By: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Source: Rodham Clinton, Hillary. "Women's Rights Are Human Rights: Remarks to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women." September 5, 1995.
About the Author: Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947–) grew up in the Chicago area. She earned her bachelor's degree in political science at Wellesley College in 1969 and in 1973 completed a law degree at Yale University, where she began a relationship with fellow law student Bill Clinton. The two married in 1975 and lived in Clinton's native Arkansas, where he pursued a political career as she taught and practiced law. She served on several state boards related to health care, educational reform, and children's welfare. When her husband was elected president in 1992, she took on a policy role on health care and children's issues. In 2000, she became the only former First Lady to win office when she was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York.
Like most of her predecessors, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served as the nation's First Lady from 1993 to 2001, was a lightning rod for criticism and commendation. A Yale-educated lawyer and public policy expert in her own right, she had continued to pursue her own legal career during her husband's terms as attorney general and governor of Arkansas. Although she made concessions to the conservative culture of her adopted home state—finally using her husband's surname of Clinton instead of her own in public appearances—she remained as driven to succeed as a lawyer as her husband was as a politician. As presidential candidate Bill Clinton boasted on the campaign trail in 1992, the voters would get a "two-fer" deal if they elected him, as he would rely on his wife's expertise on health care and education issues in the White House as he had in Arkansas.
As a wife, mother, and professional woman, Rodham's image contrasted greatly with then-First Lady Barbara Bush, who had dropped out of college to get married and had not worked outside of the home. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was pursue my profession," Rodham said in one interview, a comment that riled some traditional homemakers. Rodham quickly reassured the public that she would indeed fulfill the duties of First Lady without major changes, but that she also intended to serve in an advisory role on issues that were important to her.
After Bill Clinton's election to the presidency, Rodham started to work on the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, which sought to keep health-care costs down while providing coverage to the uninsured and underinsured. Her visibility on the highly politicized issue resulted in a backlash against her role as a nonelected policy advisor. Some commentators took to calling the president and his wife "Billary," implying that she was too involved in his administration's decision making. In the end, health-care-industry lobbyists killed the proposed reforms and the First Lady withdrew from such an open role as a policy maker, although she gave forceful speeches on behalf of women's and children's rights to education, health care, and economic opportunities.
Although her unapologetic feminism was sometimes perceived as a political liability for her husband's administration, Clinton was reelected in 1996. When another round of allegations about Clinton's infidelities surfaced in early 1998, however, Rodham was crucial in helping her husband survive the political fallout. As it became clear that the president had engaged in a sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Rodham mostly refrained from comment aside from claiming that a "right-wing conspiracy" drove the media frenzy to oust her husband from office. By the end of the Lewinsky scandal, not only had Clinton survived impeachment hearings, but some of his chief adversaries in the Republican Party had been forced to resign after their own infidelities were revealed. For her part, Rodham benefited from an outpouring of public sympathy for her role as the wronged wife. At the end of her husband's second term as president, Rodham once again made history by announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate from New York, where the Clintons had bought a home. Showing her political skills on the campaign trail, Rodham was elected with 55 percent of the vote.
Primary Source: "Women's Rights Are Human Rights" [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: Hillary Rodham Clinton had been active on family issues long before she assumed her role as First Lady. In 1995 she traveled to Beijing, China, to address the United Nations Conference on Women and delivered a speech that highlighted her interest in the welfare of the world's women and their families and children. Aware of the attention she commanded as the First Lady, Clinton acknowledges in her remarks, "The great challenh3e … is to give voice to women everywhere whose experiences go unnoticed, whose words go unheard."
Remarks to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women
Mrs. Mongella, Under Secretary Kittani, distinguished delegates and guests:
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 leaders.
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 countries.…
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 flourish.
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 care.
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.…
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 potential.
We also must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected.…
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.
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Clinton, Hillary Rodham. It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
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Stewart, James B. Blood Sport: The President and His Adversaries. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
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Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Available online at (accessed February 25, 2003).