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Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton's Legacy: Advancing Gender Equity and Social Justice Issues Worldwide

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This past January, as I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton step down from her post at the U.S. State Department, I felt proud -- proud of my connection to her as an alumna of a women's college, and honored to serve as the president of a women's college with a commitment to social justice. And now, as we celebrate Women's History Month, I am mindful of what a strong role model she is. Her commitment to advancing women and to fighting for social justice around the world resonates deeply with students at Mills College, inspiring and now motivating them to continue her efforts.

Much has been written about Mrs. Clinton's legacy as Secretary of State and about the many ways in which she distinguished herself from her predecessors. By anyone's estimation, her approach was unique and unprecedented -- even when compared to the styles of the accomplished women who came before her. Her achievements were numerous, but at Mills we found some to be particularly meaningful.

Secretary Clinton made gender equity and social justice a centerpiece of her tenure. She didn't shy away from this focus because she is a woman. Instead, she had the courage to embrace it, relying on her female perspective to inform her work. In what became known as the "Hillary Doctrine," she pushed for recognition of women's rights as a worldwide humanitarian cause, identifying the connection between the advancement of women's equality and global stability. As Clinton so eloquently put it, "I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century. We see women and girls across the world who are oppressed and violated and demeaned and degraded and denied so much of what they are entitled to as our fellow human beings." You don't have to look very hard to know how much truth there is in that statement.

Among her many efforts to advance gender equity, Secretary Clinton launched a major initiative to expand women's leadership in public service throughout the world. This initiative, called the Women in Public Service Project, brings women's colleges -- including Mills -- across the U.S. to work together to increase the percentage of women leaders worldwide from a woefully low 10 percent to at least 50 percent by the year 2050.

And shortly before she left office she saw another goal realized. On January 30, President Obama issued a directive that strengthens the government's work to promote gender equality worldwide. The directive, signed by the president with Secretary Clinton in attendance, will expand coordination on global efforts such as reducing gender-based violence and expanding equal access to education and economic opportunities.

Clinton resolved to elevate global health as a means to earn goodwill by enhancing and saving lives in the developing world. To that end she helped create the Global Health Initiative, housed within the State Department, which is coordinating an interagency team to reduce a wide range of specific health threats including malaria, tuberculosis, and maternal and child mortality. Certainly, these efforts were not new to Secretary Clinton. As her husband, former President Bill Clinton, pointed out, "Hillary was a walking NGO" when he first met her more than 40 years ago.

Secretary Clinton's global leadership in advancing gender equality and social justice has inspired so many of us at Mills, where the vision of a more equitable society permeates campus life. It is a fundamental part of our culture, and, indeed, the reason that many students choose to come here. Infused throughout Mills' curricula and programs is the effort to nurture leaders who will serve as agents for social change.

Our students take it upon themselves to go outside their classrooms to find answers to social problems in their communities and beyond. From serving as peer-health educators, to volunteering as student teachers in high-need urban school districts, to becoming social entrepreneurs, it's gratifying to see our students follow in Clinton's footsteps.

Eighteen years after her powerful speech in Beijing declaring that women's rights are human rights, Hillary Clinton is still fighting to advance women's rights. I have no doubt that she will not rest on her laurels, and neither should we. As long as Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl, is shot simply for advocating for her right to receive a basic education, and as long as a single Afghani mother, Fawzia Koofi, faces assassination attempts as she runs for president of her country, we still have work to do. Secretary Clinton has helped to educate and mobilize policy makers and other influencers here in the U.S. and around the globe. She has given us the motivation to help carry out her mission to put women and girls at the forefront of the new world order. We are pleased to hear newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry promise to continue his predecessor's work. We will do everything in our power to help him keep his promise by educating the next generation of thoughtful, powerful women prepared to effect positive change locally, regionally, and globally.