I would like to thank the Secretary General of the United Nations
for inviting me to be part of the United Nations Fourth World
Conference on Women. This is truly a celebration - a celebration of
the contributions women make in every aspect of life: in the home,
on the job, in their communities, 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 in factories. In village markets and
supermarkets. In living rooms and board rooms.
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 and again, our talk turns to our children and our
families. However different we may be, there is far more that unites
us than 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 the lives of women and their families: access to
education, health care, jobs and credit, the chance to enjoy basic
legal and human rights and participate fully in the political life
of their countries.
There are some who question the reason for this conference.
Let them listen to the voices of women in their homes, neighborhoods,
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 and at Huairou - the
homemakers, nurses, teachers, lawyers, policymakers, and women who
run their own businesses.
It is conferences like this that compel governments and people
everywhere to listen, look and face the world's most pressing
Wasn't it after the women's conference in Nairobi ten years ago that
the world focused for the first time on the crisis of domestic
Earlier today, I participated in a World Health Organization forum,
where government officials, NGOs, and individual citizens are
working on ways to address the health problems of women and girls.
Tomorrow, I will attend a gathering of 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
And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.
That is why every woman, every man, every child, every family, and
every nation on our planet has a stake in the discussion that takes
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 have 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 Jojakarta, Indonesia, who come together
regularly in their village to discuss nutrition, family planning,
and baby care.
I have met working parents in Denmark who talk about the comfort
they feel in knowing that their children can be cared for in
creative, safe, and nurturing after-school centers.
I have met women in South Africa who helped lead the struggle to end
apartheid and are now helping build a new democracy.
I have met with the leading women of the Western Hemisphere who are
working every day to promote literacy and better health care for the
children of their countries.
I have met women in India and Bangladesh who are taking out small
loans to buy milk cows, rickshaws, thread and other materials to
create a livelihood for themselves and their families.
I have met doctors and nurses in Belarus and Ukraine who are trying
to keep children alive in the aftermath of Chernobyl.
The great challenge of 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. Women are 70%
percent of the world's poor, and two-thirds of those who are not
taught to read and write.
Women 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
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 also are 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 office 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 up for women in my own country -
women who are raising children on the minimum wage, women who can't
afford health care or child care, 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 neighborhoods, clean air and clean airwaves; for older women,
some of them widows, who have raised their families and now find
that their skills and life experiences are not valued in the
workplace; for women who are working all night as nurses, hotel
clerks, and fast food cooks so that they can be at home during the
day with their kids; and for women everywhere who simply don't have
time to do everything they are called upon to do each 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 both inside and outside the
home, usually by necessity.
We need to understand that there is no formula for how women should
lead 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 realize her God-given potential.
We also must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until
their human rights are respected and protected.
Our goals for this Conference, to strengthen families and societies
by empowering women to take greater control over their own
destinies, cannot be fully achieved unless all governments - here
and around the world - accept their responsibility to protect and
promote internationally recognized human rights.
The international community has long acknowledged - and recently
affirmed 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
Even in the late 20th century, the rape of women continues to be
used as an instrument of armed conflict. Women and children make up
a large majority of the world's refugees. When women are excluded
from the political process, they become even more vulnerable to
I believe that, on the eve of a new millennium, it is time to break
our silence. It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and 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, the history of
women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who
are trying to silence our words.
The voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be
heard loud and clear: 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.
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it
is that human rights are women's rights - and women's rights are
human rights. Let us not forget that among those rights are the
right to speak freely - and the right to be heard.
Women must enjoy the right to participate fully in the social and
political lives of their countries if we want freedom and democracy
to thrive and endure.
It is indefensible that many women in nongovernmental organizations
who wished to participate in this conference have not been able to
attend - or have been prohibited from fully taking part.
Let me be clear. Freedom means the right of people to assemble,
organize, and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those
who may disagree with the views of their governments. It means not
taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing them,
mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because
of the peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions.
In my country, we recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of
women's suffrage. It took 150 years after the signing of our
Declaration of Independence for women to win the right to vote.
It took 72 years of organized struggle on the part of many
courageous women and men. It was one of America's most divisive
philosophical wars. But it was also a bloodless war. Suffrage was
achieved without a shot being fired.
We have also been reminded, in V-1 Day observances last weekend, of
the good that comes when men and women join together to combat the
forces of tyranny and build a better world.
We have seen peace prevail in most places for a half century. We
have avoided another world war.
But we have not solved older, deeply-rooted problems that continue
to diminish the potential of half the world's population.
Now it is time to act on behalf of women everywhere. If we take bold
steps to better the lives of women, we will be taking bold steps to
better the lives of children and families too.
Families rely on mothers and wives for emotional support and care;
families rely on women for labor in the home; and increasingly,
families rely on women for income needed to raise healthy children
and care for other relatives.
As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace
around the world - as long as girls and women are valued less, fed
less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to
violence in and out of their homes - the potential of the human
family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.
Let this Conference be our - and the world's - call to action.
And let us heed the call so that we can create a world in which
every woman is treated with respect and dignity, every boy and girl
is loved and cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a
strong and stable future.
Thank you very much.
God's blessings on you, your work and all who will benefit from it.
Hillary Clinton Speech
Women's Rights are Human Rights