"Women's Rights Are Human Rights"

Photo: Scott Olson/ Getty Images
Two decades ago, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton delivered a powerful speech in Beijing about women's rights. There, she said, "It is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights," in a line that's become one of the more enduring in her career. This Saturday, Clinton will give another speech, this time as the Democratic frontrunner for president, with terms as a senator and secretary of state behind her.

Women around the world have made huge strides towards acheiving better access to education, health care, and safety from violence, but the anniversary of the 1995 Women in the World summit is a great opportunity to think about what we've been able to accomplish and what still needs to be done.

"If we take bold steps to better the lives of women, we will be taking bold steps to better the lives of children and families, too," Clinton said in 1995. "Families rely on mothers and wives for emotional support and care; families rely on women for labor in the home and increasingly, families rely on women for income needed to raise healthy children and care for other relatives."

Since she announced her campaign for president, Clinton has made issues central to working women and families one of the most prominent parts of her platform. She has called for wage equality, paid family leave, better childcare, and improved access to education, from pre-K to college. In a conversation with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, Clinton highlighted how much work needs to be done in America and abroad. Women's rights, Clinton said, are "not only a moral issue and a humanitarian issue, a rights and equality issue, it's a security issue."

The U.S. is one of only a tiny number of countries that does not guarantee any form of paid parental leave, and that fight is still stalled. And it is the only advanced economy where maternal mortality has gone up over the past 20 years. Despite political efforts that have decimated access to reproductive health care, states have slashed funding for the aid programs for needy families. The next president will have to try and fix these problems, and Clinton has made it an early priority in her campaign.

Education, economic opportunities, and reducing violence against women are all global concerns as well, Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Women’s Rights Division, told Refinery29. Global conflict only makes those problems more obvious.

"Obviously, there are so many conflicts around the world and women disproportionately affected by conflict." says Gerntholtz. In addition to the threat of sexual violence and physical danger, "you have women bearing a disproportionate burden in having to care for people injured in the conflict, caring for sick children, providing for food and health care when they’re displaced. Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, there are many places where significant conflict brings a huge set of problems for women."

The world has made great progress on these issues in the past 20 years, but there is still more to be done. Citizens of countries with more resources and equality don't need to look across oceans to try and improve things for women, Gerntholz adds. "There needs to be an understanding that human rights abuses aren’t happening only over there, they’re happening to women in their own communities." Volunteering at local domestic violence shelters or rape crisis centers can make a tangible difference.

"I think that the last 20 years, there have been really important gains" Gerntholz says. "There’s been a global recognition of women’s rights."
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