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July 01, 2002

Women's Rights Are Human Rights

by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

We extend a special thanks to Robyn Shapiro and Jacqueline Coleman, Human Rights editorial board members, for their assistance on this special issue dedicated to international women's rights. We are especially grateful to Julia Ernst, cochair of the IRR Committee on the Rights of Women, for her invaluable work in coordinating this special issue.

"Women’s rights are human rights"—the theme of my remarks at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995—was a revolutionary concept until the last few decades. This conference helped us find common ground to 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. It focused world attention on issues that matter most in the lives of women and their families: access to education, healthcare, jobs and credit, the chance to enjoy basic legal and human rights and participate fully in the political life of their countries. Thanks to the efforts of many thousands of people throughout the world, women’s rights are increasingly recognized as integral to universal human rights principles.

Yet, at this very moment, women’s rights continue to be violated. Rape of women continues to be used as an instrument of armed conflict. Domestic violence is a leading cause of death among women worldwide. Women and girls make up a majority of the world’s refugees, and many suffer particular atrocities due to their gender. Women are dying from diseases that should have been prevented or treated, including HIV/AIDS. Young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation. Women are denied the right to plan their own families and access comprehensive reproductive health services. Women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.

As a proponent of human rights for more than thirty years, I continue to advocate for the rights of women and girls in many spheres of life, such as access to education; economic opportunity, including microcredit loans for women entrepreneurs; and healthcare, including breast cancer research and treatment, family planning, and women’s right to choose. These important issues affect not only people in the United States but also women and girls throughout the world. For example, my Vital Voices program has brought women together in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe to encourage their increased participation in economic and political decision making.

The world community has highlighted many of these issues through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—the treaty for the rights of women—which was unanimously approved by the United Nations General Assembly and has been ratified by 170 countries. Since the United States has yet to ratify this treaty, my colleagues and I are spearheading a campaign in the Senate in support of U.S. ratification of CEDAW, so we can add the United States’s voice to the global affirmation of women’s rights as human rights.

As a lawyer, former chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Women in the Profession, and former chair of the Legal Services Corporation, I understand the tremendous power of the legal profession to promote and defend human rights nationally and globally. I commend the ABA’s Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities for highlighting the rights of women around the world in this issue of Human Rights magazine. Women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected. Strengthening 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. In addition to the tireless dedication of many champions in the legal profession, your efforts are vital to helping achieve these goals.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a U.S. Senator representing the State of New York.