12, 2010 11:22PM (EST)

Fifteen years after electrifying a U.N. conference in Beijing with a call for women's equality, Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that millions of women and girls around the world are still poor, uneducated and treated as inferior human beings.

Then as first lady of the United States and today as secretary of state, she delivered the same "call to action" -- to step up efforts to end discrimination and ensure that women and girls everywhere have equal status and opportunities.

Clinton said "real gains" in the last 15 years have led to more girls in school, more women in jobs, more laws against women being revoked, and more women leaving their mark on the world. But she stressed that a long struggle lies ahead.

"It is maybe -- if we're really lucky -- the end of the beginning," Clinton said. "There is still so much more to be done ... to fully realize the dreams and potential that we set forth in Beijing because for too many, millions and millions of girls and women, opportunity remains out of reach."

Clinton spoke to hundreds of women and a scattering of men at the closing session of a two-week meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, which has been reviewing progress on the platform for women's equality adopted by 189 nations at the 1995 U.N. women's conference.

It called for governments to end discrimination against women and close the gender gap in 12 critical areas including health, education, employment, political participation and human rights.

"In 1995, in one voice, the world declared: human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights," Clinton said, recalling her own words in Beijing that were met by cheers from several thousand delegates.

However, Clinton said women are still the majority of the world's poor, uneducated, unhealthy and hungry, and they are victims of a "global pandemic" of violent attacks including rape. Women are also the majority of the world's farmers, but are often barred from owning the land they tend, and they suffer the consequences of armed conflicts even though they rarely cause them, she said.

"In too many places, women are treated not 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, fathers and sons," Clinton said.

She was loudly applauded when she drew on her Beijing words and issued a new challenge.

"We must declare with one voice that women's progress is human progress and human progress is women's progress, once and for all," Clinton said.

This principle is "at the heart" of U.S. foreign policy, she said, stressing that "the subjugation of women" threatens U.S. security and "the common security of our world because the suffering of women and the instability of nations go hand in hand."

Clinton received a standing ovation before and after her speech and was mobbed by diplomats, U.N. officials, and representatives of women's organizations from many countries. Among those in the audience were her daughter, Chelsea, and the first woman to be U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

Later, Clinton met privately with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who praised her lifelong commitment to "women's empowerment" and said her leadership in Beijing made the conference a "landmark."

By Edith M. Lederer

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