Hillary Clinton Talked The (Girl) Talk At Senate Confirmation

Perhaps in line with Barack Obama's letter that he wants to make the world a better place for children, Hillary Clinton wants to make the world a better place for daughters in particular.

It was striking that in Clinton's opening statement, between comments about poverty, international crises, AIDS, organizational issues and everything in between, Hillary took a minute (as we noted yesterday) to talk about women's issues.

We have to expand civil and political rights in countries that are plagued by poverty, hunger, and disease. But our pleas will fall on deaf ears unless democracy actually improves people's lives while weeding out the corruption that too often stands in the way of progress.

Our foreign policy must reflect our deep commitment to help millions of oppressed people around the world. And of particular concern to me is the plight of women and girls, who comprise the majority of the world's unhealthy, unschooled, unfed, and unpaid. If half the world's population remains vulnerable to economic, political, legal and social marginalization, our hope of advancing democracy and prosperity is in serious jeopardy. The United States must be an unequivocal and unwavering voice in support of women's rights in every country on every continent.

Clinton didn't just speak of women's issues in terms of improving the lives of women, or ending patriarchal oppression or even as something we should do for the sake of doing the right thing. Rather, she put it into the context of our larger foreign policy goals, which are expanding civil and political rights to improve our own security. Clinton stated, on behalf of this Administration, that if they do not improve the plight of women in the world, they cannot improve the status of nations or expand democracy.

But she didn't stop there. During questioning by California Senator Barbara Boxer about Clinton's commitment to women's issues and the plight of women in the developing world, Clinton, in my opinion, was more fired-up, less scripted and more honestly committed to the issue than at nearly any other time in the hearing.

And I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view these issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.

I, too, have followed the stories that are exemplified by the pictures that you held up. I mean, it is heartbreaking beyond words that, you know, young girls are attacked on their way to school by Taliban sympathizers and members who do not want young women to be educated. It's not complicated: They want to maintain an attitude that keeps women, as I said in my testimony, unhealthy, unfed, uneducated.

And this is something that results all too often in violence against these young women, both within their families and from the outside. This is not culture. This is not custom. This is criminal. And it will be my hope to persuade more governments, as I have attempted to do since I spoke at Beijing on these issues, you know, 13 and some years ago, that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way.

But she didn't even stop at condemning the behavior or feeling sympathy for its victims. She was very clear about what she planned to do about it:

So we're going to have a very active women's office, a very active office on trafficking. We're going to be speaking out consistently and strongly against discrimination and oppression of women and slavery in particular, because I think that is in keeping not only with American values, as we all recognize, but American national security interests as well.

Barbara Boxer said, "Well, I couldn't have asked for a better answer," and I agree.

But she wasn't done yet. Florida Senator Bill Nelson brought up the issue of American women contractors being raped in Afghanistan and Iraq somewhat later in the hearing.

I had the privilege of our subcommittee on this committee of chairing the hearings about rapes of American contractor women in Iraq and Afghanistan. And what we found in dramatic testimony from very courageous women that came forth and testified to the committee was that there was always an attempt among State Department contractor personnel — and that, of course, was the jurisdictional hook through our Foreign Relations Committee. But the same applied to contractor personnel in the Department of Defense.

Always, the attempt to sweep it under the rug, not have it conveyed to the U.S. attorneys for the proper prosecution. When we got this out in the open, we have tried to encourage the cooperation and collaboration between those three departments — Justice, Defense, and State.

I bring it out for your consideration.

While not addressing the rapes specifically, she did address the abuses of power and the lack of oversight within the State Department of those abuses.

We have seen the abuses by contractors, but even when there are not headline-grabbing abuses, there has been a steady transfer of authority and resources from government employees and a chain of accountability to contractors, and we have reaped the very difficult consequences of that. We — we know, obviously, of the security contractors and some of the difficulties that they have presented, but it's been contractors across the board.

We have used so many of them, particularly in Iraq, but not exclusively, and I think we have to take a hard look at whether we want the U.S. government to turn into a contracting agency

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican, also brought up an interesting point about putting preconditions on foreign aid in ways that can help women.

Talking about preconditions for a second, I am one that feels like foreign aid invested, especially with preconditions for results is beneficial to the United States of America. And I shared with you the issue on women's education in Muslim countries Africa who, prior to 2001, we weren't really aware that we had money going to NGOs than going to education. It was only teaching Muslim men, not Muslim women.

And we put a precondition post-9/11 and built schools for women in Egypt and Ethiopia and other places. And the payback has been a renaissance in those countries, at least, in raising the educational level of all.

I'd appreciate your comments on the extent to which preconditions can be used in foreign aid — not preconditions to agree with us but preconditions to see that the result brings about a benefit like, in this case, the education of women.

Preconditions on foreign aid aren't exactly beloved in the progressive community because of the types of preconditions often set forth by our government, but Clinton gave a rather balanced response.

When you look at foreign aid, we want to be able to justify the investment to the American people and we want to get measurable results. Those are two goals that really go hand in hand. And so I believe strongly that as we try to shore up foreign aid, as we try to make the case for more development assistance, as we try to, you know, get back some of the authority and the resources that have drifted to the Defense Department, that we have to be ready to make that case.

And I think the, you know, conditional aid approach in certain countries and situations is one we have to look at more closely.

And, although not strictly about women, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold asked Hillary Clinton about domestic partnership benefits for LGBT foreign service officers, who are subject to different treatment than their heterosexual peers and have more difficulty keeping their families intact during overseas postings. Clinton responded:

Senator, this issue was brought to my attention during the transition. I've asked to have more briefing on it because I think that we should take a hard look at the existing policy. As I understand it, but don't hold me to it because I don't have the full briefing material, but my understanding is other nations have moved to extend that partnership benefit. And we will come back to you to inform you of decisions we make going forward.

There are a lot of LGBT Foreign Service Officers out there who might appreciate the irony of a heterosexual Secretary of State changing policies to allow them to serve and keep their families intact.

So was it enough for you? In betwen Gaza, Darfur, nukes, Pakistan, war and institutional reform, do you feel like it's possible that Hillary Clinton will be as much a Secretary of State for women as a woman Secretary of State?

Senate Confirmation Hearing: Hillary Clinton [NY Times]

Related: Hillary Shows Her Hand, And Her Heart [Foreign Policy]

Earlier: Warning: Obama's Letter To Malia & Sasha May Inspire Spontaneous Ovulatation
Hillary Will Not Let Women, Obama's Mom, Go Unheard