June 7, 2000

Five years ago, we traveled to Beijing -- mothers and sisters, daughters and wives, doctors and lawyers, homemakers and policymakers, artists and activists. We came from 189 countries. We wore different clothing, practiced different religions, and understood different languages. But we spoke with one voice when we proclaimed, "Women's rights are human rights, and human rights are women's rights."

The occasion was the United Nation's Fourth World Conference on Women, and it opened a new chapter in the struggle for women's equality. In the words of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "Where once women fought to put gender equality on the international agenda, gender equality is now one of the primary factors shaping that agenda."

This week, we are meeting again, this time at the U.N. headquarters in New York. We are here to assess progress, and determine where we go next. Many of us have spent a lifetime fighting for the same rights that men enjoy, including education, health care, freedom from violence, a vote, the right to own property, get a job or credit, speak and worship freely and seek legal redress. In other words, the right to be fully human and develop one's own God-given potential.

In Beijing, we adopted a Platform of Action -- a blueprint for achieving economic, social and political equality. In response, countries have raised the legal age for marriage, banned female genital mutilation, and criminalized domestic violence. International war tribunals now recognize rape as a crime. And women are running their own businesses and buying their own property.

In this country, we created the President's Interagency Council for Women to ensure that every government agency works to fulfill the promises we made in Beijing. We increased our investments in everything from child care to family planning and combating breast cancer. We quadrupled the number of domestic violence shelters, and dramatically expanded the availability of microcredit loans. And a new global democracy initiative called Vital Voices is giving women all over the world the skills and resources they need to build democracy, prosperity, civil society and peace.

I have had the privilege of meeting women around the world who, since Beijing, have joined their voices to call for change. In Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic women want peace; in Kuwait, the vote; in Central Asia, democracy; and in El Salvador and Guatemala, women have put decades of civil war behind them to build a better future for their children.

Here at home, women want equal pay for equal work, health care for their families, and as last month's Million Mom March demonstrated, sensible gun safety laws.

Clearly, our work is far from done.

Worldwide, women make up 70 percent of those who live in absolute poverty. There are countries that tolerate "honor killings" and allow in-law families to burn girls to death if their dowries are too small. Of the 110 million children not in school, two-thirds are girls. And some governments ignore parents who abandon girl babies, and deny women the right to plan their own families.

Around the world, the face of AIDS is increasingly female. There are cities in southern Africa where 40 percent of pregnant women are HIV-positive. But AIDS is not an African problem, an Asian problem, or an American problem. As it tears apart the social fabric that women have worked so hard to create, AIDS becomes a problem for every one of us.

Tragically, the global economy that has lifted so many lives has also contributed to one of modern history's greatest human rights abuses -- the buying and selling of women and girls by organized criminal networks. If we are to fulfill the promise of Beijing, we must strive to end trafficking, protect its victims, and prosecute the criminals who are responsible.

In addition, we must ensure that the global economy does not leave women behind. Too often shut out by traditional banks, women must have access to the financial resources they need to turn their dreams into prosperity for themselves, their families and their communities.

I've met women all over the world whose lives have been transformed by microcredit. In Uganda, I took my husband to see a village bank program -- a visit that turned him into a microcredit convert. In April, when he hosted a White House Conference on the New Economy, he included Marai Chatterjee from the Self-Employed Women's Association of India to talk about the impact of microcredit on poor communities. Marai stole the show with her starkly eloquent summation of what women need to close the economic divide: "Technology and health care, education, credit, capital, employment and self-empowerment."

We have marked the year of the woman. We have even marked the decade of the woman. Now, in the year 2000, it is time to celebrate the century of the woman -- a century in which women's rights become, once and for all, human rights.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at