Eleanor Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award Address to Geneva Women’s Summit
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Via Digital Video Conference
December 10, 2009
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SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, I am delighted to join you by satellite. I wish I could be there in person with all of you. But I want to thank you for coming together on behalf of this very important cause and mission and event. And I, of course, want to thank my friend, Allida Black, for this beautiful award, for everything that Professor Black has done and will do on behalf of women and girls, and in particular, to keep the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt alive and well and inspirational to all of us.
I am such a great fan of Eleanor Roosevelt because she joined power and principle in a way that embodied American leadership at its very best. She mobilized the moral authority of the United Nations and the United States in service of all humanity. And it is wonderful to have this opportunity to commemorate her life and her legacy on Human Rights Day. So I’m very humbled to receive an award that is named for Eleanor Roosevelt, but I think we all have a lot of work ahead of us to make good on the promise of what she really imbued us with during her lifetime.
Her work to define and protect human rights is just still a beacon of both hope and challenge. As the head of the drafting committee that produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she helped to create, in her own words, an international Magna Carta. The Declaration helped to heal the wounds of the Second World War. It provided a lodestar for succeeding generations –guiding us, galvanizing us, emboldening us, and enabling us to stand up against oppression. The principles embodied in the Declaration still speak loudly and clearly. And brave women and men around the world are stepping forward to answer its call to action.
This year, I think I’ve traveled about 200,000 miles, and I have visited over 40 countries. And at virtually every stop, I have been touched and motivated by the stories of women who are carrying on the struggle for human rights and human dignity, from young girls in Afghanistan who literally risk their lives to go to school, to mothers seeking an end to violence in places as far-flung as Liberia and Northern Ireland, to a young woman like Mukhtar Mai of Pakistan who survived a horrific assault and then used the money she received to help set up a school and a court effort to educate Pakistan’s rural poor, to Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been imprisoned in her own home for the better part of two decades. She remains a real symbol of the sacrifice that people are willing to make for democracy and for freedom.
There are so many women, many of whom are in your audience today, who are carrying on the work of Eleanor Roosevelt. They’re helping to give, in their own societies, the voice to the voiceless, and to try working with others to make it possible for every girl and every boy to live up to his or her God-given potential.
I don’t know all of you individually, but I know some of the work that you are performing. I have seen it among the farmers of Kenya, the refugees in Goma, the schoolgirls in Pakistan. I have seen it in your plans for this conference, in your mission to help create societies in which families have access to food and shelter, where women are not trafficked or exploited, and where girls and boys have the opportunity to receive a quality education, quality healthcare, and grow up to assume their rightful place in their societies.
Each of your stories is a part of the larger struggle – the struggle for human rights and human liberty, a struggle that is predicated on the belief that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by our Creator with rights that transcend every other aspect of our humanity. The United States is grounded in the struggle to advance human rights and human dignity. And I’m very proud that over this past year, we have rejoined the United Nations Human Rights Council, we have created an Office of Global Women’s Issues inside the State Department, headed by the longtime president of Vital Voices. We have spoken out on behalf of dissidents and human rights activists in scores of countries. And we’re working to promote food security, global health, the end of nuclear proliferation, and so many other of the issues that go right to the heart of whether people will be able to take advantage of opportunities, whether they will be able to raise their children in safety, peace, and security.
Now, the United States is certainly not doing this job alone. We’re not only working with like-minded countries, but as the President said today in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture in Oslo, Norway, the work of peace is the work of all of us. Every one of us carry the same responsibility and the same opportunity as Eleanor Roosevelt or Aung San Suu Kyi, and history will hold us to the same standards. We will be judged by what we’ve done to try to help those others who do not have the rights that we take for granted.
So today, I hope we will renew our commitment to the struggle for human rights and resolve to carry on this work, recognizing and advocating for the fundamental belief that human rights don’t belong to any one country or any one group of people or any one gender or any one tribe or class or race or creed. They belong inherently to each and every one of us. That is Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy and that is my commitment as the Secretary of State of my country.
And I look forward to working not only with other governments, but with NGOs, academics, citizen activists, groups and individuals of all kinds everywhere across our planet to make good on the promise of Human Rights Day. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
MS. BLACK: Madame Secretary, I know you’re really busy, but if you have a second, we have two questions that we’d like to pose to you if you can spare the time. Okay?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Of course, Allida.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I’m Oksana (inaudible). I’m from Ukraine. The first time I met you more than 10 years ago in Vienna, Vital Voices conference. Maybe you remember raising the issue of trafficking at that time. So many years gone, so many efforts we have done to combat the trafficking. But still we have the gaps, gaps in providing help to trafficked person, gaps in cooperation and whole society approach on national, regional, and international level.
My question is: How can women leaders as true advocates could walk through bilateral and multilateral partnership in advocating practical and effective approach to help victims of trafficking who are women, men, and children? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you, and I very much remember the meeting in Vienna 10 years ago. That was really the meeting that began Vital Voices. It was out of that meeting with women from Europe – Eastern and Central Europe, like yourself – that we decided that we wanted to find a vehicle for enabling women’s voices to be heard on issues like the one that you have mentioned in your remarks.
I have three strong suggestions about more that we can do to end the scourge of trafficking. Trafficking really is modern-day slavery. Women, girls, men, and boys are trafficked from around the world. But we haven’t really yet come across the best way internationally to end this terrible abuse of human rights. We want to continue to encourage countries to pass strong laws and to execute on those laws, to educate their police and their courts about the importance of protecting vulnerable people and going after the traffickers and the criminal gangs that they are part of.
As you know, every year, the United States issues a report on trafficking in persons and we rank different countries. And we want to continue to do that, but we don’t do it just for the sake of publishing a report. We want to do it to encourage countries to pass stronger laws and to implement those laws so that we can work together on what will be in that Trafficking-in-Persons Report and then work to follow up on it so that we help countries. And many countries have come to the United Nations, have come to the United States, other experts, asking for help about how they can improve their standing. So let’s work together on that.
Secondly, I think we have to do more on educating families and young people about the dangers of trafficking. Too many families send their daughters or their sons off for a job that they think will bring income into their family and they never see their children again. And they don’t receive any money. The children are sold into sex slavery or bonded labor, and no one ever sees them again.
So we have to do more to educate families that they cannot allow their young children to be treated like that, and then for teenagers and young adults to be constantly warning them against the dangers of answering ads or going with anyone who promises a better job somewhere else. Because you know that from your country and so many other countries, young people – particularly young women – they think they’re going to be a nanny, they think they’re going to have some other kind of job, and they end up being terribly abused. So I think governments and individuals, organizations like Vital Voices, we should all be doing more to get the word out.
And finally, I think this should be an issue discussed in the Human Rights Council, discussed in the United Nations. Individual countries and individual organizations can do a lot, but we need more emphasis from the United Nations. We need to be constantly raising this issue. We need to be expanding our international laws and regulations so that it becomes absolutely unacceptable the way that slavery became unacceptable in the past. And I would like to work with you and others in the audience today to make that happen. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Madame Secretary – Madame Secretary of State, I am Benedicta Aguseobo (ph) from Nigeria. My question is: Most countries working on human rights are focusing on 2015, and are trying to mainstream gender into their policies. How can we ensure that gender is mainstreamed and implemented, given the differences in religion and culture, et cetera? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s an excellent question. And I think it’s very important to emphasize that there are certain human rights that should be available to everyone regardless of culture or religion. You should be free from abuse. You should have access to an education and healthcare. You should be given an opportunity to be able to express yourself. You should be protected from violence, both in your home and outside of your home.
And I think that it’s important for all of us, but particularly for women from all religions, all backgrounds, all cultures, to speak with one voice. But there may, of course, be differences among us; we have different experiences, we have different beliefs. But one overriding principle that unites us is our commitment to be sure that every boy or girl has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential. That is very hard to do in the modern world if you are denied an education or if you are taken out of school after only a few years of education, or if you are denied the healthcare you need to be able to live as full a life as possible, or if you are married off at such a young age that you have not only limited prospects for your future but very real challenges to your own health and well-being and ability to care for your children.
I think it’s time for all women to come together around some basic principles that underscore our commitment to the idea that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. There should not be a different standard of human rights for men and for women. Maybe that was something that existed in the past, but in today’s world, that is a recipe for societies being held back, for greater instability and conflict.
There is no doubt that the evidence of the last century is very clear. Where women are denied their rights, where they are not educated, where they are not given healthcare, the societies do not advance. And therefore, standing up for the principle that gender should be integrated in every aspect of our policies starts with recognizing that certain principles must be met, certain rights must be extended. We talk a lot about human rights in a political context, but it’s also true that there’s human rights in a very practical context. People who don’t have enough to eat, people who don’t have enough protection, people who don’t have education or healthcare are very often unable to exercise their political or their civil rights.
So we need to bring them together. We need to do a better job making sure that people get their basic necessities met and that they also have their rights respected by their governments and their societies and their families. And I hope that in the 21st century, that is a struggle that we can all be committed to. We’ve made an enormous amount of progress in the last years ever since the Beijing conference of 1995. But we have a long way to go, and many parts of the world need our help to make progress.
So let’s aim not only for 2015, which is very important, but let’s aim for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and next week and next month to keep opening the doors of opportunity and extending the rights of humanity to all people with a special attention paid to girls and women. (Applause.)
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