The Hillary Doctrine: Women's Rights Are a National Security Issue

"The countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity," Clinton said in a speech last week.
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Marc Bryan-Brown/AP Images

"These guys just don't get it," a senior State Department official told me more than a year ago, referring to the White House's inner circle's reluctant embrace of the idea that women are central to American security.

If they still don't, it isn't for lack of hearing the idea loud and clear.

On Friday former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech both personal and fiery to argue once again that women are central to American security. Call it the "Hillary Doctrine Unplugged": Freed from the diplomatic propriety of State Department officialdom and White House-shepherded protocols, Clinton spoke plainly to a crowd that loved her message nearly as much as it loves the idea of a second Clinton presidential candidacy. The thesis: extremism and the suppression of women go hand in hand. Ignore the latter and you are ignorant about the former.

"As strong a case as we've made, too many otherwise thoughtful people continue to see the fortunes of women and girls as somehow separate from society at large. They nod, they smile and then they relegate these issues once again to the sidelines. I have seen it over and over again, I have been kidded about it I have been ribbed, I have been challenged in boardrooms and official offices across the world," Clinton said at the Fourth Women in the World Summit before proceeding to poke fun at that conventional wisdom. "The next time you hear someone say that the fate of women and girls is not a core national security issue, it's not one of those hard issues that really smart people deal with, remind them: The extremists understand the stakes of this struggle. They know that when women are liberated, so are entire societies. We must understand this too. And not only understand it, but act on it."

And then she went on to name names.

"It is no coincidence that so many of the countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity," Clinton said. "It is no coincidence that so many of the countries where the rule of law and democracy are struggling to take root are the same places where women and girls cannot participate as full and equal citizens. Like in Egypt, where women stood on the front lines of the revolution but are now being denied their seats at the table and face a rising tide of sexual violence."

Pakistan, too, was in Clinton's crosshairs.

"It is no secret that Pakistan is plagued by many ills: violent extremism, sectarian conflict, poverty, energy shortages, corruption, weak democratic institutions. It is a combustible mix. And more than 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists in the last decade. The repression of women in Pakistan exacerbates all of these problems," she said. "More than 5 million children do not attend school—and two-thirds of them are girls. The Taliban insurgency has made the situation even worse. But it's impossible to imagine making real progress on the country's other problems&mdash'especially violent extremism—without tapping the talents and addressing the needs of Pakistan's women, including reducing corruption, ending the culture of impunity, expanding access to education, to credit, to all the tools that give a woman or a man make the most of their life's dreams."

Its neighbor, India, did not escape attention, either. Speaking of the young woman raped and disemboweled on a bus in New Delhi Clinton said, "If her life embodied the aspirations of a rising nation, her death and her murder, pointed to the many challenges still holding it back. The culture of rape is tied up with a broader set of problems: official corruption, illiteracy, inadequate education, laws and traditions, customs, culture, that prevent women from being seen as equal human beings." Clinton continued, "India will rise or fall with its women. It's had a tradition of strong women leaders, but those women leaders like women leaders around the world like those who become presidents or prime ministers or foreign ministers or heads of corporations cannot be seen as tokens that give everyone else in society the chance to say we've taken care of our women."

And that includes in America, where Clinton alluded to hometown politics after a four-year diplomatic recess.

"For too many American women, opportunity and the dream of upward mobility—the American Dream—remains elusive... in places throughout America large and small the clock is turning back," Clinton said. "If America is going to lead we expect ourselves to lead, we need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society, we need to make equal pay a reality, we need to extending family and medical leave benefits to more workers and make them paid, we need to encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in math and science."

Clinton's speech was part victory lap, part policy blueprint, and part plan of attack. Whether that action plan includes a White House run that gives Clinton the world's most powerful political pulpit and the chance to put her doctrine into action herself - well, stay tuned. Either way, the Clinton megaphone no longer requires a Washington translator.

Presented by

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is contributing editor-at-large for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and deputy director of the Council on Foreign Relations' Women and Foreign Policy program. Her most recent book is The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.

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