Sen. Clinton Accepts Secretary of State: Will She Champion Women’s Rights Worldwide?


Late
on election night, I received an email from a Planned Parenthood staff
person, Njeri Wahome, in Nairobi, Kenya. Njeri wrote to me to verify
what she was seeing on television — that Senator Barack Obama had won. "Can
it be true? We are over the moon … at the making of history." For a
woman who has dedicated her life to improving the health of women and
children in her home country, Njeri knew that a change in U.S.
administration could have a dramatic impact on women in Kenya. For the
past eight years, the Bush administration has enforced a global gag
rule, an executive order that prevented thousands of health care
entities around the world from providing women with birth control. In
some parts of Africa, women have a one-in-10 risk of dying in
childbirth. And as Nicholas Kristof
wrote in The New York Times in October, the result of the so-called
"pro-life" policy has likely been tens of thousands of additional and
avoidable abortions each year. In addition to implementing the gag
rule, each year the Bush administration has denied funding to UNFPA,
the United Nations Population Fund, at the behest of the far right –
money that would have paid for the provision of critical reproductive
care.

Today, the incoming administration will generate another celebration
by women all around the world when President-elect Obama names Hillary
Clinton as our next Secretary of State. The selection of Senator
Clinton represents an important first step down a new path for American
foreign policy — an enormous shift represented by the selection of a
champion of women’s health and rights to be in charge of American
foreign policy.

As first lady and as a U.S. senator, Hillary Clinton visited more
than 80 nations, but for a majority of the world’s population, her
unique quality may be her gender. Senator Clinton understands that
improving the status of women is not simply a moral imperative; it is
necessary to building democracies around the globe. Improving the
status of women is key to creating stable families, stable communities,
and stable countries. Women’s ability to control the size of their
families, regardless of economics, nationality, or culture, has a
direct impact on their economic well-being and that of their children.
Senator Clinton understands that women’s quality of life directly
affects the major issues confronting the globe: national security,
environmental sustainability, and global poverty.

In a speech that, by the standards of the Bush administration, sounds positively radical, Clinton addressed the Cairo Plus Five Forum at the Hague in 1999, saying, "Women’s
reproductive health and empowerment are critical to a nation’s
sustainability and growth … we now know that no nation can hope to
succeed in the global economy of the 21st century if half of its people
lack the opportunity and the right to make the most of their God-given
potential. No nation can move forward when its women and children are
trapped in endless cycles of poverty; when they have inadequate health
care, poor access to family planning, limited education."

What a new day it will be when we can quit fighting with our
government over the need to bring health care, education, and equality
to women in every country — including our own. Let’s hope for a swift
confirmation for our new secretary of state and celebrate her taking on
this enormously important assignment. To Njeri and the thousands of
women like her who see the impact of U.S. policy every day — it is the
true beginning of the 21st century.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.