Hillary Clinton is on the cover of a rebooted Newsweek, the cover line touting her "shattering glass ceilings." But the story isn't about her oft-wondered-about share of power in the Obama administration. It's about how she's mainstreaming women's rights causes and putting them at the center of her agenda as Secretary of State.
(There is a coziness to all this: New Newsweek editor in chief Tina Brown is still under contract to write a book about Clinton, though it has been postponed, or because a Clinton interview covered the first issue of Brown's failed Talk. Clinton, her aide Melanne Verveer, and just about all the activists quoted were at Brown's Daily Beast Women In The World summit last year. The Clinton-Brown axis may form its own old-girl network on behalf of tackling global women's rights, with or without glittery corporate sponsorships.)
On the one hand, having an agenda that strikes some within as secondary or soft risks marginalizing Clinton; on the other, it gives her something that is all her own that she has long been demonstrably passionate about. The profile, while breaking no new ground, shows how Clinton has deftly repackaged her issues — pushing foreign leaders on recognizing women's rights as human rights, fighting sex trafficking, political representation of women — to make them palatable or justify them within her current role.
She sidesteps issues of imposing Western values or American hegemony by focusing on economic prosperity.
In a chat on an Egyptian website, "a number of questioners suggested that her persistent references to women's rights constituted American meddling in Egyptian affairs." Clinton's reply: "If a country doesn't recognize minority rights and human rights, including women's rights, you will not have the kind of stability and prosperity that is possible."
She frames women's rights as a security issue, to the likely skepticism of old State hands.
"This is a big deal for American values and for American foreign policy and our interests, but it is also a big deal for our security," she tells NEWSWEEK. "Because where women are disempowered and dehumanized, you are more likely to see not just antidemocratic forces, but extremism that leads to security challenges for us."
She keeps members of her trusted inner circle on the issue.
"By Clinton's side as she spoke was Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, a post Clinton encouraged President Obama to create when she became secretary...With Verveer as her trusted deputy, Clinton pushes for recognition of women's contributions in traditional areas such as health and education, along with newer and, in her view, equally critical arenas such as diplomacy and peacekeeping.
She quietly has the numbers broken down..
"Meanwhile, the State Department's 2012 fiscal-year request includes $1.2 billion in programs specifically targeting women, $832 million of which will go toward global health initiatives. Tellingly, comparisons with past years can't be made, since the department only started tracking women-focused dollars in 2010."
She uses her personal celebrity, but at least pays lip service to its limits.
"For her part, Clinton says that her ambition now is to move the discussion beyond a reliance on her own celebrity. She must, she says, take her work on women's behalf 'out of the interpersonal and turn it into the international.'"
If she's successful, the conversation — as well as financial and personnel-level contributions — will continue beyond her tenure.