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Women's Human Rights and the Hope of Hillary Clinton

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Millions of women heaved a collective sigh of relief with the election of Barack Obama, looking forward to an end to the Bush administration's relentless assault on women's reproductive health and rights. Now, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we've been given more reason to rejoice. The President-elect's nominee for Secretary of State is one of the leading figures in efforts to improve the education, safety, economic opportunity and health care for women around the world.

It's been a very long and destructive eight years. While elsewhere in the world there has been a growing recognition of reproductive rights as human rights, the United States has moved backwards. In the past two years, the United States Supreme Court--with two new Bush justices--issued Gonzales v. Carhart, a decision that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called "alarming," which she said represented antiquated and rejected notions of a woman's place in the family. At the same time, Colombia's highest court ruled that the country's blanket ban of abortion violated women's basic human rights. The Constitutional Court found that protecting reproductive rights is a "direct path to promoting the dignity of all human beings and a step forward in humanity's advancement towards social justice."

Internationally, the Bush administration has undermined decades of global improvements in women's reproductive health and in the recognition of reproductive rights as basic human rights. At the United Nations, in meetings to advance consensus documents supporting reproductive rights and health that were agreed to by the U.S. in the 1990s, U.S. representatives obstructed progress by pushing (ultimately unsuccessful) anti-abortion and abstinence-only agendas. U.S. foreign assistance policy has reflected extreme ideological positions that have ignored the dire need to make family planning more available in developing nations (at least 100 million couples worldwide have an unmet need for family planning), including the denial of $240 million to the United Nations Population Fund and the re-imposition of the Global Gag Rule that bans U.S.-funded family planning groups based overseas from using their own, non-U.S. funds to provide any abortion-related services.

Make no mistake, the way forward needs to go beyond undoing the policies of the previous administration. The Obama administration must work toward a nation and world in which all women are free to decide whether and when to have children, have access to quality reproductive health care, can exercise their choices without coercion or discrimination, and can participate with full dignity as equal members of society. In Hillary Clinton's nomination, President-elect Obama has taken the first step by showing our nation will be represented around the world by a champion of women's human rights.

As first lady and as senator, Senator Clinton has visited more than 80 nations to push for the advancement of women, telling leaders that a country's future is dependent upon the equal standing of its women. She has spoken out strongly against sex trafficking, advocated for comprehensive sex education and supported expanding access to family planning services. And in her celebrated and oft-quoted speech on women's rights at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, she declared it is "no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."

Equally important, she understands that the mere recognition of rights is not enough: they must improve the lives and health of women. Senator Clinton has argued that women's ability to own their own choices about their reproductive health and rights has a direct impact on their economic, emotional and physical well-being. With her, the U.S. will have a secretary of state who understands that women's quality of life has an undeniable effect on our destiny as a nation and the future of the world.

On this auspicious anniversary, the United States needs to recommit to the human rights called for by the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution, one of the world's earliest human rights documents. Under the leadership of President-elect Obama and with Senator Clinton as his Secretary of State, the United States has the opportunity to again take the world stage as a leader in promoting women's reproductive health, equality and human rights. With Senator Clinton heading the State Department, we are significantly closer to reproductive rights as an integral part of the department's human rights work. And when our policies accept reproductive rights as fundamental human rights, you can bet I'll be popping the champagne.

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