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Women's rights 'great unfinished business,' Hillary Clinton tells UN

© Photo: Jessica Le Masurier/ FRANCE 24

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2014-03-08

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on Friday that achieving equality for women is “the great unfinished business of the 21st century” in a galvanising speech at the UN ahead of International Women’s Day.

“When women succeed, the world succeeds,” Clinton told representatives of the 193 UN member states in New York. “When women and girls thrive, entire societies thrive. Just as women’s rights are human rights, women’s progress is human progress.”

Clinton, who could become the first female president in US history if – and more likely, when – she runs in the 2016 election, has long been a leading campaigner of women’s rights and is expected to make the issue a major theme in her potential election campaign.

Clinton pledged in September last year that she would embark on evaluating gender equality across the globe: a project she promised to complete by 2015, two decades after she gave a rousing speech at a UN women’s conference in Beijing that confirmed her as a champion of women’s rights.

On Friday she said that while important progress had been made in gender equality, citing better school attendance, more women in office and reformed legislation, “for all we have achieved together, this remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century”.

“In the nearly two decades since Beijing, no country in the world has achieved full participation, and women and girls still comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unfed and unpaid,” she said.

Hillary Clinton and UN chief Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations conference marking International Women's Day 2014. Photo: Jessica Le Masurier/ FRANCE 24.

Clinton pressed the UN to act as an example in providing women with equal opportunities, urging a global standard that would allow women worldwide the same right to employment, education, property and identity as their male counterparts.

She also urged action in tackling violence against women and child brides.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed her concerns, warning that “discrimination against women and girls is rampant, and in some cases getting worse.

“But we also know equality for women is progress for all,” he added.

Reproductive health key

Clinton went on to stress the need to safeguard women’s reproductive healthcare, citing a 1994 consensus in Cairo, Egypt, when 194 countries agreed to ensure the provision for women of family planning services, which the accord defined as “complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”.

Reproductive healthcare, she said, “must be the starting point for work today”.

“If we get it right, we can put the world on the path to less poverty and more prosperity, less inequality and more opportunity,” she said.

UN Women chief Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka drew a round of applause when she repeated Clinton’s famous 1995 Beijing declaration. “The 21st century offers an opportunity for a big leap forward – not baby steps,” she said. “We’ve done baby steps. Equality between men and women remains an elusive dream.

“The face of poverty is that of a woman,” she said. “The majority of the world’s poor and illiterate are women and girls.”

Mlambo Ngcuka announced a new “He For She” campaign, which will call on men to join women in campaigning for gender equality.

“I commend those of you [men and boys] who have spoken out and stand with women and girls, as you know women hold half of the sky. We call on all men also, stand up and hold up half of their part of the sky.”

Joking afterwards, she said “this is a celebration, so don’t look so serious”.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 after her speech, Mlambo Ngcuka described the benefits of gender equality as “immeasurable”. Women’s rights are “not a struggle that only women have to take responsibility for, but for all of humanity, because they benefit everybody,” she said.

Andrea Nunez, Vice President of the World YWCA Board, also participated in the discussion, saying that she felt the next UN secretary-general should be a woman, hinting that she would make a good candidate for the job.

Date created : 2014-03-08


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