Hillary’s Gender AgendaPosted: August 25, 2009
Here’s some news about Hillary Clinton’s New Gender Agenda as reported last week by the NY Times.
I have to say that Hillary really captured my admiration in 1995 when she gave that powerful speech in Beijing for the United Nations Conference. The only really feminist first lady that I can recall in my life time before Hillary Clinton was Betty Ford. Although I remember reading many many things about Eleanor Roosevelt, she died before I could truly appreciate her. All the other first ladies seemed so demure by comparison! But not Hillary Clinton!
She is our third female Secretary of State. While I appreciate Condi Rice and her brilliance, she was not always arguing positions with which I agreed so I always watched her with a raised eyebrow. I do, however, admire all three of them from Madeline Albright forward. As my Irish Grandmother taught me from her very superstitious nature, the third’s always the charm! Hillary has put women’s issues front and center and I have to say brava for that! There are so many issues facing women in the world these days that it is hard to choose one as a priority. The ones that have grabbed my heart recently are that of the plight of child brides and the girls (and young boys) trafficked for the sex trade. The one I work for is microfinancing for women’s businesses all over the world. (Shameless plug here for The Confluence Lending Team at Kiva.) Here are Hillary’s priorities.
Q: In your confirmation hearing, you said you would put women’s issues at the core of American foreign policy. But as you know, in much of the world, gender equality is not accepted as a universal human right. How do you overcome that deep-seated cultural resistance?
Clinton: You have to recognize how deep-seated it is, but also reach an understanding of how without providing more rights and responsibilities for women, many of the goals we claim to pursue in our foreign policy are either unachievable or much harder to achieve.
Democracy means nothing if half the people can’t vote, or if their vote doesn’t count, or if their literacy rate is so low that the exercise of their vote is in question. Which is why when I travel, I do events with women, I talk about women’s rights, I meet with women activists, I raise women’s concerns with the leaders I’m talking to.
I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress — that we have made progress on many other aspects of human nature that used to be discriminatory bars to people’s full participation. But in too many places and too many ways, the oppression of women stands as a stark reminder of how difficult it is to realize people’s full human potential.
Isn’t amazing how many other countries have put women in positions of power and they’ve done so well? Angela Merkel, Indira Ghandi, Benazir Bhutto, Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir all are women who have risen to lead their nations. Yet, the best we can do is Secretary of State. Still, with Hillary Clinton, we can do no better.
Q: I’m curious about what priorities you’re setting. Will the Obama administration have a signature issue — sex trafficking or gender-based violence or maternal mortality or education for girls — in the way that H.I.V./AIDS came to symbolize the Bush-administration strategy?
Clinton: We are having as a signature issue the fact that women and girls are a core factor in our foreign policy. If you look at what has to be done, in some societies, it is a different problem than in others. In some of the societies where women are deprived of political and economic rights, they have access to education and health care. In other societies, they may have been given the vote, but girl babies are still being put out to die.
So it’s not one specific program, so much as a policy. When it comes to our global health agenda, maternal health is now part of the Obama administration’s outreach. We’re very proud of the work this country has done, through Pepfar, on H.I.V./AIDS [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was begun by George W. Bush in 2003]. We’ve moved from an understanding of how to deal with global AIDS to recognizing it’s now a woman’s disease, because women are the most vulnerable and often have no power to protect themselves. And it’s increasingly younger women or even girls.
But women die every minute from poor maternal health care. You know, H.I.V./AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria — those are all, unfortunately, equal-opportunity killers. Maternal health is a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue; it’s a child issue. And for the United States to say to countries that have very high maternal mortality rates, “We care about the future of your children, and in order to do that, we care about the present of your women,” is a powerful statement.
I remember after I finished all my classes for my first masters when I traveled to the UK. I stood in line for hours and hours to climb the stairs to the gallery at Parliament. I wanted to see Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and see her in action. I didn’t care what her politics were at that time. I just wanted to see a woman that was head of state. I wanted to know it was possible. Lady Thatcher was a woman that had power and could make decisions.
I got to see her! She was arguing with the backbenchers about what was going on with the Falklands War. It was amazing! I sat there for some time watching like the little tomboy girl that I’ve always been. The one that would do anything to prove she was just as good as the boys. PM Thatcher was taking on all the boys and she was so good at it!!! She inspired me to fight and keep on fighting!
I just wanted to see a woman head of state badly because I was a young woman looking to work in economics at the time. There were very few women and even fewer American women at the time when I chose that career field. It took me forever, in each job at the time, to explain that I wasn’t just the new secretary on the block.
Q: Do you have a point of view about what should come first: Do you empower women economically and then hope that they seize a political role for themselves? Or do you seek to give them more legal and political standing and hope that they can win a place in the economic sphere?
Clinton: That’s a great question, because I think the historical record would show both routes have worked. Women were not particularly economically empowered when we finally included the right of women to vote in our Constitution. So women’s rights were expanded in 1920, and that opened up a lot of doors to women to see themselves in different roles, including economic roles, outside the home.
India’s been a democracy for 60 years, and remarkably extended the vote to everyone, every caste, to both men and women equally. So women have been given the right to vote, but without economic empowerment, they didn’t have the influence that their votes should have brought, which is why the government of India has made such a big point of extending economic and political opportunity equally to women.
And when we visited SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association [in India], those women had the vote before they were born, but being economically empowered, being able to stand up for themselves inside their families, on the streets of their villages, is giving them a sense of autonomy and authority that just their vote couldn’t have.
The daughter born 9 months after that trip is now a young ob/gyn resident and I am still struggling in a field with
mostly foreigners and mostly men. I look at my youngest daughter who is working her way up the same areas as my sister, a CPA, and me. She just asked me for my stat book and my macroeconomics notes yesterday. She’s taking the classes I teach right now. When she graduates, will she still be the oddity that I was and continue to be? Will she choose to follow and research my priorities or will she explore something different? What will it mean for her to have a degree in finance? That is a field with as much testosterone as football. (Although, like the young me, she also plays soccer, and unlike me, the boys are afraid of her and always have been!!! She kicked like Pele when I was 4 months gone until the day I delivered her!)
Q: In your travels as secretary of state, you’ve focused heavily on the role of microlending. Is there a reason in these early days that you’ve tended to emphasize the economic over the political?
Clinton: It’s interesting: it’s partly because of where I’ve gone. It’s also because I’ve worked on microcredit since 1983, going back to Arkansas and projects that I worked on with my husband there.
I am also struck by every international public-opinion poll I’ve ever seen, that the No. 1 thing most men and women want is a good job with a good income. It is at the core of the human aspiration to be able to support oneself, to give one’s children a better future. Microenterprise is uniquely designed to empower women because — through the trial and error of its development, going back to Muhammad Yunus’s invention of it in Bangladesh — women are much greater at investing in future goods than the men who have participated in microcredit have turned out to be. And they are also very reliable in paying back, because they are so eager to have that extra help and recognition that microcredit provides.
So, I don’t make a distinction between economic empowerment and political, social empowerment; I think it’s fair to say both need to go hand in hand.
Ah, forget about me and my dreams for my daughters. Go read the rest of the interview and tell me about yours.