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Hillary Clinton launches global data project on women and girls

Hillary Rodham Clinton (center) joins Melinda Gates (left) in a discussion at New York University and moderated by Chelsea Clinton (right) on the use of data to advance the global progress for women and girls on Feb. 13, 2014 in New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been weaving a theme of women’s empowerment throughout her public life as she ponders another presidential run in 2016, launched a new partnership Thursday to measure and analyze the advancement of women and girls around the world.

With the 20th anniversary approaching of a historic 1995 women’s conference, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to gather and study data on the global progress of women and girls and the gaps that remain.

The “No Ceilings” project will aggregate data from traditional sources, such as the World Bank, as well as less traditional ones, such as Google, to document progress since the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing. Clinton addressed that conference as first lady, declaring “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”

The partnership was announced Thursday morning at New York University, where Chelsea Clinton moderated a discussion on women and girls with Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates.

Calling women’s empowerment “one of the great causes of my life,” Clinton, who championed these issues as secretary of state, said the data project is critical to understanding how much work remains.

“We have seen progress, but we’ve also seen that there’s not an adequate base of information and evidence that we can draw conclusions from about how much progress has been made and what the gaps for action and decision making are,” Clinton said.

She recalled traveling abroad as the nation’s top diplomat and making the case to heads of state for changing laws to expand women’s rights.

“There would be a little bit of, ‘Okay, there she goes again’,” Clinton said. “There wasn’t a recognition that it’s really important whether your women are educated, whether they have health care, whether they’re participating in the economy.”

Both Clinton and Gates reflected on the challenges for women in the professional workplace, and repeatedly referenced Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.”

Clinton said society is still developing what is considered an acceptable leadership style for career women. She offered some advice to the young women in the audience: “You have to be intentionally thoughtful about this as you assume a role in the public arena without it making you less authentic or undermining your confidence, and that is not an easy task. I tell you that from many years of experience and a lot of missteps along the way.”

Gates, who said she and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, are “data geeks,” said it is critical to encourage more girls to study science, math and technology. Clinton concurred, saying many girls, particularly in their middle school years, acquire a “perfectionist problem” and harbor self-doubt about their abilities.

Chelsea volunteered a “really embarrassing story” from her freshman year at Stanford University. She said she called her mother crying hysterically. Hillary Clinton thought she had broken a limb, asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

“I said, ‘I just got a B-minus on a chemistry test.’ And there was dead silence on the other end of the phone,” Chelsea Clinton recalled.

Hillary Clinton asked, did you study hard? Yes. Was the test graded on a curve? Yes. Are you still happy you took the course? Yes, of course.

“She said, ‘Isn’t that what matters?’ Chelsea Clinton said. “It was this epiphany. Aha!”