The first time Hillary Clinton stood up for women's rights on the world's stage, it was to be a defining moment in the battle for equality, but also meant she was to become recognised as a figurehead in the fight.
Read how she shaped the now-iconic speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing back in 1995 with an exclusive extract from her new book, Hard Choices.
‘One of my first opportunities to take a stand on behalf of human rights with the whole world watching came in September 1995. As First Lady I was leading the U.S. delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where I was slated to give a major speech to representatives from 189 countries, as well as thousands of journalists and activists.
‘”What do you want to accomplish?” Madeleine Albright asked me as I worked on a draft with Lissa Muscatine, my talented speechwriter. “I want to push the envelope as far as I can on behalf of women and girls,” I replied. I wanted my speech to be simple, vivid, and strong in its message that women’s rights are not separate from or a subsidiary of the human rights every person is entitled to enjoy.
‘During my travels as First Lady, I had seen firsthand the obstacles that women and girls faced: how restrictive laws and customs kept them from pursuing an education or health care or participating fully in their nations’ economies and politics; how even in their own homes they endured violence and abuse. I wanted to shine a bright spotlight on these obstacles and encourage the world to begin tearing them down.
‘I also wanted to speak for the women and girls seeking education, health care, economic independence, legal rights, and political participation – and to strike the right balance between seeing women as victims of discrimination and seeing women as agents of change. I wanted to use my voice to tell the stories not only of the women I had met but also of the millions of others whose stories would not be heard unless I and others told them.’
Extract taken from Hillary Rodham Clinton: Hard Choices, published by Simon & Schuster.
Read Hillary Clinton’s ‘Women’s Rights Are Human Rights’ speech in full, and watch the video, below…
“Distinguished delegates and guests, I would like to thank the secretary-general for inviting me to be a part of this important United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.
This is truly a celebration of the contributions women make in every aspect of life in the home, on the job, in the community, as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, learners, workers, citizens and leaders.
It is also a coming together, much the way women come together every day, in every country.
We come together in fields and factories, in village markets and supermarkets in living rooms and boardrooms.
Whether it is while playing with our children in the park or washing clothes in a river, or taking a break at the office water cooler…
We come together and talk about our aspirations and concerns, and time again our talk turns to our children and our families.
However different we may appear, there is far more that unites us then divides us.
We share a common future and we are here to find common ground so that we may help bring new dignity and respect to women and girls all over the world and in so doing, bring new strength and stability to families.
As well by gathering in Beijing, we are focusing world attention on issues that matter most in our lives; the lives of women and their families: access to education, healthcare, jobs and credit; the chance to enjoy basic legal and human rights and to participate wholly in the political life of our countries.
There are some who question the reason for this conference.
Let them listen to the voices of women in their homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces.
There are some who wonder whether the lives of women and girls matter to economic and political progress around the globe.
Let them look at the women gathered here – the homemakers and nurses, the teachers and lawyers, the policymakers and women who run their own businesses.
It is conferences like this that compel governments and peoples everywhere to listen, look and face the world’s most pressing problems.
Wasn’t it, after all, after the women’s conference in Nairobi 10 years ago, that the world focused for the first time on the crisis of domestic violence?
Earlier today, I participated in a World Health Organization forum.
At that forum we talked about ways that government officials, NGOs and individual citizens are working to address the health problems of women and girls.
Tomorrow I will attend a gathering at the United Nations Development Fund for women.
There, the discussion will focus on local and highly successful programs that give hard working women access to credit so they can improve their own lives and the lives of their families.
What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish.
If women are free from violence, their families will flourish.
If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish.
And when families flourish, communities and nations do as well.
That is why every woman every man, every child, every family and every nation on this planet does have a place in the discussion that takes place here.
Over the past 25 years, I have worked persistently on issues relating to women, children and families.
Over the past two and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing women in my own country and around the world.
I have met new mothers in Indonesia who come together regularly in their village to discuss nutrition, family planning and baby care.
I have met working parents in Denmark to talk about the comfort they feel in knowing that their children can be cared for in safe and nurturing after school centres.
I have met women in South Africa who helped lead the struggle to end apartheid and are now helping to build a new democracy.
I’ve met with the leading women up my own hemisphere, who are working every day to promote literacy and better health care for children in their countries.
I have met women in India and Bangladesh who are taking out small loans to buy milk cows, or rickshaws, or thread in order to create a livelihood for themselves and their families
I have met the doctors and nurses in Belarus and Ukraine, who are trying to keep children alive in the aftermath of Chernobyl.
The great challenge at this conference is to give voice to women everywhere whose experiences go unnoticed, whose words go unheard.
Women comprise more than half the world’s population, 70 per cent of the world’s poor and two-thirds of those who are not taught to read and write.
We are the primary caretakers for most of the world’s children and elderly, yet much of the work we do is not valued.
Not by economists, not by historians, not by popular culture, not by government leaders.
At this very moment as we sit here, women around the world are giving birth, raising children, cooking meals, washing clothes, cleaning houses, planting crops, working on assembly lines, running companies and running countries.
Women are also dying from diseases that should have been prevented or treated.
They are watching their children succumb to malnutrition caused by poverty and economic deprivation.
They are being denied the right to go to school by their own fathers and brothers.
They are being forced into prostitution and they are being barred from the bank, lending offices and banned from the ballot box.
Those of us who have the opportunity to be here, have the responsibility to speak for those who could not.
As an American, I want to speak for women in my own country.
Women who are raising children on the minimum wage.
Women who can’t afford healthcare or childcare.
Women whose lives are threatened by violence. Including violence in their own homes.
I want to speak up for mothers who are fighting for good schools, safe neighbourhoods, clean air and clean airwaves.
For older women, some of them widows, who find that after raising their families, their skills and life experiences are not valued in the marketplace.
For women who are working all night as nurses, hotel clerks or fast food chefs, so that they can be at home during the day with their children.
And for women everywhere who simply don’t have time to do everything they’re called upon to do each and every day.
Speaking to you today, I speak for them, just as each of us speaks for women around the world who are denied the chance to go to school or see a doctor or own property or have a say about the direction of their lives simply because they are women.
The truth is that most women around the world work inside and outside the home, usually by necessity.
We need to understand it there is no one formula for how women should live their lives.
That is why we must respect the choices that each woman makes for herself and her family.
Every woman deserves the chance to realise her own God-given potential but we must recognise that women will never gain all dignity until their human rights are respected and protected.
Our goals for this conference are to strengthen families and societies by empowering women to take greater control over their own destinies.
This cannot be fully achieved unless all governments here and around the world accept their responsibility to protect and promote internationally recognised human rights.
In the international community has long acknowledged and recently reaffirmed at Vienna that both women and men are entitled to a range of protections and personal freedoms – from the right of personal security to the right to determine freely the number and spacing of the children they bear.
No one should be forced to remain silent for fear of religious or political persecution, arrest, abuse or torture.
Tragically, women are most often the ones whose human rights are violated.
Even now, in the late twentieth century, the rape of women continues to be used as an instrument of conflict.
Women and children make up a large majority of the world’s refugees and when women are excluded from the political process, they become even more vulnerable to abuse.
I believe that now on the eve of a new millennium, it is time to break the silence.
It is time for us to say, here in Beijing, and for the world to hear that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.
These abuses have continued, because for too long, a history of women has been a history of silence.
Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words but the voices of this conference and of the women at YRO.
Loudly and clearly.
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 slavery and prostitution for human greed and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.
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 up human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 24 is the violence they are subjected to in there own homes by their own relatives.
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.
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 for all.
And among those rights, are our right to speak freely and the right to be heard.
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