I know Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a little busy right now with the President’s announcement that we’re sending more troops to Afghanistan. But there is something besides war and managing all those male egos around the world on her agenda — she’s focused on the future of the world’s girls.
I don’t always turn to Vogue for my political news, but this month there’s a great article and interview with Hillary in which she talks about the need to focus globally on “smart power,” that is, the ability to think about things differently than we have in the past in order to effect change. Part of that, she says, starts with focusing on what some like to call soft (read: women’s) issues. You know what I’m talking about – violence against women, food safety, sustainable development — issues that, when ignored, she contends lead to cultural instability and war. And these are the types of issues that have been largely ignored because, well, they’re focused on women and girls.
That’s inevitably what happens when you have a world run mostly by men who are focused on Mars, when we’re thinking about Venus.
I also came across this brief clip with Hillary from a recent Oprah show on “The Girl Effect” in which she talks passionately about how addressing the issues that so negatively impact women and girls globally are the “last great obstacles” to women’s empowerment, pointing to the much-too-prevalent worldwide attitude that boys are just more important than girls. As I watched the clip, my sense was that her stand on this was heartfelt. The Vogue article gave me the same feeling — yes, Hillary Clinton is a world famous policy wonk who can talk circles around most on the intricacies of legislation and she’s got the gravitas and backbone to deal with even the most intransigent world leaders.
But when I hear or read her words about how important it is to really make a commitment to changing things for girls around the world — education, health care, and basic human rights just to name a few — it seems that it’s a personal mission for her, not just an agenda item that will make us look better as a nation.
Venus and Mars.
It made me wonder –where would these issues be on the American global agenda if she was sitting in the Oval Office? Sure, President Obama has created the White House Council on Women and Girls to address some of these issues, but it’s not getting much of a spotlight. I haven’t heard about any action that the Council has taken or recommendations it’s made. And the focus of the Council is really more about women and girls in America, not around the world. It’s still early in the Obama administration, but is it ever too early to take a few simple steps that could drastically change the lives of girls today?
One notable political journalist I was recently interviewing about motherhood and politics said something that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last few days — she said that so often men who are politicians and elected officials see things as a game of scoring points. If something doesn’t look like it’s a game changer, it’s not going to get much attention. But women in those same roles see problems and say, ‘How can we fix this?’ and take steps to make it happen.
I was at an event a couple of weeks ago for Exxon’s Educating Women and Girl’s Initiative to which they’ve committed $1.5 million. It was refreshing to hear a corporate executive say that while this was obviously a humanitarian effort, Exxon was also doing it because it makes good business sense. And that’s the key. How do we convince our elected officials that it’s in our best political “business” sense to support these efforts?
It’s something I think about often. You can guess why.
Yeah, she’s just that cute!
The Girl Effect isn’t the only entity focused on ‘the girl effect.’ Half the Sky Foundation has been doing that by helping children in Chinese orphanages where the babies are primarily girls. CARE is also focusing some of its fundraising goals through the end of the year on how to help girls around the world escape the cycle of poverty.
These three charities (and I’m sure there are others) are committed to making our world better and stronger not only because girls deserve it, but because the world does to. Yes, as Secretary of State Clinton points out, we have a long way to go in changing long-held cultural views in various countries about the worth of girls. But if we can give those girls a start, maybe the world will actually be a little better when our children are adults.
And it wouldn’t hurt if we had more women like Hillary Clinton sounding the charge for exactly why it’s in everyone’s best interests to stay focused on these “soft” issues that ultimately impact all of us.