Hillary Clinton says equality for women is the ‘great unfinished business of the 21st century’

Saturday is International Women’s Day, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other world leaders attended a panel at the United Nations headquarters in New York to commemorate the event on Friday. She said that equality for women "remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century" in brief remarks bookended by the loudest applause of the hour-long event.


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton attend the event "Equality for Women is Progress for All" at the United Nations on March 7, 2014 in New York. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing. Many of Friday's speakers repeated the remarks that then-first lady Hillary Clinton made in 1995, "If there is one message that echoes from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all." Last year, magazine editor Tina Brown called it "the speech that launched a movement," a speech that "remains the defining battle cry for women." The New York Times said Clinton was "speaking more forcefully on human rights than any American dignitary has on Chinese soil.":

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.

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 too small.

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.

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.

Clinton said now was an opportunity to "mark the gains we’ve made together, as well as acknowledge the gaps." She also commended the United Nations for all the data they had collected on women across the world. We know that women hold approximately 25 percent of the world's government positions. Rural low-income women still get married far younger than their richer counterparts in cities. In 2012, there was a 25 percentage point difference in the employment-to-population ratio between men and women. "The more data we have," she said, "the more we know that what we felt in our hearts was right all along." Clinton also mentioned the Clinton Foundation's "No Ceilings" project, launched in November, also seeks to collect data on how the place of women in the world has changed since the Beijing conference.

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is “Equality for Women is Progress for All” and the United Nations seems focused on calling on men to work as hard at advancing women's rights as women have since the first International Women's Day in 1908. They have started the "He for She" campaign, which is launching with a video of men -- no women in sight -- saying how important women's rights are for progress.

Antonio Banderas, Matt Damon, Patrick Stewart, Desmond Tutu and secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon, all make an appearance in the video. As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, director of U.N. Women, said Friday, "Women hold half of the sky." They want to call on men to "hold up their half of the sky, too." Mlambo-Ngcuka gave perhaps the most forceful remarks of the day's event, saying the "face of poverty is that of a woman," that we can't take baby steps (We’ve done baby steps) and that inequality "has to cause outrage. If not, what will?"

From March 10-21, the United Nations will convene the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, which will begin to unpack what the international organization's next steps should be on women's rights after the Millennial Development Goals expire next year.

Regardless of what the new benchmarks will be, Clinton said that given the progress of the past 20 years, the world knows it's on the right track. "Not only is it the right thing to do, she said, "evidence proves it’s the smart thing to do."

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.

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