HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON AT BEIJING
Women's Rights Are Human Rights
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Hillary Clinton's Women's Rights Are
Human Rights Speech.
It follows the full text transcript of
Hillary Clinton's Women's Rights Are Human
Rights speech, delivered at the Fourth U.N. World Conference on Women,
Beijing, China - September 5, 1995.
Under Secretary Kittani,
I would like to
thank the Secretary General of the United
Nations for inviting me to be part of the United
Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. This
is truly a celebration - a celebration of the
contributions women make in every aspect of
life: in the home, on the job, in their
communities, as mothers, wives, sisters,
daughters, learners, workers, citizens and
It is also a coming together, much the way women
come together every day in every country.
We come together in fields and in factories. In
village markets and supermarkets. In living
rooms and board rooms.
Whether it is while playing with our children in
the park, or washing clothes in a river, or
taking a break at the office water cooler, we
come together and talk about our aspirations and
concerns. And time and again, our talk turns to
our children and our families. However different
we may be, there is far more that unites us than
divides us. We share a common future. And we are
here to find common ground so that we may help
bring new dignity and respect to women and girls
all over the world - and in so doing, bring new
strength and stability to families as well.
By gathering in Beijing, we are focusing world
attention on issues that matter most in the
lives of women and their families: access to
education, health care, jobs and credit, the
chance to enjoy basic legal and human rights and
participate fully in the political life of their
There are some who question the reason for this
conference. Let them listen to the voices of
women in their homes, neighborhoods, and
There are some who wonder whether the lives of
women and girls matter to economic and political
progress around the globe. Let them look at the
women gathered here and at Huairou - the
homemakers, nurses, teachers, lawyers,
policymakers, and women who run their own
It is conferences like this that compel
governments and people everywhere to listen,
look and face the world's most pressing
Wasn't it after the women's conference in
Nairobi ten years ago that the world focused for
the first time on the crisis of domestic
Earlier today, I participated in a World Health
Organization forum, where government officials,
NGOs, and individual citizens are working on
ways to address the health problems of women and
Tomorrow, I will attend a gathering of the
United Nations Development Fund for Women.
There, the discussion will focus on local - and
highly successful - programs that give
hard-working women access to credit so they can
improve their own lives and the lives of their
What we are learning around the world is that if
women are healthy and educated, their families
will flourish. If women are free from violence,
their families will flourish. If women have a
chance to work and earn as full and equal
partners in society, their families will
And when families flourish, communities and
nations will flourish.
That is why every woman, every man, every child,
every family, and every nation on our planet has
a stake in the discussion that takes place here.
Over the past 25 years, I have worked
persistently on issues relating to women,
children and families. Over the past
two-and-a-half years, I have had the opportunity
to learn more about the challenges facing women
in my own country and around the world.
I have met new mothers in Jojakarta, Indonesia,
who come together regularly in their village to
discuss nutrition, family planning, and baby
I have met working parents in Denmark who talk
about the comfort they feel in knowing that
their children can be cared for in creative,
safe, and nurturing after-school centers.
I have met women in South Africa who helped lead
the struggle to end apartheid and are now
helping build a new democracy.
I have met with the leading women of the Western
Hemisphere who are working every day to promote
literacy and better health care for the children
of their countries.
I have met women in India and Bangladesh who are
taking out small loans to buy milk cows,
rickshaws, thread and other materials to create
a livelihood for themselves and their families.
I have met doctors and nurses in Belarus and
Ukraine who are trying to keep children alive in
the aftermath of Chernobyl.
The great challenge of this Conference is to
give voice to women everywhere whose experiences
go unnoticed, whose words go unheard.
Women comprise more than half the world's
population. Women are 70% percent of the world's
poor, and two-thirds of those who are not taught
to read and write.
Women are the primary caretakers for most of the
world's children and elderly. Yet much of the
work we do is not valued - not by economists,
not by historians, not by popular culture, not
by government leaders.
At this very moment, as we sit here, women
around the world are giving birth, raising
children, cooking meals, washing clothes,
cleaning houses, planting crops, working on
assembly lines, running companies, and running
Women also are dying from diseases that should
have been prevented or treated; they are
watching their children succumb to malnutrition
caused by poverty and economic deprivation; they
are being denied the right to go to school by
their own fathers and brothers; they are being
forced into prostitution, and they are being
barred from the bank lending office and banned
from the ballot box.
Those of us who have the opportunity to be here
have the responsibility to speak for those who
As an American, I want to speak up for women in
my own country - women who are raising children
on the minimum wage, women who can't afford
health care or child care, women whose lives are
threatened by violence, including violence in
their own homes.
I want to speak up for mothers who are fighting
for good schools, safe neighborhoods, clean air
and clean airwaves; for older women, some of
them widows, who have raised their families and
now find that their skills and life experiences
are not valued in the workplace; for women who
are working all night as nurses, hotel clerks,
and fast food cooks so that they can be at home
during the day with their kids; and for women
everywhere who simply don't have time to do
everything they are called upon to do each day.
Speaking to you today, I speak for them, just as
each of us speaks for women around the world who
are denied the chance to go to school, or see a
doctor, or own property, or have a say about the
direction of their lives, simply because they
are women. The truth is that most women around
the world work both inside and outside the home,
usually by necessity.
We need to understand that there is no formula
for how women should lead their lives. That is
why we must respect the choices that each woman
makes for herself and her family. Every woman
deserves the chance to realize her God-given
We also must recognize that women will never
gain full dignity until their human rights are
respected and protected.
Our goals for this Conference, to strengthen
families and societies by empowering women to
take greater control over their own destinies,
cannot be fully achieved unless all governments
- here and around the world - accept their
responsibility to protect and promote
internationally recognized human rights.
The international community has long
acknowledged - and recently affirmed at Vienna -
that both women and men are entitled to a range
of protections and personal freedoms, from the
right of personal security to the right to
determine freely the number and spacing of the
children they bear.
No one should be forced to remain silent for
fear of religious or political persecution,
arrest, abuse or torture.
Tragically, women are most often the ones whose
human rights are violated.
Even in the late 20th century, the rape of women
continues to be used as an instrument of armed
conflict. Women and children make up a large
majority of the world's refugees. When women are
excluded from the political process, they become
even more vulnerable to abuse.
I believe that, on the eve of a new millennium,
it is time to break our silence. It is time for
us to say here in Beijing, and the world to
hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss
women's rights as separate from human rights.
These abuses have continued because, for too
long, the history of women has been a history of
silence. Even today, there are those who are
trying to silence our words.
But the voices of this conference and of the
women at Huairou must be heard loudly and
clearly: It is a violation of human rights when
babies are denied food, or drowned, or
suffocated, or their spines broken, simply
because they are born girls.
It is a violation of human rights when women and
girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution
for human greed. And the kinds of reasons that
are used to justify this practice should no
longer be tolerated.
It is a violation of human rights when women are
doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to
death because their marriage dowries are deemed
It is a violation of human rights when
individual women are raped in their own
communities and when thousands of women are
subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
It is a violation of human rights when a leading
cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to
44 is the violence they are subjected to in
their own homes by their own relatives.
It is a violation of human rights when young
girls are brutalized by the painful and
degrading practice of genital mutilation.
It is a violation of human rights when women are
denied the right to plan their own families, and
that includes being forced to have abortions or
being sterilized against their will.
If there is one message that echoes forth from
this conference, let it be that human rights are
women's rights - and women's rights are human
rights, once and for all.
Let us not forget that among those rights are
the right to speak freely - and the right to be
Women must enjoy the right to participate fully
in the social and political lives of their
countries if we want freedom and democracy to
thrive and endure.
It is indefensible that many women in
nongovernmental organizations who wished to
participate in this conference have not been
able to attend - or have been prohibited from
fully taking part.
Let me be clear. Freedom means the right of
people to assemble, organize, and debate openly.
It means respecting the views of those who may
disagree with the views of their governments. It
means not taking citizens away from their loved
ones and jailing them, mistreating them, or
denying them their freedom or dignity because of
the peaceful expression of their ideas and
In my country, we recently celebrated the 75th
anniversary of women's suffrage. It took 150
years after the signing of our Declaration of
Independence for women to win the right to vote.
It took 72 years of organized struggle on the
part of many courageous women and men. It was
one of America's most divisive philosophical
wars. But it was also a bloodless war. Suffrage
was achieved without a shot being fired.
We have also been reminded, in V-1 Day
observances last weekend, of the good that comes
when men and women join together to combat the
forces of tyranny and build a better world.
We have seen peace prevail in most places for a
half century. We have avoided another world war.
But we have not solved older, deeply-rooted
problems that continue to diminish the potential
of half the world's population.
Now it is time to act on behalf of women
everywhere. If we take bold steps to better the
lives of women, we will be taking bold steps to
better the lives of children and families too.
Families rely on mothers and wives for emotional
support and care; families rely on women for
labor in the home; and increasingly, families
rely on women for income needed to raise healthy
children and care for other relatives.
As long as discrimination and inequities remain
so commonplace around the world - as long as
girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed
last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and
subjected to violence in and out of their homes
- the potential of the human family to create a
peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.
Let this Conference be our - and the world's -
call to action.
And let us heed the call so that we can create a
world in which every woman is treated with
respect and dignity, every boy and girl is loved
and cared for equally, and every family has the
hope of a strong and stable future.
Thank you very much.
God's blessings on you, your work and all who
will benefit from it.