Clinton calls global status of women, girls “intolerable” “grim”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech yesterday to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the first International Conference on Population and Development. That gathering included a total of thousands of delegates from 179 countries.

You can watch the entire presentation here on CSPAN-2 (and it includes remarks by the first ever Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer as well as Secretary Clinton’s remarks) or the 22 minute version with just the Secretary’s remarks, courtesy of RHRealityCheck’s coverage of the event. I’ve yet to see a transcription or text of the speech, but here is a near live-blog from The Frisky with quotes for those who, like me, really like to see the remarks in writing.

The first ICPD occurred in Cairo in 1994 and set up goals to be reached in 20 years. Clinton reviewed where we stand in regard to the progress the Cairo gathering envisioned and what must be done to accomplish the goals set 15 years ago.

From The Frisky’s steno of Clinton’s address:

The good:

The use of contraceptives was less than 10 percent in the ‘60s to 42 percent in 1998; efforts have also increased child survival rates and the number of girls enrolled in schools around the world. They are also working to address gender-based violence in areas of conflict (such as women and girls who are raped in Darfur).

The bad:

  • ”[Women and girls] still are the majority of the world’s poor, unschooled, unhealthy, and unfed … we’ve seen that from The Congo to Bosnia to Burma.”
  • “Far too many women still have little to no access” to reproductive control. What does it mean for lost productivity and lost lives?
  • More than half of women in the developing world deliver babies without a nurse or doctor.
  • “One woman dies every minute of every day in pregnancy or childbirth, and for every woman who dies, another 20 suffer from injury or infectious disease. Every minute!”
  • Many women lack access to modern forms of contraception, which contributes to the 20 million unsafe abortions that take place every year.
  • Other threats to the health of women in the developing world include STDs, including HIV/AIDS; obstetric fistula kills millions, especially young girls; and an estimated 70 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to female genital cutting, which not only leads to infections but also makes childbirth more dangerous.

The action needed:

  • “Investing in the health of women and girls is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.” To achieve this goal, governments are integrating Cairo’s goals by encouraging entrepreneurialism in Latin American and working with religious leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When women have access to family planning and can bring financial stability to their loved ones, “they flourish and so do the people around them.”

The conclusion:

  • “There is a direct line between a woman’s reproductive health and her ability to lead a productive and fulfilling life.”
  • …let’s try to create institutional and structural change that does not get wiped away when the political winds blow.”

I watched the video of the speech and must say, Clinton presented as so incredibly strong and committed. Just as a pundit, it’s fascinating to see her command this material, and audience.

The reactions around the blogosphere:

Michelle Goldberg at The Daily Beast focuses on the political change this signals:

During the Bush years, the United States went from being a major force for women’s rights worldwide to the most powerful member of the fundamentalist alliance. Indeed, at a time when the United States was excoriating Iran as part of the axis of evil, it was grimly ironic to watch American diplomats collaborate with that regime against women’s rights at various UN gatherings.

That’s why it was such a joy to hear Clinton enthusiastically reaffirm Cairo’s goals. “When I think about [Cairo], and the thousands of people who were part of it, who came together to declare with one voice that reproductive health care is critical to the health of women, and that women’s health is essential to the prosperity and opportunity of all, to the stability of families and communities and the substantiality and development of nations, it makes me nostalgic for conferences that are held that actually produce results,” said Clinton. She continued, “There is no doubt in my mind that the work that was done and the commitments that were made in Cairo are still really the bulwark of what we intend to be doing and are expected to do on behalf of women and girls.”

Although The New Security Beat blog exults, Welcome Back, Family Planning, it also points out how far beyond family planning the effort goes:

…After listing the numbers of unsafe abortions; lives lost to STDs, including HIV/AIDS; fistula cases; and occurrences of female genital cutting, she declared that “these numbers are not only grim, but … they are also intolerable, and we can not accept it morally, politically, socially, economically.”

But Clinton’s remarks were not solely focused on health and family planning issues. Echoing arguments made by Nicholas Kristof and others, Clinton described how women’s health and women’s rights directly and significantly impact “most major problems in the world,” including economics, natural resource conflicts, and national security.

Clinton said these challenges will require sustained effort and funding. The Obama Administration’s $63 billion Global Health Initiative, she said, would address the health challenges of HIV/AIDS and maternal and reproductive health in an integrated manner. All of the Administration’s programs would seek to help countries strengthen their own health systems to meet their unique needs—both of their women and girls, but also their populations in general. In all of these efforts, she said including men and boys as “allies and partners” remains important.

Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecille Richards, commended Clinton on the Huffington Post. And she states very specifically what she believes the U.S. commitment should be:

Today. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made another monumental stride forward by announcing our nation’s renewed commitment to ensuring that women worldwide have access to safe and effective reproductive health care. We agree with Secretary Clinton: The status quo is unacceptable. Some 215 million women worldwide report that they do not have the option to delay or avoid pregnancy, something which most women in wealthy countries take for granted.

Over the last 30 years, U.S. funding levels for international family planning programs have experienced peaks and valleys. However, since 2006, Congress has approved steady increases for reproductive health and family planning programs. The Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bill, adopted last month, had broad bipartisan support and contained $648.5 million, record spending for reproductive health and family planning.

While funding levels are moving in the right direction, the United States can and must do more. Considering the value it could offer, a $1 billion investment in international reproductive health and family planning is a smart opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

And finally, although I was unable to find even one blog post from a right of center or center site, The Centre for Development and Population Activities released a statement strongly supporting Clinton’s expressions today that was signed by groups that ran the gamut from Catholics for Choice to the Sierra Club.

The refrain is this: we were lagging, now we’re going to lead. Women suffered and their nations and the global community have suffered for that suffering, and we’re going to work together to end it. With the United States re-engaging in a significant, material and meaningful way.

Bonus suggestion: Check out Cafe Feminino. It is exactly what this approach toward helping women in developing countries help themselves, their countries and the globe through entrepreneurship, and health is all about.

Don’t miss:

Ambassador Verveer’s blog post at DipNotes about the anniversary and global needs of women

Why Women’s Reproductive Freedom Ensures Our Survival By Kavita N. Ramdas

SOS Hillary Clinton: Women’s Rights Champion at The Confluence (more than 150 comments there)

Clinton Renews Leadership on Reproductive Health: implications for Global Environment

The Center for Environment and Population

The countries participating in the 1994 event were not seeking to make abortion a fundamental worldwide right and truly focused on family planning in its broadest yet still specific sense.

Cross-posted from

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