At U.N., Clinton rallies for more women's opportunities worldwide

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010; 9:02 PM

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told government delegates and activists here Friday that violence against women remains a "global pandemic" and that their "subjugation" constitutes "a threat to the national security of the United States."

Speaking on the final day of a two-week U.N. conference on women's rights, Clinton urged U.N. member states to expand opportunities for women and end practices that subject them to discrimination and violence.

"Women and girls are bought and sold to settle debts and resolve disputes," she told delegates to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. "They are raped as both a tactic and a prize of war. They are beaten as punishment for disobedience and as a warning to other women who might assert their rights."

Friday's event was scheduled to review progress on the 1995 Beijing Declaration, a landmark document that sets out women's economic, social and political rights. Clinton, who attended the Beijing conference as first lady, received a standing ovation from a crowd that included her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, and former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright.

In her speech, Clinton cited evidence that women have made progress since Beijing, gaining greater access to education, employment and health care. But she said that "opportunity remains out of reach" for millions of women and girls.

"Women are still the majority of the world's poor, the uneducated, the unhealthy, the unfed," she said. "In too many places, women are treated not as full and equal human beings with their own rights and aspirations, but as lesser creatures."

The United States faced criticism from Amnesty International, which called on the Obama administration to set up an office of maternal health to address the "soaring" number of maternal deaths in the United States. The rights group said that there are more such deaths in the United States than in almost any other industrialized country and that one in five women here have no access to health insurance.

"Mothers die not because the United States can't provide good care, but because it lacks the political will to make sure good care is available to all women," Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

Clinton said that the United States is seeking to seeking to reduce levels of maternal and child mortality globally, citing President Obama's $63 billion Global Health Initiative. She also cited Friday's adoption of a U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution calling for greater action to slash maternal mortality rates.

Clinton praised the United Nations for creating the position of special representative for sexual violence in conflict, to which the Swedish politician Margot Wallström was appointed last month. The body is also planning to search for a prominent woman to oversee a newly established superagency to promote women's political and social rights and economic empowerment.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that more than 70 percent of women experience some form of violence during their lifetime, mostly in attacks by an "intimate partner." But he said women are also subject to sexual trafficking, forced marriage and "so-called honor killings."

"We sometimes hear that such practices are a matter of culture," he said. "They are not. They are abuses, and they are criminal."

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