THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||March 11, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE FIRST LADY
ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
2:47 P.M. EST
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you and welcome to the East Room ofthe White House for this very important occasion. The President andI are pleased to be joined by so many people who have workedtirelessly to lift up the lives of women and girls here and aroundthe world.
There are so many of you, I wish I could acknowledgeevery single one of you. I'm unable to do that and so let me justacknowledge a few of you. In addition to those who have already beenintroduced, I'm delighted that Secretary Shalala is here, accompaniedby her counterpart, the Russian Minister of Health, as part of theircontinuing negotiations; Administrator Browner; AdministratorBarshefsky. And we're pleased to have two members of Congress, twoothers were unable to stay, but I'm delighted that CongresswomanPelosi and Congresswoman Millender-McDonald are here. And we'resorry that Congresswoman Lofgren and Morello were unable to stay.But thank you both for coming.
The Administration of USAID, Brian Atwood; DeputySecretary of Labor Kitty Higgins; USIA Director Joe Duffy; VOADirector Evelyn Lieberman; Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan; Theresa Loarwho is the senior coordinator for International Women's Issues andDirector of the President's Interagency Council on Women. And we'realso pleased that we're joined by the United Nations Deputy SecretaryGeneral Louise Frechette.
In addition, I look out at this audience and see so manyof you who have been advocates and workers in the trenches and on thefront lines on behalf of human rights and women's rights for many,many years. And we are grateful that you could be here today inhonor of International Women's Day.
We have come together this afternoon to celebrate whatwe have done and what we must still do to ensure that all over thisEarth women's rights are protected, women's voices are heard, andwomen's full participation is guaranteed.
Next week, the United Nations Human Rights Commissionwill gather in Geneva to commemorate the 50th anniversary of theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights, and honor all who are helpingto fulfill its promise. Woven into that document are timelessbeliefs that must always set the standard for how we treat each otherin every part of the world. The Declaration puts it simply: Allhuman beings are born free and equal in dignity and right. All humanbeings -- not just men, not just those particular skin colors orreligions. And on International Women's Day, we want to commitourselves to expanding the circle of human dignity to encompass allhuman beings -- men and women, boys and girls.
At the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women, Iremember very well looking out at delegates from 189 differentcountries, all united by a common vision. And look at the progresswe have made in fulfilling how that vision became an agenda and thenacting on that agenda. Even in the short time since Beijing,governments, nongovernmental organizations and individuals have madetremendous progress.
I have met women all over the world, as many of youhave, who are working to end domestic violence, who are working tobring microcredit into every village that can be reached. I haveseen women who, all of a sudden, are for the first time in theirlives able to access health care. And I've heard and seen manyeloquent women and men speaking out on the importance of recognizingwomen's rights.
I've also been very impressed by those of you who haveworked to remind us of how much we have yet to do and how much ourcountry, the United States, can contribute to the unfinished agenda.Our nation's assistance and leadership is essential. I have visitedwomen's health care clinics that we have helped open in Central Asia.I have talked with refugees from war and genocide who are rebuildingtheir lives in Rwanda and Bosnia, thanks to our assistance. I havelearned about a joint campaign to warn women and girls in Ukraineabout those who might exploit them through trafficking. All becauseour government, universities, hospitals, businesses, NGOs, citizens,all are committed to expanding that circle of human dignity to everywoman.
So we may celebrate today, but we also should challengeourselves, for there is much more to be done. If the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights is going to keep its promise to allwomen, then all women must hear that message and be empowered to acton it.
One of the most moving experiences I had was in NewDelhi, when I met a young Indian woman who gave me a poem she hadwritten. And in it she said: Too many women in too many countriesspeak the same language of silence. There must be freedom if we areto speak, and, yes, there must be power if we are to be heard. Wemust give voice to women in Afghanistan, where women are brutalizedand silenced by the Taliban -- (applause) -- where girls are barredfrom school, where thousands of women cannot go to work, leave homealone or get the health care they need. And where those who don'tfollow every rule of attire or conduct are punished with beatings,whippings, even death. We must give voice to the more than onemillion women who are trafficked every year in the former SovietUnion and all around the world. (Applause.)
These women and girls are desperate for economicopportunity. They think they're applying for jobs as babysitters,waitresses and sales clerks. Many think they are following theirdreams and, instead, they find themselves in a nightmare, sold aspart of an international trade in human beings and forced into modernday slavery. Imprisoned by employers, they are often not seen, letalone heard. Lured by organized crime operations, they represent aninternational problem that, like drug trafficking, requires aninternational solution.
We must give voice to women plagued by violence in allits forms. It doesn't matter if it's by law or custom, ignorance orinaction. It doesn't matter if it's in war or peace, in our homes orour streets. No woman should ever be degraded by violence. Andviolence against women must never again be pushed aside as trivial orexplained away as cultural. Let us call it what it is. (Applause.)Violence against women is a violation of human rights. (Applause.)
And as we work to give voice to all women, let us judgeourselves not only by what we choose to say, by not only what wechoose to see, but by what we choose to do in our nation and aroundthe world.
And few people have done more for women and girls thanour next speaker. Through her words, her deeds and hear leadership,Secretary Madeleine Albright has ensured that the issues affectingwomen are exactly what they should be -- a part of American foreignpolicy and an international priority.
Please join me in welcoming Secretary Albright.(Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much, Doctor.And to all our distinguished guests here today, let me welcome youand say that I have rarely enjoyed anything in this room as much as Ihave what has already happened.
I've told this story before, but I feel just like I didthe first time I gave remarks, a speech, as a public official. Itwas at one of these civic banquets, and it started at 6:00 p.m. inthe evening. Everyone in the audience was introduced, hundreds ofpeople -- except three people and they went home mad. (Laughter.)Five people spoke before me. I got up to speak at a quarter to10:00, and the man who introduced me did not do nearlyas good a job as our distinguished guest from Thailand -- he said,"You know, you could stop here and have had a very nice evening."(Laughter.) Well, we could certainly stop here and have had a veryfine occasion.
Let me begin by thanking the Secretary General for beinghere. We've had a very good meeting, just before we came over hereto talk about our shared goal of preventing the spread of weapons ofmass destruction, and of securing Iraq's compliance with itsobligations under the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The Secretary General deserves the thanks of allAmericans for securing the agreement with the Iraqi government toopen all sites for inspection. (Applause.) The commitments made tohim as well as last week's successful U.N. inspections in sites thathad previously been closed are quite significant. They must becarried out. The last six days must be replicated in the coming sixmonths. And the United States must remain vigilant to see that thatoccurs.
Let me say, since we're honoring women today, in caseyou all missed it and you want to be reminded what the stakes are inwhat is going on now, I commend to you the Op-Ed article from thedistinguished British physician in the hometown paper here today,discussing the consequences of the use of chemical weapons.
Mr. Secretary General, your work is important, and weintend to see that you succeed. (Applause.)
Let me also say that the United Nations is an invaluablepartner in an increasingly interdependent world where we have to worktogether on things, as evidenced by the presence here today ofmembers of the Diplomatic Corps, the Russian Health Minister, ourdistinguished physician from Thailand, and so many people from theU.N., and those of you in NGOs who work around the world. If theUnited States expects to continue to exercise a leadership role in away that benefits our own people in the 21st century, we have got topay our U.N. dues and fulfill our responsibilities. (Applause.)
The Secretary General has supported the reform of theU.N. in positive ways, and I'm doing my best to get legislationthrough the Congress, which will fulfill our responsibilities to theUnited Nations, to the IMF, to the cause of U.N. reform.
I'm very proud to be here with all of you today tocelebrate your progress and to chart our course to the future. Iespecially thank the members of Congress who are here and those whomthey represent who couldn't be present for their support andleadership. I thank the First Lady, the Secretary of State, and theAttorney General for the accomplishments of the last five years. Ithink it's fair to say that as long as I live, I will always lookback on the First Lady's speech at Beijing as one of the high-watermarks of our public service in this White House. (Applause.)
You know, we always say that human rights must be acentral pillar of America's foreign policy, but that is meaninglessif those rights are not fully enjoyed by half the people on theplanet. Secretary Albright has already discussed our assistance toAfghan women and girls who have suffered much under the Taliban.Today I want to announce some further actions to advance your causeand our cause.
First, I'm instructing Secretary Albright and our AIDAdministrator, Brian Atwood, to expand our international efforts tocombat violence against women. All too often, we know violencelimits the choices open to women and young girls, damaging theirhealth, disrupting their lives, obstructing their full participationin society. We will provide $10 million to strengthen partnershipswith governments and NGOs to help them to fight violence againstwomen everywhere. (Applause.)
Second, I am launching a variety of steps to combat theinhumane practice of trafficking of women. I've asked our AttorneyGeneral to make sure that our own laws are adequate to the task weface here at home; that trafficking is prevented, victims areprotected, traffickers are punished. And we will use our consularand law enforcement presence in other nations to combat traffickingworldwide, to assist victims, improve legislation, train judges andlaw enforcement in other lands. We will step up our public educationcampaigns abroad in an attempt to stop trafficking at its source.
Secretary Albright has already discussed her partnershipwith the government of Ukraine to jointly develop a comprehensivestrategy to fight trafficking to and from that country with the hopethat our cooperation will become a model for other nations across theglobe.
Finally, I have asked my Interagency Council on Women toconvene an international conference to cast a spotlight on this humanrights atrocity and develop new strategies to combat it. Oneimportant tool, as the Secretary General has reminded us, for makingprogress on these issues is the Women's Human Rights Treaty, the U.N.convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination againstwomen. It has the cumbersome acronym of CEDAW, but its message isvery simple.
Again, I thank the Secretary General for his leadership.I ask you to think about this convention and its impact. It has aproven record of helping women around the world to combat violence,gain economic opportunity, strike against discriminatory laws. Itsprovisions are consistent with United States law, which alreadyprovides strong protections for women. It offers a means forreviewing and encouraging other nations' compliance.
Yet, because of our historic and often manifest allergyto joining international conventions, we remain alone in ourhemisphere, alone among the industrialized nations of the world,apart from 161 other nations alongside nations like Sudan and NorthKorea in not ratifying this treaty.
This is not an issue of party, but of principle. Today,I am sending a letter to the Senate leadership asking them to ratifythe treaty. And I ask the Senate -- (applause) -- I ask the Senateto do so this year. We signed this treaty in the late 1970s.Finally, after we took office, the Senate Foreign Relations Committeevoted the treaty out of committee with a bipartisan vote in 1994.If we are going to be true to our own legacy of leadership in humanrights, we must ratify this treaty. (Applause.)
When you look ahead to this new century and newmillennium and you ask yourselves what you would like the story ofthe next 100 years to be, surely all of us want one big chapter to beabout how, finally, in all nations of the world, people of all racesand ethnic groups, of many different religious persuasions andcultural practices came together to guarantee that every young girlgot a chance to grow up to live up to the fullest of her abilitiesand to live out her dreams. Let that be our mission as we leavetoday.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)