At an international conference last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a seminal speech about women's essential role in the global economy, pronouncing the 21st century a "Participation Age" for women. NEWSWEEK caught up with her.
When you became secretary of state, you said your mission was to improve the quality of life for the world's women. Three years later, what's your assessment of the progress made so far?
No society can thrive when half its people are left behind. We have seen what a difference it makes when women have access to education and health care, when they are free to start their own businesses or make their own decisions. As secretary of state, I have been working hard to integrate women's rights as a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Women are key to the success of the Obama administration's major development and economic-growth initiatives--from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to Feed the Future to the Global Health Initiative. But without basic protections, women are unable to realize their potential. The U.S. successfully advocated for a special representative to coordinate efforts to end sexual violence in areas affected by conflict. An administration National Action Plan will be released shortly to ensure women's equal partnership in peace and security building. And in Afghanistan, for example, we have elevated the rights and concerns of women as a top diplomatic priority.
The global economy is teetering. How specifically does this endanger the progress of women?
The world needs to think more strategically and creatively about tapping into women's potential for growth. Studies show that helping women access trade and grow businesses helps create jobs and boost incomes. The State Department and USAID have adopted and advocated for policies and programs--including public-private partnerships--to enable women to overcome barriers that impede their potential and to strengthen women's entrepreneurship opportunities.
How difficult is it to preach to other nations about empowering women when organizations like the World Economic Forum rank the United States 19th of 134 nations in terms of gender equality? …