Hillary Clinton, Remarks for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, 1995

Hillary Clinton

First Lady of the United States (1993–2001) and Politician

Before 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s run for President of the United States sparked an international debate about women and political power, she spent years fighting to expand the rights of women and children. As First Lady from 1993 to 2001, while her husband, Bill Clinton, was president, she championed legislation on children’s healthcare and helped create the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women. As Secretary of State, from 2009 to 2013, during Barack Obama’s presidency, she stressed the link between national security and women’s rights, an approach dubbed the ‘Hillary Doctrine’. During the 2016 presidential election, bullied and belittled by her opponent Donald J. Trump (he famously called her a ‘nasty woman’), she remained dignified and pragmatic. Although she ultimately lost, her determined run activated a broad swath of women in the United States and beyond, and recalled Michelle Obama’s words at her endorsement speech (see here): ‘Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.’

In 1995, two years into her husband’s presidency, Clinton spoke before delegates from 189 countries at the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing. (A supplementary conference was being held nearby, in Huairou.) In her remarks she takes an unequivocal stance, declaring, ‘women’s rights are human rights, once and for all’. This line would be much quoted by women’s rights advocates in the years to follow. ‘The great challenge of this conference is to give voice to women everywhere whose experiences go unnoticed, whose words go unheard,’ Clinton tells her audience. ‘Those of us who have the opportunity to be here have the responsibility to speak for those who could not.’

Remarks for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women 1995

(See full text: here)

I believe that now, on the eve of a new millennium, it is time to break the silence…. 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 wowen has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words.

… 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.

… when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed….

… when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.

… 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.

… when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes.

… when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.

… when women are denied the right to plan their own families….

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.