Hillary’s Beijing speech: a watershed moment for women’s rights

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Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

Thanks to a Presidential Memorandum signed by President Obama with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by his side Wednesday, Melanne Verveer’s position in the State Department as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues is now a permanent post. Verveer, Clinton’s former chief of staff during her time as First Lady, stopped by Andrea Mitchell Reports Friday to reflect on Clinton’s groundbreaking work on issues facing women and girls, starting with her 1995 speech at the Beijing women’s conference when she famously stated, “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

Verveer recalled that trip to Beijing, on which she accompanied Clinton:

Well, it was difficult getting to Beijing. There was a lot of controversy about whether she should go to that women’s conference. But the world was gathering in that place.  And when she finally did make her way there, there weren’t too many people who knew what she was going to say. And that was a very big debate.

Was she just going to throw out a softball? Was she going to not upset her hosts? Was she going to really move the ball down the field? Just what was she going to do?

And when she stood up for all the world to hear and said, it is time to end the silence. Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.  And that meant that women’s rights weren’t some subset of human rights, weren’t marginal to human rights, weren’t some separate category, but human rights and everything that that entailed for access to education, to economic participation, political participation, be free from violence.

And I think when she came out of that setting, no matter where one stood on the political spectrum, right or left, the unanimous conclusion was that it was probably her most historic moment…She was such an extraordinary voice for the United States and all of the values that we held true. And you remember so well the thunderous positive reaction she got in that hall. And she went through a litany of violations of women’s rights and said that each of those was, indeed, a violation of human rights.

And it was like the beginning of a movement.  It sparked so much, to this day, whenever people meet her or me or so many others, they say I’m so and so and I was in Beijing.  It’s shorthand for I am committed to what this represented and what you did.


For Andrea Mitchell’s take on the 1995 Beijing trip, which she covered for NBC News, click here

Watch then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s speech at the 1995 Beijing women’s conference: 

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Hillary's Beijing speech: a watershed moment for women's rights

Updated