UNITED NATIONS — Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared Friday that achieving equality for women and girls is “the great unfinished business of the 21st century.”
The potential 2016 presidential candidate galvanized the U.N. commemoration of International Women’s Day, repeating her resounding declaration as first lady at the 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing that “human rights are women’s rights – and women’s rights are human rights.”
Clinton said that important progress has been made, citing the increasing number of girls in school and women in elected office, and the repeal of many discriminatory laws.
“Yet for all we have achieved together, this remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” she said.
In the nearly two decades since Beijing, Clinton said, “no country in the world has achieved full participation, and women and girls still comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unfed and unpaid.”
She called for greater opportunities for women and girls and urged the U.N. to include gender equality at the forefront of its new goals to promote development.
“When women succeed the world succeeds,” Clinton said. “When women and girls thrive, entire societies thrive. Just as women’s rights are human rights, women’s progress is human progress.”
Clinton said the goals must ensure that women everywhere have the right to find a job, to own and inherit property, to have a valid and legal identity, to have gender parity in primary and secondary education, and help end violence against women and child brides.
She stressed that there can be no progress “without safeguarding women’s reproductive health and rights,” saying the platform agreed to by 179 countries at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo which ensures these rights “must be the starting point for work today.”
“If we get it right, we can put the world on the path to less poverty and more prosperity, less inequality and more opportunity,” Clinton said.
Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, head of UN Women, drew loud applause from representatives of the 193 U.N. member states and women’s rights supporters when she echoed Clinton, declaring: “The 21st century offers an opportunity for a big leap forward – not baby steps. We’ve done baby steps.”
Mlambo Ngcuka announced a new “He For She” campaign and called on the world’s men to stand up and support equality for women in all areas of life.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also made “a special appeal to men and boys of the world” to join the conversation.
“Where men and women have equal rights, societies prosper,” Ban said. “Equality for women is progress for all.”