"Women’s rights are human rights." These words were an important part of the declaration that was unanimously adopted by the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China in 1995.
The declaration was noted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her recent visit to China. There, she had the opportunity to meet with some of the very same women she met with at that historic time when she attended the conference as first lady of the United States.
"I think we have made an enormous amount of progress," she said, speaking of the nations that attended that conference. "And we have women able to chart their own lives much more than ever existed in human history. But," she said, "there are still many places where education is not available, health care is not available, jobs are not available, training, credit . . . .just the basics of being able to construct your own approach to your life."
President Barack Obama's administration is taking a multi-faceted approach toward women’s rights worldwide. The U.S. Department of State is charged with much of the coordination of this effort, through the Secretary’s Office of Global Women's Issues.
In a recent report, that office detailed its work with other State Department agencies, the United Nations and other public and private partnerships to promote programs which improve the lives of women and girls around the world. For, as Secretary Clinton noted on the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Conference, "women’s progress is human progress."
The U.S. Department of State works toward the political and economic inclusion of women, for equal access to quality education and healthcare, and toward freeing women from the threat of violence.
To achieve these goals, the Office of Global Women's Issues works toward fully integrating women's issues into U.S. foreign policy decisions and State Department practices; creates programs and partnerships, bilaterally and multilaterally, to protect and empower women; works to expand legal reforms and strengthen the international framework for protection of women's rights; and engages in sustained and comprehensive public outreach and public diplomacy, according to the report.
The United States encourages the protection of victims of gender-based violence, the prevention of such violence, legal reform, and the prosecution of perpetrators of these crimes. The U.S. also seeks to address the root cause of such disturbances, which is ultimately women's unequal status in the world.
Improving the lives of women worldwide is a daunting, yet essential task. For as one old Chinese proverb says, "Women hold up half the sky."