Reformist Clinton: Pioneering Women’s Rights Revolution

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Reformist Clinton: Pioneering Women’s Rights Revolution

In September 1995, then-First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton delivered a riveting speech on Women’s Rights before the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. She hosted delegates around the world, creating a Platform of Action to achieve greater equality and opportunity for women. This immensely assertive speech stood out amongst others in that period as it was hosted by a prominent female leader in the ‘capital of a brutal communist regime, commonly known for neglecting assaults on women’s rights, such as female infanticide and forced abortions.1 This speech was a bold step on Clinton’s part as this period was one where China-US relations were shaky.2 Clinton’s speech made in China is often seen as a manifesto for women around the world, in how she overtly referred to China’s violations towards women, thus setting a powerful example for women to raise their voices towards a change in society. Hereby, this essay aims to showcase how the foundations laid by Clinton two decades ago created a revolution that has had immense effects and made advancements towards women’s equality.

Firstly, this speech by Clinton served as an admonishment of the Chinese host country, with the eventual aim of bringing out, what seemed to be, her anthem throughout the speech that ‘human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights’. Without explicitly mentioning China, Clinton was highly regarded post-1995 for her direct and grave approach to underlining China’s human rights violation, especially referring to Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, where the Chinese government took force against student protestors, snatching away their freedom to assemble, organize and debate openly.3 She also plainly states that even ‘today, there are also those who are trying to silence our words’, but the voices of those at the conference ‘must be heard loudly and clearly’, evidently pointing fingers to the Chinese political regiment.4 This direct ‘attack’ more that created a stir within China and governments around the world, it also inspired women to muster similar courage that Clinton displayed, in fighting for their own rights. This conference, that clearly reaffirmed the ‘societal issues must be addressed from a gender perspective’ in order to establish sustainable development, was supported by women around the world, including Gita Sen, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management and a founder of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN). She explained how in Cairo, women had to scramble and intensively contest for governments to merely understand what they were lobbying for.5 However, in Beijing, Clinton’s speech allowed the vast majority of government to immediately understand their standpoint.

Secondly, Senator Clinton’s emphatic speech pioneered the massive mobilization and empowerment of women around the world. In China, though the thick bureaucracy and rigid totalitarian regime have lengthened the period for any revolutionary change to take place, women are actively pursuing the goals to make their voices no longer subdued. Ever since Hillary Clinton’s mention that women’s rights should not be seen as a separate or secondary entity of discussion, but one that is a part of human rights, Chinese women, like 74-year-old retired English professor, have begun efforts to put an end to their silence by being well-informed and in possession of the Chinese Constitution’s human rights bills, such as the Labour Law, the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the international bill of rights for women.6 Despite these efforts, women lack economic clout and there is still no political standing to improve women’s position and representation, by the male-dominated and heavily-monitored one-party state. In spite of the risk of being physically attacked or having to deal with societal exclusions, many Chinese women...
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