THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
September 5, 1995
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much Gertrude Mongella, for
your dedicated work that has brought us to this point.
Distinguished delegates and guests, I would like to thank
the Secretary General of the United Nations for inviting me to be
part of this important 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 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 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
However different we may appear, 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 to 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, 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 and at Hairou....
the homemakers, nurses, teachers, lawyers, 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
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
Earlier today, I participated in a World Health Organization
forum. In that forum we talked about ways that 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 will flourish.
And when families flourish, communities and nations will
That is why every woman, every man, every child, every
family, and every nation on our planet does have a stake 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 have had the opportunity to learn more
about the challenges facing women in my own country and around
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 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
I have met with the leading women of my own hemisphere who
are working every day to promote literacy and better health care
for the children in 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
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
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 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 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
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
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
chefs 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 one 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
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. And when women
are excluded from the political process, they become even more
vulnerable to abuse.
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 Hairou
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 by their own relatives.
It is a violation of human rights when young girls are
brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital
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, once and for all.
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 non-governmental
organizations who wished to participate in this conference have
not been able to attend -- or have been prohibited from fully
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