International Women's Day

Floor Speech

By:  Hillary Clinton
Date: March 8, 2005
Location: Washington, DC



Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, today we commemorate International Women's Day. Discussions that will take place this week in celebration of International Women's Day allow women leaders, policy makers and experts from governments around the world to take stock of our progress and recommend concrete steps for future action.

I commend U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for using his platform at the United Nations to advocate on behalf of women's rights. More than most, the Secretary General knows firsthand that global progress depends on securing the rights of women worldwide. I am grateful to him for raising his voice on behalf of women and for the pivotal role the U.N. continues to play in advancing women's rights on every continent.

About 2 weeks ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with some of my colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee. I visited U.S. troops and had a chance to see the extraordinary work these dedicated men and women are doing under extremely trying circumstances.

I also spent a few very valuable moments with Iraqi and Afghan women, just as I had done on a previous visit to Iraq and Afghanistan during Thanksgiving in 2003. What I saw, and what I heard from these women, was both inspiring and unnerving. In many ways the experiences of Iraqi women, and their counterparts in Afghanistan, underscore the opportunities unfolding for women all over the globe. But they also represent an enduring truth--that no matter how far we have come and how much hope is on the horizon, women must continue to work, struggle, and fight for every ounce of progress we make. Even then there are no guarantees.

Ten years ago, women from 189 countries came together for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. It was a gathering that lasted only a few days, but it changed the world.

We were women of all colors, races, ethnicities, languages, and religious backgrounds. Yet we knew that, as women, we shared common aspirations and dreams, as well as concerns and worries about the futures of our families and our communities.

In Beijing, after years, decades, indeed centuries, we broke our silence. Together we spoke up and we spoke out.

We spoke out on behalf of women and their daughters, mothers and sisters; women who were underpaid, under-educated and undervalued; women who were deprived of the right to go to school, earn a living, see a doctor, own property, get a loan, cast a vote or run for office; women who were persecuted, abused, violated, even killed because there were no laws to protect them or no enforcement of the laws that were supposed to protect them.

Although some governments and officials doubted that a United Nations conference on women would have an impact, what transpired in Beijing was the beginning of a global movement. It was a global movement focusing attention on the issues that matter most in the lives of women and their families: access to education, health care, jobs and credit, and the opportunity to enjoy the full range of political, legal and human rights.

We called on governments around the world to promote and protect women's rights unequivocally and to act on the ideal that ``women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights.''

We made our case that global progress depends on the progress of women; that democratic institutions cannot thrive and survive without the participation of women; that market economies cannot grow and prosper without the inclusion of women; that societies are not truly free and just without legal protections and rights for women; that a nation cannot advance into the 21st century and in the Information Age without educated, literate women.

Today, as we face new and daunting enemies--from stateless terrorism to the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS to the scourge of human trafficking--we are learning that our Nation and our world cannot be secure or at peace if women are denied the right to fulfill their God-given potential at home, at school, at work, at the ballot box, in the courthouse and in the board room.

The Beijing Conference got us going. Governments, working with NGOs, used the Beijing Platform for Action as a road map. In the 10 years since, many have taken significant steps in the right direction.

From Mongolia to Indonesia to Tajikistan, we are seeing more equitable laws protecting women from discrimination, abuse and violence. From Gambia to Chile more women are getting elected or appointed to leadership roles in government. Our global movement is having a profound impact around the world.

Turkey recently passed sweeping legislative reforms to protect the rights of women with regard to rape and honor killings.

In Ethiopia, a center funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development opened last summer to offer medical assistance and counseling to women and girls who are victims of human trafficking.

Morocco instituted new family law that gives women equal rights to make decisions about marriage, divorce custody and alimony.

In Afghanistan, for the first time, a woman, Dr. Masooda Jalal, ran for the presidency. And Habiba Sarobi was just appointed governor of one of Afghanistan's central provinces. She is the first woman to hold a provincial government post in Afghanistan.

In Mexico, Amalia Garcia became the third women ever to be elected governor of a state in her country.

In Iran, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, a woman lawyer, judge, and human rights activist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

The following year in Kenya, Wangari Maathai, the deputy minister of the environment, won the Nobel Peace prize for her efforts to protect the environment and advance opportunities for poor women.

In the United States, the Clinton administration launched the Vital Voices democracy initiative to help women around the globe build democratic institutions and market economies in their own countries. During my husband's administration, I was honorary chair of the President's Interagency Council on Women, whose job was

to follow up on Beijing and make sure that policies and programs relating to women and girls were a priority in every federal agency.

President Clinton's administration was the first ever to understand that social investment particularly investments in women and girls should be an integral part of foreign policy. Secretary Madeleine Albright led the charge, and I am grateful for her energy and vision.

These achievements might not have been possible without the galvanizing effects of Beijing. We should all be very proud of the work we have done here in the United States, as well as around the world, to advance the Beijing agenda and ensure that we continue to make progress on all of these fronts.

But where do we go from here?

Despite our advances, women still comprise the majority of the world's poor, illiterate and uneducated. Women remain undercompensated for the work they do in every country on Earth. Women in too many countries still do not have adequate access to medical care or the fundamental right to plan their own families. Women are underrepresented in leadership positions in government and business. Women continue to be targeted for unspeakable atrocities in war and conflict.

At this very moment, women and girls in some parts of the world are being forced into marriages they do not want. They are dying of HIV/AIDS in disproportionate numbers. They are getting trapped in the bondage of international trafficking rings. They are being subjected to rape, mutilation and murder as a tactic or prize of war. They are left diseased, destitute and dying in refugee camps.

In too many instances, the march to globalization has also meant the marginalization of women and girls. That has to change.

This week's events offer an opportunity not just to assess our progress and pat ourselves on the back. We also must reaffirm the goals laid out in the Beijing platform for action and adopt our strategies to meet the new and complex challenges of the 21st century.


One, we must continue to improve access to quality health care, including reproductive and sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

When women and girls are healthy, we all benefit from lower rates of maternal and child mortality, improved public health, a decline in population growth, a more productive work force and more stable families.

Among the most serious health crises facing women today is HIV/AIDS. About half of those infected worldwide are women. In Africa, young women are three times more likely to contract the virus than men. A vicious cycle of poverty, inadequate health care, illiteracy, sexual coercion and gender-based violence make this a daunting problem with implications well beyond the developing world.

That is why Senator Boxer and I proposed an amendment to the Global AIDS bill that would provide assistance to foreign countries to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

We also have to ensure that women enjoy the fundamental right to plan their own families and that they have access to family planning services.

This is not an easy issue. There are people with equally strong passions and convictions on both sides. But we should all be able to agree that we want every child born in this country and around the world to be wanted, cherished and loved. And the best way to achieve that is to educate the public about reproductive health and how to prevent unsafe and unwanted pregnancies.

Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do; it is the right thing to do. But we should also recognize what works and what does not work and the jury is still out on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs. I do not think this debate should be about ideology, it should be about facts. We have to deal with the choices young people make and not only the choices we want them to make. We should use all the resources at our disposal to ensure teens are getting the information they need to make the right decisions.

Today, roughly 20 million women worldwide risk unsafe abortions every year. About 68,000, most of them in developing countries, die in the process. Many more suffer horrific injuries. The World Health Organization estimates that about 600,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes. Many times that number suffer grievous injury. Many of these deaths could be prevented by providing women with the information and means to choose the size and spacing of their families.

Yet, the Bush administration is making it more difficult for women in these situations to receive safe medical care. Under the global gag rule, none of our foreign aid dollars can go to foreign NGOs that provide abortions beyond cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother. Or provide abortion counseling or advocate the legalization of abortion in their countries.

In places such as Nepal and Afghanistan, which suffer from some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, clinics funded by our government provided a full range of health services to women and girls. But with the Bush administration's reinstatement of the global gag rule, those funds have dried up; the doors to the clinics are closed. When I visited Afghanistan two years ago and recently, Afghan women asked that the U.S. renew women's health assistance for that country.

Practically speaking, making it harder for women to get information, counseling and family planning services is a counterproductive policy. It does nothing to reduce abortion; in fact, it may do quite the opposite. Without access to contraception and family planning services, there will be more unwanted pregnancies. Without access to adequate medical care, many pregnant women will die undergoing unsafe abortions.

There is no reason why governments cannot help educate women and assist girls and women with their health care needs. It is the most effective way to reduce abortions and improve the health and well-being of women and their families.

Two, we must prevent violence against women, and that includes the trafficking of women and girls worldwide, and we must make sure that the criminals who engage in these activities are brought to justice and not allowed to go free.

For all the benefits of globalization, modern technology and instant communications, there are dark sides. One of the most insidious is the crime and heinous human rights violation of human trafficking.

As many as 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, lured by the promise of jobs or a better life, only to find themselves trapped in prostitution, forced labor and debt bondage.

I will never forget visiting a school in northern Thailand that took in young girls whose lives were ruined by prostitution and taught them vocational skills. Many of the girls had contracted HIV/AIDS. I remember crouching in front of a teenage girl in a wheelchair who was so ill that she could barely raise her hands to greet me. The girl had been sold into prostitution by her family because they were desperate for money. She had escaped her brothel, returned home, and was sold again. She died a few days after my visit.

I also met with women leaders from Eastern and Central Europe and our government launched campaigns in Lviv, Ukraine, and in Istanbul to combat trafficking. I am proud that in March of 1998, President Clinton condemned human trafficking as a violation of human rights and outlined the prevention, protection and prosecution framework and strategy which led to the first anti-trafficking bill, which he signed into law in 2000.

Now the Senate must ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Our government played a major role in developing this Protocol that has led many countries around the world to enact new antitrafficking legislation and we and other member states must ratify it. So far 79 countries have ratified it and I believe that it is past time for our country to provide clearer leadership to other countries who have not yet ratified this landmark instrument of international cooperation.

But more is needed. I am heartened that since we initially helped bring global attention to this issue that our work continues to grow. But I am equally concerned that current efforts have not yet achieved the concrete results desperately needed by the victims of trafficking like the girls I visited whose lives were ravaged by their servitude. We have a deep responsibility to all of trafficking's victims to do better and I am committed to continue to work on their behalf.

In a related area, the U.S. and other nations must, for moral and economic reasons, support efforts to curb all forms of violence against women, be it mass rapes in Bosnia and Darfur or battered women suffering in the silence of their own homes in America.

Three, we must continue to increase participation of women in decision-making positions in government and the private sector.

Women are on the front lines when it comes to issues involving their children, their families and their communities. But too often their voices are not part of the political dialogue. We need to make sure that women have every opportunity to make their voices heard, to be part of civic life and to contribute to the formation of policies and programs that will affect their lives and the lives of those around them.

NGOs have been a critical element of promoting women's human rights. They were the voice for women in Afghanistan during the dark days of the Taliban. Thanks to organizations such as the Vital Voices Global Partnership, more and more women around the world are learning the skills necessary to run political organizations and campaigns, build political networks and win elective office. As more women enter the political arena, research shows that their presence raises the standards of ethical behavior, lowers corruption and makes political institutions more responsive to constituents.

We have seen women in Rwanda win nearly half the seats in their parliament during the 2003 elections. Their active participation makes Rwanda stronger.

We have seen Afghan women refuse to sell their voter registration cards to tribal warlords and defy expectations by voting. Their active participation makes Afghanistan stronger.

We just saw Iraqi women refuse to run away from polling stations in January despite the enormous risk and sometimes flying bullets. Their active participation will make Iraq stronger.

We were all moved by photos of women and men on Election Day in Iraq holding up their ink-stained fingers, showing their courage and determination to vote freely in their country's first democratic elections. We were encouraged that a significant number of women were candidates and won.

The wide participation in this election gives us good reason to be cautiously optimistic that Iraq is on the path to building a stable and secure democratic government. But there are also troubling signs: Women have been targeted for retribution, with tragic consequences. Women have been attacked for wearing Western dress or promoting progressive ideas. I have been told that fear of violence has kept some women confined to their homes.

And so it is important that we recognize and applaud the progress that has been made, and that we remain vigilant for the future. We cannot become complacent and see women freed from one tyranny only to be imprisoned by another: the tyranny of violence or of extremism.

Decisions are being considered right now in Iraq that will determine the role that women have in governance, under the law and in society.

To ensure that Iraqi women are not marginalized under their new government, their rights must be ensured, their personal security guaranteed and their access to opportunity protected.

Four, we must extend full economic opportunities to women, including access to microfinance and microenterprise.

It seems obvious that, with women making up more than half of the world's population, global prosperity depends on women having the right to education, jobs, property ownership and credit. Yet it is only relatively recently that this fact became more widely accepted. Over the past several decades we have seen the enormous benefits accrued when women are given even a small slice of the economic pie.

Microcredit is one of those stunningly simple, inexpensive tools that can forever alter the economic landscape for the better. Women now make up 80 percent of the world's 70 million microcredit borrowers. From India to Nicaragua to South Africa to Costa Rica, women are proving that small loans can transform individual lives, families and entire communities.

Five, we must ensure that the doors of primary education are open to every girl--and boy--in every country and on every continent.

If there is a domino effect at work here, it begins with primary education. Today, 55 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not complete primary school. This failure has real consequences for our global economy and our national security, not to mention for tens of millions of children with limitless potential who are losing the chance to discover their worth and importance as global citizens.

Girls who are educated are more likely to have healthy and stable families, lower mortality rates, higher nutrition levels, delayed sexual activity and less chance of

contracting HIV/AIDS or having unwanted pregnancies. Educated children also correlate to increases in the GDP.

Equally important today, the education of children in the developing world is one of our best weapons against terror. We cannot just win the military battles; we have to win the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people around the world, many of them between the ages of 15 and 24. We have to educate them, and we have to engage them in discussions about our future.

I am pleased to have introduced the Education For All Act last year, which calls for a clear, global strategy to achieve universal global education by 2015. By dramatically increasing our investment in global education, the legislation would make educating children, including girls, a top priority of U.S. foreign policy.

No country can do this alone. We need other reform-minded countries to step up to the plate. We need to leverage the strength and resources of private voluntary organizations. We have to work together to achieve this goal.

Six, we must strengthen the role of women as agents of peace because we know that women are among our best emissaries when it comes to easing religious, racial and ethnic tensions, crossing cultural divides, and reducing violence in areas of war and conflict.

War and conflict disproportionately impact women, yet women are rarely included in peace negotiations or the peace process. Too many societies continue to view women's roles narrowly, thus losing the chance to benefit from the special wisdom and insights that women offer.

In Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Colombia, women have formed groups to support orphans and widows left in the wake of genocide and have advocated for peace.

The 2004 U.N. Report of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change recommends that in order to more capably resolve conflicts between states, the U.N. should engage in greater consultation with important voices from civil society, especially those of women, who are often neglected during peace talks.

The report goes on to say that in order to protect civilians, the Security Council, U.N. agencies and Member States should fully implement Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which passed unanimously in 2000; it is the first resolution ever passed by the Security Council that specifically addresses the impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

From my own experiences, I know that women can serve as tremendously courageous and effective peace brokers. I have listened to women from Central America talk about combating domestic violence after helping end real combat in deadly civil war. I have seen Catholic and Protestant women meet over tea, finding common ground amidst the conflict of Northern Ireland. I have seen Bosnian, Croat, and Serbian women bridge their differences by working together, eating together and learning side by side.

Finally, it is time to ensure that women have equal opportunity for meaningful representation in all areas of decision-making. Not just token positions. We need to be partners in developing budgets, writing laws, serving in security forces, dispensing justice, conducting business and serving in government.

Doing all of these things is not just the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. Stronger, healthier, fulfilled and productive women are the key to building stronger societies.

Ten years after Beijing, politicians and policymakers around the globe have become increasingly sophisticated at talking about gender equality and the important role women play in society. Political speeches, election outreach and advertisements all suggest a growing acceptance of women's rights. But listen carefully to the words, match them to their deeds and you will see that we still have a lot of work to do.

It is not enough to enshrine equal rights in a constitution. It is a critical first step, but nations have to interpret and actively enforce equal rights for women. We are working with women in Iraq to make sure this happens and that their rights are not eroded under a new government.

It is not enough to say women deserve a voice in politics. Nations have to take steps to ensure the full participation and representation of women in their conferences and committees, their plenaries and parliaments. Our sisters in Nigeria are struggling with this as we speak. Although the constitution guarantees equal rights, Nigerian women have been virtually excluded from the political process.

It is not enough to say we want to educate our girls and give women economic opportunities. Women must be able to safely conduct business, have access to loans and participate fully in economic activities. They must have a say in how society allocates its resources.

It is not enough to say violence targeted against women is wrong. Nor is it acceptable to excuse violence against women as a cultural norm. Violence against women is not cultural. It is criminal, and laws must be written and enforced to punish perpetrators of any and all forms of violence against women.

During this week, women on all continents, who are often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate International Women's Day. It is a time to reflect on our commitment to the ideals of equality, justice, peace and development for women around the world.

Let us use this occasion to redouble our efforts on behalf of the hundreds of millions of women worldwide who rely on us to speak up and speak out for them because they cannot speak up for themselves.

Let us keep women's rights on the world's agenda. Let us continue to mobilize and galvanize until every woman and every girl is able to exercise her human rights and achieve her full potential.

Women represent our best hope for democracy, stability, prosperity, peace and security as we look forward into this new century,

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