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NATIONAL NEWS | spring 2009

A New State of Mind
Clinton and Boxer will make sure that women’s rights are considered human rights

By MEGAN CARPENTIER

January 13, 2009. Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. A long line snakes around the second floor, composed mostly of women, all vying for a seat at the confirmation hearings for Hillary Clinton. This will be no ordinary secretary of state, of course: Clinton brings powerhouse credentials to the post, having just received more presidential primary votes than any woman in U.S. history. But Clinton also brings an extra dose of feminist urgency to the job—which becomes apparent when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) takes her turn at the microphone during the hearing.

Boxer opens her questions by showing brutal pictures of women and girls attacked by acid in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “No woman or girl should ever have to live in fear or face persecution for being born female. …I know how deeply you feel about this,” Boxer says to Clinton.

In a riveting, quietly emotional moment, Clinton responds: “I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view these issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.”

Although gender analysis has been commonplace in U.S. domestic policy since 1980, similar progress in foreign policy has been “sluggish,” according to Cynthia Enloe of Clark University (Worcester, Mass.), a professor of women’s studies and international development, community and environment. “Stalling progress toward bringing feminist analyses into foreign policy decision-making processes has been the conventionally naive belief that international affairs—trade, immigration, high-tech weapons sales—have nothing to do with gender. They do,” Enloe wrote in her 2000 essay “Masculinity as a Foreign Policy Issue.”

With Barack Obama in the White House, Clinton as head of state and feminists such as Boxer wielding power in Congress, hope has arrived. Boxer chairs a new Senate subcommittee on international operations and organizations, human rights, democracy and global women’s issues. Astonishingly, this was the first time in U.S. history that a congressional committee had been given a mandate to focus on foreign policy through a women’s lens.

Boxer has already been pushing legislation dear to feminists’ hearts, including one to empower women in Afghanistan and another laying out how she thinks U.S. policy as a whole should tackle international women’s issues. Meanwhile, the Obama administration created the position of ambassador-at-large for women’s issues at the State Department, now held by Melanne Verveer.

For Hillary Clinton, the opportunity to make women’s issues central to foreign policy is a mission come true. Back in 1995, she gave a famous speech at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she said, “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

Excerpted from the Spring 2009 issue of Ms. - join the ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.

MEGAN CARPENTIER is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Glamour, The Daily Beast, Radar Magazine, Jezebel.com and Wonkette.