"I have always believed that women are not victims, we are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace—all we need is a fighting chance," began Hillary Clinton this morning at the opening of the second day of the annual Women in the World conference, a two-day summit focusing on various issues surrounding women and girls around the world.
The former Secretary of State spoke for nearly 45 minutes about her experience in official offices and board rooms around the world and stressed the need for female empowerment. "I have been kidded about it, I have been ribbed, I have been challenged," she said, "they nod, they smile, then they relegate these issues to the sidelines." But Clinton knows, and emphasized in her speech and to an audience of hundreds of men and women, that giving women and girls a chance is not just the "nice thing to do," but something that's vital for global progress. "It isn’t some luxury that we get to when we have time on our hands…This is a core imperative for every human being and every society…Laws and traditions that hold back women hold back entire societies."
When thinking about women's roles in America, and our society in general, Clinton made a point that reminded me of something myself, and perhaps others in my generation take for granted: "Our global leadership for peace and prosperity for freedom and equality is not a birthright," she said. "It must be earned by every generation." That includes our fight at home for equality—my generation of 20 and 30 somethings were brought up in a world with opportunity made possible by our mother's generation. But we still have a long way to go and hard work to do to ensure that change is ongoing.
"We need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society, we need to make equal pay a reality, we need to extend family and medical leave benefits to more workers and make them paid, we need to encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in math and science….That’s how America will lead in the world," Clinton continued. Her message extended to what's happening abroad, "The extremists understand the stakes of this struggle. They know that when women are liberated; so are entire societies. We must understand this too. And not only understand it, but act on it."
As Clinton wrapped up her speech to make room for other inspiring women to address everything from violence towards women in India to the importance of STEM education for girls, she left us with a simple, yet powerful sentiment: "human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights." We can all embrace this rallying cry to make sure we finish "this unfinished fight of the 21st Century."
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Image via Women in the World