Hillary Clinton at the United Nations Conference on Women, Essay Example
In 1995, the United Nations held their fourth conference on women, which attempted to spur discussion on allowing women to reach their full potential. It specifically focused on women in the developing world. One of the keynote speakers at the conference was the First Lady of the United States at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton. A longtime advocate for girls and women across the world, she wanted to focus on their access to resources essential for proper development. She tries to argue throughout the speech that if women are given the proper infrastructure, they can succeed in the same way men can.
The need for this conference was created by systematic ways that women are oppressed throughout society. Despite being given one of the most important responsibilities in regards to raising new generations, they are treated as second class citizens in many corners of the world. China, which features laws limiting the number of children each family can have, sees many baby girls killed because the parents prefer to have a son.[i] Women also are often objected for sexual purposes, often being forced into prostitution against their will with a man managing to keep all of the money this activity brings in.[ii] In some war torn areas, raping the women of conquered regions is considered a part of war that happens regularly.[iii]
While these previous issues all happen largely in the developing world and third world nations, the issues with gender inequality can be found in the western world even if it might like to think of itself as above this type of discrimination. The United States has never seen a female president, although Hillary Clinton herself came closest when she narrowly missed out on her party’s nomination. Coupled with that, women in the country usually make only seventy percent of what similarly educated men make for comparable jobs.[iv] If these issues are present in the most developed and advanced nations in the world, then obviously those countries on the lower end of the economic development scale are being affected even more so. It was with this obvious need to correct the inequitable conditions they face that something needed to be done, and regular conferences sponsored by the United Nations were an attempt at doing just that to improve the lives of women.
Speeches are not just collections of words passed directly to the recipients. There is necessarily a medium through which the message will pass. The speaker has just as much an influence on the speech as the contents themselves. In this case, Hillary Clinton is an effective speaker who gives the speech much more gravitas than it would have if delivered by someone less in touch with minority views. She had a long history of campaigning on behalf of the rights of women and racial minorities, going back to her organizing a student strike during her student years at Wellesley College in response to the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and the school’s lack of diversity.[v]
After her younger years, Clinton became a successful attorney before her most famous role, as the first lady of the United States. Clinton was serving in this capacity when she gave her speech at the United Nations Conference on Women. She rose to this role when her husband, Bill Clinton, was elected president in 1992. During her time in this role, she took an active part in politics despite the fact that first ladies are not given any political responsibility or privilege. She spent time pushing for health care reform, trying to aid the millions of Americans without proper health insurance. She also broke the record for most countries visited by a first lady, travelling to seventy-nine separate countries[vi]. Her actions as a first lady showed her commitment to concerns of the less privileged especially those around the globe.
In this speech Clinton alludes to detractors who doubt the efficacy of conference on women and even the importance of it. Her speech is meant to be a refutation of these doubts, affirming the potential of women and their ability to positively impact the world if given the support currently denied to them. While largely an argument about the very possibility of a greater impact for women, the speech alludes to Clinton’s ideas about how exactly to achieve these goals. She does this by showing empirical examples of successful programs and hypothetical systems that have empowered women globally.
Clinton goes through a global checklist, highlighting efforts that have improved the prospects for women in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Ukraine, South Africa, and Denmark. This geographical and cultural spread in these countries highlights a key point she is trying to make, about how universal the possibility of success for women is. The plans include microloans, financing programs designed to help women access credit that they traditionally cannot find. Others include literacy programs, healthcare, childcare, basic nutrition and living standards in the third world, and those trying to aid recovery from environmental and human rights disasters such as Chernobyl and South African apartheid.
While the speech may try to put the focus on these positive developments, there is necessarily the downside that women have been mistreated in history. Clinton points out that they have an outsized role in some of the most important societal functions, such as child rearing, yet they struggle the most economically. She cites stats that women make up approximately two thirds of the world’s illiterate and impoverished members. It is perhaps them who suffer most from global poverty, both themselves and through the families they raise and care for. Women are also disproportionately thrown into the worst area of human existence, the modern slavery market, where many of them work as prostitutes. Clinton dedicates her speech to women both across the world and in America struggling economically.
Perhaps the main call in her speech is to give women independence and some sort of control over their own lives. This requires a certain level of success economically, to allow them to seek their own goals as opposed to being forced into whatever work “Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own God-given potential. But we must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected.”[vii] These human rights are essential to any sort of basic economic development for these purposes.
The main persuader in this article is Hillary Rodham Clinton, but along with her is the entire United Nations community that created this event and gave her such a prominent role in it. The hole conference was put together to focus on exactly the type of issues Clinton focused on, such as the unfulfilled potential of women due to the situations they are typically put in and perhaps most importantly, the need for them to get involved politically and speak up to avoid the further degradation of the gender globally. While there may not have been a single statement espousing the views represented at the conference, it is clear that there was an agreement given to what she said.
There is obviously a great deal of respect given to a United Nations backed conference and the First Lady of a nation as prominent as the United States. The combined stature of the two gives this conference and the speech more power. Large scale mass changes very rarely happen through actions by one person low on the rungs of society. It takes either a concerted effort or for someone with great deals of influence to speak up for true change to happen. Clinton brings this type of influence to this position and hopefully was able to inspire many women and men across the planet to strive to help society reach the goals she was espousing.
If there is a weakness to Hillary Clinton as a persuasive speaker, it is her nature as a political being. At the time her husband was president and approaching a reelection campaign and Hillary herself would later show political ambitions, running successfully for senate and unsuccessfully for president. With these types of desires, Clinton must give thought not just how her she will project the words, but what those words will project on to her. However, the speech retains a largely optimistic nature that makes it seem separate from politics. Also, it is difficult to imagine something being said in this type of speech ever becoming damaging to a political campaign, so this is not a major demerit to her ability to persuade.
Her speech serves tries to accomplish two goals, which in turn both support the main goal of female empowerment. One goal is to inspire optimistic passion in women, making them believe that they can truly achieve all of their goals. This is both of a personal nature and one of women rising together to try and achieve equality through the political processes in their country and the international organizations. However, she is also trying to create anger. This is the point of her checklist, in which she goes over human rights against girls, such as forced prostitution, war time rape, female circumcisions, and fatal domestic abuse.
Sometimes saying that someone is trying to instill anger carries with it a connotation that the speaker is somehow being irresponsible. This is not true in this case. Clinton is trying to develop anger that people will use in a responsible way for a valiant cause. There is nothing in her speech that specifically creates the anger; she just simply states facts about the deplorable conditions women and girls face across the world. There is no intent to deceive; the anger comes from her trying to make people aware of some of the violations coming across in the international community.
As previously mentioned, these two goals exist to service another further goal. Clinton does not seek to inspire these passionate emotions just for the sake of those emotions in themselves. The long term point of the speech is to close the gender gap that does not allow women to achieve as much as men. These emotions serve to create inspiration that changes the actions of women and also men in a way that serves the larger, long term goal.
Speeches feature two obvious agents, one being the speaker and the other being the audience who receives the speech. In this case, the direct audience is the attendees and participants in the congress on women. This means that Hillary is speaking to an audience that is going to be very favorable to her causes on female empowerment. The extremely positive reaction her speech receives is evident. It is especially so during the speech’s highlight, where she lists the human rights violations women suffer without protest from society in general. Generally, positive feedback during a speech tends to reemphasize the points made by the speaker, making it stronger. This is true in this case; where the text of the speech does not do service to the impact Clinton’s speech has when the video or even just audio of it is experienced.
Yet, there is a larger audience that Hillary is addressing, even if they are not present to hear her speech. The advantage of a speech given at an international conference sponsored by the United Nations is that it is guaranteed to come with a great deal of publicity. Her speech here was undoubtedly reported to a much wider audience who she hoped to influence. Both women of all nationalities who needed inspiration and those with the power to help them were possibly intended targets of the speech. Certainly, she would also want to address misogynists who supported the status quo that hurt women, but her speech is not written or delivered in an argumentative way that seeks to influence them. Instead, she seeks to deliver her message more to those who already have some degree of sympathy to the positions she is advocating for.
In this speech, Clinton resists trying to build arguments through multi step reasoning or this type of logic. Due to the present audience and the implied larger audience, she aims to inspire more than convince. She makes great deals of assertions about the importance of the movement she is supporting. However, she completely avoids trying to refute the arguments made by opponents, perhaps not wanting to give any attention to those who support such unethical and unfair treatment of women.
One area that she is willing to argue for is not the basis for equal treatment for women, perhaps because it is so self evident to her, but for the efficacy of the conference itself. As it puts a focus on the issues society must tackle for women to succeed, she feels that it can set a political agenda to fix these things. She cites the 1985 Women’s Conference in Nairobi, also sponsored by the United Nations, which put the topic of domestic global violence on to the global agenda for the first time. They can inspire discussion on topics that do not see enough focus in media, which can usually result in progress in those areas.
Overall, the speech was very effective in its goals of inspiring the need for discussion, action, and change in the name of women. The most effective part of the speech comes with the list of human rights violations against women that are often overlooked in society due to the gender of the victims. “It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.”[viii] At the end of this list, it is impossible to feel that society as a whole has not been unfair to women in a way that denies them opportunities to reach their destiny. This can be seen in the video, as this checklist is the most inspiring, moving part of the speech that constantly brings the audience to large rounds of applause.
Through her ability to convince the audience of the way women had been violated by society, she makes it clear that actions need to be taken. Added into these violations are her assertions that women have potential at least equal to that of men. Putting these two together, it is clear that the way society treats them is a huge drag on their ability to be productive members of society. This has two different implications. The first is the economic one, in which half the members of any population being forced to operate below their true potential means that the society will not reach the highest standard of living possible. The other issue is more involved with morality itself. Simply, all members of the human race are born with the right to pursue their interests and live their own lives. Unfortunately, a large part of people are not given their proper opportunity to do so and the majority of them are women. Denying the right to their livelihood is certainly a drag on the economy, but the dehumanization of half of all people is the worst effect to come from discrimination.
Hillary Clinton delivered a moving, convincing speech at this conference, one that likely empowered women across the globe. Her status as a human rights activist, an international traveler, and as an influential political figure made her an ideal figure to speak on behalf of people being oppressed. She focuses on how possible it is for them to make progress on the issue through advocacy and agenda setting on the topic. The speech tries to instill emotions that will themselves create the type of change the conference is trying to create across the world. One area avoided is the arguments that could be made against the need for gender equality, which is not even mentioned, perhaps because it is so far away from the feelings of the audience to not warrant any reference. By sticking to the positive, the speech is a very powerful argument that undoubtedly inspired countless women while creating change through the entire political process.
[i] Bouvard, M. G. (1996). Women reshaping human rights: How extraordinary activists are changing the world. Wilmington, Del: SR Books.
[ii] Cook, R. J. (1994). Human right of women: National and international perspectives. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
[iii] Carin, B. B. (2008). Due diligence and its application to protect women from violence. Leiden, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
[iv] Traister, R. (2010). Big girls don’t cry: The election that changed everything for American women. New York, NY: Free Press.
[v] Radcliffe, D. (1993). Hillary Rodham Clinton: a first lady for our time. New York, NY: Warner Books.
[vi] Burrell, B. C. (1997). Public opinion, the first ladyship, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. New York, NY: Garland Publisher.
[vii] American Rhetoric: Hillary Rodham Clinton
[viii] American Rhetoric: Hillary Rodham Clinton
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