Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Girl Talk

At this year's Clinton Global Initiative, there is a big emphasis on creating new cross-sector initiatives to help empower women and girls around the world. Social innovators attending the conference generally credit Hillary Clinton for getting this issue on the agenda. But make no mistake. Bill Clinton wanted it there, too -- and took a few minutes Tuesday to justify the choice to global CGI delegates. Here's a transcript of Clinton's remarks, issued at the end of a panel talk on Tuesday. [The speech still has many delegates buzzing.]

"A widespread belief exists in many cultures that women are property. (Consider) the rise of sexual violence (against women) in the camps in Haiti. I know many people don't think that violence is much higher than it was on the streets of Port au Prince before the earthquake. But is a lot of this (violence occurring) just because of physical weakness or is there a widespread belief deep down inside in many cultures that men should have more significance in society than women? We haven't talked about that (yet at CGI). We always talk about fixes and policies, and I like that (as we) can't plumb the depths of the human psyche here. But it's worth your thinking about it. Why, in 2010, do we even have to have these sessions (at CGI) on women and girls? Why? I'll never forget when Hillary and I were in Africa one time and Hillary dragged me into this beautiful hotel to meet with these women who had come in from the country to talk about female genital mutilation and the small, hearty cadre of men who were there to support them. These guys were really at risk of being ridiculed back home for standing up for what today seems like the most normal thing in the world.

I'm just saying all of this because I think there is something that we all can do about (women's empowerment) and I think we forget this at our peril. There is still a whole set of complicated assumptions that rifle throughout the world. We have the
Crown Prince here from Bahrain and one of the best things he's done to help women and girls is not directly related to women and girls. He established a commission to make economic policy for his country that was half-government, half private sector, where women were fully represented. He didn't have to say anything about women and girls. People saw the picture. (applause)

There are still a lot of places in this world where women are part-human and part-property and where men define their meaning in life partly by their intrinsic merit and partly by their ability, no matter what else is going on in their lives, to control somebody else. And I think all of us can speak about that and challenge (other) people to think about what is truly going on in their minds and hearts to make this (something that is) still a problem in the world, and which requires us to come here (to CGI) and have a separate section (of discussion) about it."

(Photo: Xhosa family at home in Mthatha, South Africa by Shaun Lombard for

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