U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently spoke at the largest women's university in the world, Ewha Women's University in Seoul, South Korea. In her speech, she stressed that women's empowerment is the key to progress in developing nations.
"We have to highlight the importance of inclusion for women," said Secretary Clinton. "We have to make clear that no democracy can exist without women’s full participation; no economy can truly be a free market without women involved."
In the face of serious global challenges, no nation can afford to not have the talent of all its people, women as well as men, engaged in setting a course of peace, progress, and prosperity. Women have a role to play in all aspects of society, including resolving the economic crisis, promoting civil society, human rights, education, healthcare, the rule of law, and good governance.
In South Korea, the advancement of women's rights has coincided with tremendous economic growth and democratic development. "The inclusion of women in the political and economic equation," said Secretary Clinton, "calling on those talents and contributions from the entire population, not just the male half, was essential to the progress that [South Korea] has made."
But there are countries where a backlash against women's rights has begun. Taliban leaders in parts of Afghanistan are threatened by the idea of freedom and democracy and are trying to turn back the clock on women’s rights.
"The abuses of women under the Taliban," said Secretary Clinton, "are horrific reminders that just as women had been central to progress in countries like ours, the reverse can happen as well."
Women elsewhere face oppression in different forms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous struggle for democracy, remains under house arrest. And in North Korea, seventy percent of those leaving the country in search of a better life are women -- a sad commentary on the dire conditions in North Korea.
The United States, said Secretary of State Clinton, "is committed to advancing the rights of women to lead more equitable, prosperous lives in safe societies. ... It's imperative that nations like ours stand up for the rights of women. It is not ancillary to our progress; it is central."