Hillary Rodham Clinton on advancing human rights

Secretary Clinton

A quarter century after then-U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered her rousing and influential speech ‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights’ at the UN’s 1995 Conference on Women, the necessity of extending basic rights to all people, and to women in particular, remains at the top of the global agenda. On the occasion of Human Rights Day 2020, Women Political Leaders underlines the active promotion of equal women’s rights as imperative to the pursuit of universal human rights. 

During the recent Reykjavík Global Forum – Women Leaders 2020 broadcast globally in November, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State (2009-2013) sat down for a Fireside Chat with Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security to talk about equality and human rights today, along with strategies for catalysing real progress.

Secretary Clinton recognised the gains made across 25 years in terms of durable, standard-setting legislation, but she also warned that in many cases, concern for equality has been mere ‘lip service’ that ignores or postpones the implementation of necessary change.

“We can see gains for women, parity in education in many countries, far fewer deaths in childbirth, greater access to healthcare, more women elected to positions in governments, more opportunities in the business world…. Yet I think it’s also fair to say that major gaps persist, ” noted Secretary Clinton.

Those gaps include disparities in decision-making at all levels, as well as in women’s paid labour, which has seen stagnation and setbacks thanks to COVID-19, with more women leaving (or forced to leave) employment situations. In times of crisis, women are still the first to be dismissed and the last to be rehired. At the same time, women continue to carry the heaviest burden of unpaid work, and that too has been exaggerated by the pandemic.

This year, Human Rights Day is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to ensure that universal rights remain central to all recovery efforts as guiding standards that elevate and sustain us as we oppose all forms of exclusion and discrimination, and entrenched and systematic inequalities.


Because women and girls comprise over half the global population, ongoing dedication to Women’s Rights will always be a crucial factor in the pursuit of universal human rights. The pursuit of human rights begins at home, in claiming one’s own equal status, but to become universal these rights must extend without limits to all persons without voice or representation.

In politics, the election of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris to the office of Vice President is surely a significant and resonant step forward; and yet enormous obstacles persist, both in rigid societal norms and in the non-enforcement of equality legislation. Women’s political participation is key, according to Secretary Clinton:

“There needs to be a very deliberate effort focused on the infrastructure necessary to really support women running. And we have to continue to call out the sexism and misogyny in the political arena, and particularly in the press.”


This is video footage of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton delivering a speech to the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, in 1995. This footage is provided by the Clinton Presidential Library
To watch this engaging and informative chat in its entirety, along with three full days of panels, conversations, and other presentations on the issues now facing women (and all of humanity), please visit the Reykjavík Global Forum 2020’s YouTube channel