US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the launch of the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges," at the State Department in Washington, DC, March 7, 2011. [Getty Images]There are as many different ways to talk about International Women's Day, no less its remarkable 100th anniversary, as there are women in the world. And while many of those ways might well be better than this, I want to talk about the initiative launched by a woman who loves, respects, and believes in women, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday launched the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges" on the eve of the100th anniversary of International Women's Day, which marks the economic, political and social achievements of women.This is a theme on which Clinton has been speaking for the entire public career. It was Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, who said on an international stage that women's rights are human rights, and that ignoring the ideas and talents of more than half the world's population is in no one's best interest. She was certainly not the first woman to make that observation, but she was the first woman with a platform of that magnitude, who used it to speak to the inherent equality and value of women.
One hundred women from 92 countries gathered at the State Department to begin a three-week professional exchange program in the United States.
Secretary Clinton told them that investing in women is the right thing and can help alleviate problems like poverty and hunger. "For me, investing in women and girls is smart. It pays off," she said.
She called the women "pioneers" in business, academics, civil society and government, and she said their actions inspire her and others.I don't know if the brilliance and subversiveness of this initiative can be overstated. Our Secretary of State is using the power of her government office, from which she recognizes the limitations of government offices, to effectively build an international NGO of clever, determined, effective women, which is not just a network of activists and advocates, but a support network filled with women who do work that is frequently so unique and dangerous that isolation and lack of empathy is the greatest discouragement. It's actually breathtaking in its audacity and hopefulness.
Clinton also recognized the achievements of some of the participants. "Raquel Fernandez from Paraguay connects with women and girls trapped in a life of servitude," she said. "In Sudan, Aisha Humad, where's Aisha? Aisha is empowering women by teaching them to stand up for themselves and to stand up for their own rights."
The women are taking part in the International Visitor Leadership Program, which brings 5,200 current and emerging leaders to the United States to engage with their American peers and to experience life in the United States.
...Clinton called the women "ambassadors" for their countries. She said government relations are not the only way to deal with global challenges. "Ultimately, I think it is people-to-people relationships that make a difference and that can really give you the strength to keep going through very difficult times," said Clinton.
Clinton has long worked to make women's rights a key U.S. foreign policy issue, when she was first lady in the 1990s and now as secretary of state. Monday was the first of a series of events that will be held during the coming year to highlight key foreign policy issues that directly affect women and girls worldwide.I am reminded once again of the senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Stewart M. Patrick, who couldn't discern Clinton's "grand strategic vision." Let's see if we can connect those dots: Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot. Dot...
Hillary Clinton is a genuine exceptional woman, whose career frequently makes her the only woman in the room, a bright blazer among a sea of dark suits. But she never plays the Exceptional Woman; she never trades on being not like other women or tries to distance herself from women. Instead, she has dedicated her career and whatever resources it affords her to support women, to pursue and champion policies that will lift women up.
There are so many pernicious narratives about women that encourage women to embrace the role of Exceptional Woman, the woman who swears she's not like other women, so much tokenism that it fosters cautiousness among women who don't want to lose their spot among men, so many incentives for women to feel competitive with other women and so many disincentives against our being allies.
But Clinton has rejected all of that shit and instead become the kind of exceptional women who takes a long look around a room in which she's the only woman, and does not feel satisfied or insecure, but contemptuous that there aren't more women there. She is a woman who wants a world full of women just like her, better than her—women who will exceed her accomplishments and blaze new trails and break new barriers.
She is a woman to be admired, because she admires other women. She's exactly the kind of woman-respecting and woman-loving feminist I want to be.
Because when I look across the landscape of the world, and I take stock of all the issues disproportionately affecting women, from sexual violence as a weapon of war in DR Congo to the GOP's assault on reproductive rights in the US, what I see is lack of respect and love for women. That's what the world needs more of.
And I hope that Clinton's initiative makes her respect and love for women contagious. I hope it infects the whole wide world.
Happy International Women's Day.
Note: Via Shaker Mod Aphra_Behn, Clinton is also on the first cover by the first female editor of Newsweek. Newsweek also features "a package of women's stories and takes a look at the 150 women who shake the world. All the women on the list are amazing. You should read about each one."