I caught up with Ms. Magazine publisher and Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal after last weekend’s EMILY’s List luncheon to talk about Hillary Clinton and international women’s issues.
Megan: Despite being the third woman to be Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton seems to be the first one with strong feminist leanings and has stated that she plans to integrate women’s issues into our foreign policy in a large way. What are some of your hopes for where Hillary Clinton will take the Secretary of State job?
Smeal: Well, first off, she is a beacon to the women of the world. They know her, it gives them strength to fight oppresion in their own countries. I think that she will be key in the fight against violence against women. I do believe that we’re going to pass an International Violence Against Women Act, which will help women around the world. What [Clinton] said in the hearing, which I know is who she is, is that she is going to make women’s rights not lesser but an essential part of foreign policy under her. That is big. If you make all you ambassadors, all your diplomats negotiate on that premise — that all women will be treated equally and justly — it will help in many ways.
I also think she will be a driving force to pass the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at the United Nations to end sex discrimination in governments all around the world. We’re the only major government that has not passed it yet. Senator [Kay] Hagan, who took Jesse Helms’s seat, wants that too. I think we have enough strength and if we have a Secretary of State fighting for it, we have a great chance.
Megan: Do you think that’s on [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman] John Kerry’s radar screen?
Smeal: We know it is. John Kerry, I believe, is going to make women’s rights part of the building blocks to economic stability around the world. Instead of fighting war upon war, if we could eliminate the causes of instability — and one of the causes of instability is a lack of a civil society and poverty. And one of the things we know for sure if that if you empower women — give them education, give them jobs, to invest in them through microenterprises — it increases the civil society component of a country and helps increase stability. Without educating women, keeping them in poverty, and driving up unsustainable birth rates, all of that creates instability which leads to war. And I believe that with Senator Kerry and Secretary of State Clinton and Vice President Biden and President Obama, there will be a strong, unprecedented team to raise the status of women worldwide.
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