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Hillary Clinton’s speech in Beijing

In this step we zoom into Hillary Clinton's speech held in the Fourth women's conference in Beijing.
HILLARY CLINTON: A friend of mine had given me a suit, and she said you’re going to go make this speech. Wear this pink suit. And first, I thought it was a little too much in your face. But then I thought, why not. Right. So I wore this pink suit. I was jetlagged and I was nervous and I was anxious. Went into the Hall.
MU SUCHOA: We could not get in. I remember, we were pushing, shoving. We could not get in. But at least there was the big screen. Any television screen or monitor anywhere in the facility was packed with people around it. The First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton.
MELANNE VERVEER: I remember being really nervous because of what it had been like to get to that point, and pray God that everything went well.
HILLARY CLINTON: I would like to thank the Secretary General for inviting me to be part of this important United Nations fourth World Conference on women. I was nervous. I was apprehensive, because I thought there was a lot riding on one speech. Because the people in the room where the speech were the people who were the delegates that were going to determine ultimately what we voted on for the platform for action. And people were behind their placards announcing their nation. By gathering in Beijing, we are focusing world attention on issues that matter most in our lives, the lives of women and their families.
She starts the speech and it feels like an eternity that they sit there in stony-faced silence, completely unresponsive, kind of like statues. And Milan and I look at each other like, oh, my God. What have we gotten wrong?
HILLARY CLINTON: What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. I was aware that my speech would have to be translated into many different languages. But that throws the Speaker off, unless you’re really experienced. And at that time, I wasn’t that experienced. Because you don’t get any reaction, because everybody’s waiting to hear what is actually being said. And looking at the crowd, I was seeing nothing, just people with their headphones listening intently. I thought, oh, boy. OK. I’ve insulted half the crowd, and I have to forge ahead. So I kept going. But the voices of this conference and of the women at [INAUDIBLE] must be heard loudly and clearly.
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food or drowned or suffocated or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
MELANNE VERVEER: And then she got to this place where she went through this listing of horrific actions against women.
HILLARY CLINTON: It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated. - I think people were like, whoa. She’s actually talking about this stuff. It is a violation of human rights– - She is not holding back.
HILLARY CLINTON: Set on fire and burned to death. - It was affirming what women have been saying all along.
HILLARY CLINTON: It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women, ages 14 to 44, is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives. - And each one was more surprising than the next.
HILLARY CLINTON: It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalised by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.
MELANNE VERVEER: As she would list these things, you could see they were touching various delegations in the audience because they would rise to their feet and pound the table in front of them. - And the last one she saved for the end was forced abortion and forced sterilisation. Everyone in that room understood that she was speaking about China.
HILLARY CLINTON: It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilised against their will.
That was shattering.
HILLARY CLINTON: If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all. [APPLAUSE]
JANE FONDA: It was like the ether changed. There was a paradigm shift. You could feel it in the air. And the idea that our rights are not peripheral side issues, but fundamental human issues, human rights issues, was totally new and revolutionary.
YANG LAN: She made the point that women’s issue was not just women’s issue. It’s a human issue. It’s an idea, which should always be there.
ROLA DASHTI: I heard the courage in the speech. We’re in China in 1995 speaking about human rights, and the most important phrase, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” I think this sums it up, the whole conference.
The fact that the first lady said it mattered to women. That was big for us.
JOYCE BANDA: And I remember a lot of debate that week, people saying, that’s huge. I mean, that’s too much. How can women’s rights be human rights? What is she talking about? - The forceful and uncompromising speech at the Beijing Women’s Conference. - A blast at governments and cultures that violate the human rights of women. - The first lady’s human rights bombshell was unexpected and risky.
HILLARY CLINTON: There were other parts of the speech that we expected to draw more attention. Because women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights, once and for all, seemed like a very obvious thing to say.
But I wanted to say it, because I didn’t want there to continue to be this divide. Like, OK, you can be passionate about human rights, and then, OK. You can say something nice about women. No. So we kept it in, and luckily, it did catch the imagination.

In this step we zoom into Hillary Clinton’s speech – the then First Lady of the United States of America- at the Fourth women’s conference in Beijing. We will explore why the Beijing Conference was seen as revolutionary.

Watch another part of the documentary and note down your answers to the following questions:

  1. What strikes you in Clinton’s speech?
  2. Which argument made by Clinton in her speech was considered revolutionary in particular?

After you have done this, you can move to the next step in which we will further unpack the polarization that emerged in Beijing.


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Religion and Sexual Wellbeing: Pleasure, Piety, and Reproductive Rights

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