The New York Times Magazine just unveiled its latest issue, dedicated to global issues that impact women. Though we'll post on more of the pieces later this week, today we'll start with the magazine's interview of Hillary Clinton.
We've already talked a bit about HRC's global master plan and the resistance to her efforts, but Times Correspondent Mark Landler really asks some powerhouse questions here really digging into the heart of the obstacles facing women. Most prominent in the discussions are the economic power of women and the links between gender oppression and terrorism.
Landler poses a query that is really asked in the realm of women's rights. When so much discussion focuses around awareness and not solutions, it was really refreshing to see this question appear:
Q: Do you have a point of view about what should come first: Do you empower women economically and then hope that they seize a political role for themselves? Or do you seek to give them more legal and political standing and hope that they can win a place in the economic sphere?
Clinton: That's a great question, because I think the historical record would show both routes have worked. Women were not particularly economically empowered when we finally included the right of women to vote in our Constitution. So women's rights were expanded in 1920, and that opened up a lot of doors to women to see themselves in different roles, including economic roles, outside the home.
India's been a democracy for 60 years, and remarkably extended the vote to everyone, every caste, to both men and women equally. So women have been given the right to vote, but without economic empowerment, they didn't have the influence that their votes should have brought, which is why the government of India has made such a big point of extending economic and political opportunity equally to women.
And when we visited SEWA, the Self-Employed Women's Association [in India], those women had the vote before they were born, but being economically empowered, being able to stand up for themselves inside their families, on the streets of their villages, is giving them a sense of autonomy and authority that just their vote couldn't have.
A discussion of economics (alongside discussions of literacy, education, and access) is crucial in fighting gender discrimination. As we discussed before, lacking access to capital can have dire consequences for women. It leads to them seeking out men for financial stability and being at the whim and mercy of that man. It also a way for women to be controlled, even in more developed nations. The power to earn and retain one's own money, to purchase and own property, and to work should be fundamental rights for every citizen. Landler presses even further with one solution that has gained a lot of popularity: microlending.
Q: In your travels as secretary of state, you've focused heavily on the role of microlending. Is there a reason in these early days that you've tended to emphasize the economic over the political?
Clinton: [...] I am also struck by every international public-opinion poll I've ever seen, that the No. 1 thing most men and women want is a good job with a good income. It is at the core of the human aspiration to be able to support oneself, to give one's children a better future. Microenterprise is uniquely designed to empower women because - through the trial and error of its development, going back to Muhammad Yunus's invention of it in Bangladesh - women are much greater at investing in future goods than the men who have participated in microcredit have turned out to be. And they are also very reliable in paying back, because they are so eager to have that extra help and recognition that microcredit provides.
So, I don't make a distinction between economic empowerment and political, social empowerment; I think it's fair to say both need to go hand in hand.
Landler also brings up an interesting link between terrorism and gender-based oppression:
Q: There are counterterrorism experts who have made the observation that countries that nurture terrorist groups tend to be the same societies that marginalize women. Do you see a link between your campaign on women's issues and our national security?
Clinton: I think it's an absolute link. Part of the reason I have pursued it as secretary of state is because I see it in our national security interest. If you look at where we are fighting terrorism, there is a connection to groups that are making a stand against modernity, and that is most evident in their treatment of women.
What does preventing little girls from going to school in Afghanistan by throwing acid on them have to do with waging a struggle against oppression externally? It's a projection of the insecurity and the disorientation that a lot of these terrorists and their sympathizers feel about a fast-changing world, where they turn on television sets and see programs with women behaving in ways they can't even imagine. The idea that young women in their own societies would pursue an independent future is deeply threatening to their cultural values.
But, there's an interesting part in Landler's line of questioning where HRC falters a bit. It is a question often asked by women's rights activists and others who are wary of the cause of gender equality being co-opted (and then later discarded) to score political points. If we are aggressively pursing and denouncing the way some nations treat women, why do we give a pass to others? Landler asks:
Q: Many of the countries where the abuses against women are most prevalent are also countries that have a vital strategic importance to the United States: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India. How can you aggressively advocate for women without jeopardizing those strategic relationships?
Clinton: Well, in a number of these strategic relationships, there's a commitment to advancing the roles and rights of women. In India, the changes that have been made are remarkable. There are still tens of millions of very poor women, but women have assumed more and more responsibility; they are seen in public positions and increasingly economic ones, where their stature is accepted by society.
When I meet with the Chinese leadership, as I just did in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, they have women who are part of their leadership team, and women who are assuming greater and greater economic and political roles.
In other societies where we have strategic security interests, it's a challenge to move the agenda forward in a way that includes women's issues. When we did our strategic review on Afghanistan, we said very clearly, We can't be all things to all people in Afghanistan. We have to focus on a few critical concerns. But one of them was the role of women, and women's participation in society.
She doesn't even touch Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Now, I can understand that global politics is a volatile game, and it may be easier and more efficient to focus on criticizing enemies than to alienate allies. But, if women's rights around the globe are that much of a cornerstone to our global strategy, wouldn't it be problematic to keep working with countries that participate in gender based oppression?
Either way, the interview (conducted in just 35 minutes) makes for insightful reading and adds a great deal of insight into trends to watch for while Hillary Clinton continues in her role as Secretary of State.
(Aside: The interview actually brings up far more issues than I can discuss in one blog post. Bookmark this page for future reference - I've asked some of my friends who work in counterterrorism, homeland security, and international politics to weigh in with their thoughts and opinions later in the week. Stay tuned.)
A New Gender Agenda [NY Times Magazine]