Sep 5, 1995

"Women's Rights Are Human Rights"

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security

The UN Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing

Since its creation in 1945, the United Nations has worked to further gender equality globally. Mirroring the rise of the global women’s movement in the 1970s, the UN began a series of world conferences, bringing together government leaders and women activists from every corner of the globe to discuss challenges and opportunities for the world’s women. The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China drew unprecedented crowds and international attention. More than 17,000 participants attended the conference, including 6,000 government delegates, and the parallel NGO forum drew tens of thousands of women activists. The conference was the largest the United Nations had ever hosted.

U.S. Delegation to Beijing
First Lady Hillary Clinton’s decision to travel to Beijing for the conference was not without its critics. Many in the United States government felt her presence would be a tacit endorsement of China’s human rights record, and undermine U.S. diplomatic pressure on the country to reform its laws. Despite this resistance, the First Lady was determined to not only attend the momentous occasion, but deliver remarks that would push the envelope on women’s rights globally. The U.S. delegation also included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, former Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, a congressional delegation including U.S. Representatives Harman, Maloney and Morella and Senator Wirth, and high-level representatives from civil society and the private sector.

When then-First Lady Hillary Clinton took the stage to deliver her historic speech, no one knew the impact it would have the worldover, both in that moment and for decades to come. As she spoke, Hillary Clinton went through a litany of the abuses that women face worldwide. To punctuate each of these abuses, she declared each a violation of human rights, and proclaimed for all the world to hear that “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

For many of the activists in the hall and those watching the speech from afar, it was the first time they had received public validation for the work they were doing to combat these human rights abuses. It was especially significant coming from one of the most powerful women in the world. This speech continues to be remembered as a foundational moment in the modern fight for women’s rights.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Remarks to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women
Beijing, 1995
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
Following two weeks of heated political debate, representatives from 189 countries produced and signed onto the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive framework ever for advancing women’s rights. As a blueprint, the Platform for Action articulated commitments covering 12 Critical Areas for Concern. This Platform for Action envisioned gender equality in all dimensions of life, and generated significant cohesion among those working for women’s human rights around the world. The Platform for Action remains a progressive plan for achieving gender equality, and though it has not been fully achieved, this anniversary offers a critical moment for renewing our commitment.
Women globally have made significant progress in the last 20 years: more girls are in school than ever before, maternal mortality is decreasing and women’s economic participation is growing. Laws have been enacted to combat violence against women, but, still too often, laws are not implemented. Despite the undeniable progress, much remains to be achieved for women and girls to realize full equality. This will require innovation, cooperation, collaboration, and determination, but by working together as governments, civil society, and the private sector, we can and will make a difference. This is an historic opportunity to come together in order to achieve the full realization of the commitment we made 20 years ago, that women’s rights are human rights, once and for all. We cannot settle for anything less.
"As long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to violence in and out of their homes - the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized."
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Remarks to the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, Beijing
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Created by Mara D'Amico and Rebecca Turkington, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security 2015.

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