Volume 74, Number 44 | March 09 - 15, 2005


Villager photo by Jennifer Weisbord

Guo Jianmei, founder of Peking Universsity’s Center for Women’s Law Studies, gave a painting to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton Sunday at N.Y.U. for the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations’ Women’s Conference.

New city, job and hairdo as Hillary Clinton speaks at conference first held in Beijing

U.N. forum on women at N.Y.U. 10 years later

By Ed Gold

Introduced as a leader who “rejects injustice on any grounds” and “who stays the course,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton did not disappoint, addressing an enthusiastic audience in New York University’s Skirball Center on Sunday afternoon on the theme that “women’s rights are human rights.”

The gathering, about 800 strong, was celebrating the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, where Sen. Clinton had made a well-publicized speech. Ten years later, in this Greenwich Village appearance, she joked that “things have changed and not just my hairdo.”

Beijing, she insisted, “had changed the world for peoples of all races, ethnicities and languages.” Women, she added, had learned to “speak up and speak out.” She noted improvements on many fronts globally, including education, health care, employment and political clout.

In an earlier panel of activists from a wide range of nations, the discussion indicated modest gains for women and some surprising successes in elections. Still, the resistance to women’s rights remained conspicuous. As the Morrocan spokesperson, Fouzia Rhissassi noted: “Legally women are still treated as minors. We don’t get into Islamic Studies, or the important jobs, and females still show high rates of poverty and illiteracy.”

Clinton, who offered no hints about a 2008 presidential run, took up the struggle against the “nay-sayers who still abound, and who insist that it is impossible to grant women equal rights with men. Despite opposition, women have done surprisingly well in elections,” she confirmed, noting the recent election of a woman to a governorship in Afghanistan. So-called “honor killings” of women have been reduced, marriage and divorce laws improved, and women in some cases are receiving better medical treatment, Clinton said.

But staying the course means dealing with much unfinished business. The subjects that drew the most attention included family planning, H.I.V./AIDS, global trafficking, and the violence against women as an act of war.

In a clear slap at the Bush administration for its curtailment of funding for family planning overseas, which she called the “global gag rule,” she declared the policy counter-productive, resulting in an increase in unsafe abortions.

In January, Clinton was criticized by some abortion rights advocates when she called abortion a “tragic choice” and she did not repeat the phrase last weekend at N.Y.U. She did say she wanted to reduce the number of abortions, but that women had to maintain reproductive control, and that sex and health education was needed in many parts of the world to insure only wanted pregnancies.

On global trafficking, described as a form of “modern slavery,” she insisted there had to be a world effort to stop the practice which includes the sale by families of young women and children into prostitution. It was essential for nations working together to bring to justice the criminal syndicates that profit from this practice.

“Some families are selling their daughters. You can tell,” she said with some vehemence, “by the fact that their homes look better” because they have additional amenities. “It’s time for the U.S. Senate to sign off on the Trafficking Protocol, the international “landmark initiative” against this crime.

Perhaps her most dramatic appeal dealt with the violence in Sudan. “In Darfur,” she said, “we see an example of violence against women as an act of war. We have had Bosnia and Rwanda, yet we are still sitting. There must be an outcry for world action,” she said to loud applause. After he left office, President Bill Clinton said one of his biggest regrets was not intervening in Rwanda.

On H.I.V./AIDS, Sen. Clinton noted 50 per cent of those infected are women, and, in a veiled reference to some African leaders, she argued that a “state of denial” was unacceptable because “the disease won’t go away.”

When she finished she was lauded by a Chinese colleague from the Beijing conference who presented her with a gift and told her “you are the pride of women around the world,” as the audience rose in a standing ovation.

The event was jointly sponsored by N.Y.U.’s Center of Global Affairs and Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-governmental organization that works for women’s rights, inspired by the Beijing conference.

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