Americas

Women in the World Summit

It seems that Hillary Clinton saved the best for last in her closing speech at the third annual Women in the World summit at Lincoln Center in New York on March 10th.

There was palpable excitement in the house leading up to the final half hour, which featured Hillary Clinton, preceded by an introductory tribute from Meryl Streep who held up her Oscar and said "this is what you get for playing a world leader, but this is what you get when you are one," as Clinton walked on stage.

“I cannot believe what just happened,” Clinton exclaimed, saying she had no idea what Streep would do by way of introduction. Anticipating perhaps a reprise of the actress’s various roles, Clinton pronounced herself relieved that Streep hadn’t made “The Devil Wears Pantsuits,” a reference to Clinton’s tribute to the pantsuits that got her through the presidential race.

Clinton, called the “sex-retary of state” by Rush Limbaugh, delivered a rousing call-to-arms before a rapt audience and called for all women to be "fearless" and "reject any efforts to marginalize any one of us."

Taking on extremists both abroad and at home, the secretary of state called for an 'audacious' fight.

Clinton stressed that for her what she does is “not so much work as a mission.” She talked about the various brave women she has met over the last 20 years, and when her energy flags, she thinks of all the obstacles they face. She spoke of the relationships she built with women in China, in Belarus, in Ireland, and in Pakistan, and asked, “What does it mean to be a woman in the world?  Well, I too believe it means facing up to the obstacles you confront, and each of us confront different kinds. It means never giving up – giving up on yourself, giving up on your potential, giving up on your future. It means waking early, working hard, putting a family, a community, a country literally on your back, and building a better life.”

Clinton went on to say “You can look around the world today and you can see the difference that individual women leaders are making. Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who’s now leading UN women. They carry an enormous load for the rest of us, because it is hard for any leader – male or female. But I don’t fear contradiction when I say it is harder for women leaders. There are so many built-in expectations, stereotypes, caricatures that are still deeply embedded in psyches and cultures.”

Clinton also denounced "extremists" for purposely trying to "control women," specifically in the United States.

According to a transcript of her remarks, Clinton praised several women worldwide for standing up to dictators and tyrannical regimes, reminding the audience that due to their bravery, these women were changing the world.

"Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me." she said to the enthusiastic crowd. "But they all seem to."

"They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies," she said to heavy applause. "Yes, it is hard to believe that even here at home, we have to stand up for women’s rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America needs to set an example for the entire world."

Clinton specifically mentioned Sandra Fluke, who was recently verbally assaulted by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and praised women "who are assuming the risks that come with sticking your neck out, whether you are a democracy activist in Burma or a Georgetown law student in the United States."

Clinton ended her speech by saying “Now, we can tell stories all night and we can talk about the women who have inspired us. But what inspires me is not just who they are, but what they do. They roll their sleeves up and they get to work. And this has such important implications for our own country and for our national security, because our most important goals – from making peace and countering extremism to broadening prosperity and advancing democracy – depend to a very large degree on the participation and partnership of women. Nations that invest in women’s employment, health, and education are just more likely to have better outcomes. Their children will be healthier and better educated. And all over the world, we’ve seen what women do when they get involved in helping to bring peace. So this is not just the right thing to do for us to hold up these women, to support them, to encourage their involvement; this is a strategic imperative.”

Urging the women in the audience to "take action a step further and bring it into their lives," Clinton challenged those present to be part of the solution. She reiterated, "At the State Department, I have made women a cornerstone of our policy."

Clinton concluded her comments with a call to mobilize. "My life has been enriched, and I want yours to be as well. I am thrilled that so many of you have taken the time out of your own lives to celebrate these stories of these girls and women. And of course, now I hope that through your own efforts, through your own activism, through the foundations, through your political involvement, through your businesses, through every channel you have, you will leave here today thinking about what you too can do. So let me have the great privilege of ending this conference by challenging each of you. Every one of us needs to be part of the solution. Each of us must truly be a Woman in the World. We need to be as fearless as the women whose stories you have applauded, as committed as the dissidents and the activists you have heard from, as audacious as those who start movements for peace when all seems lost. Together, I do believe that it is part of the American mission to ensure that people everywhere, women and men alike, finally have the opportunity to live up to their own God-given potential. ”

As speakers joined Clinton on stage, and amidst thunderous applause, the Aretha Franklin anthem "Respect" filled the theater.

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