On August 26, 1995, prior to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, President Clinton announced the formation of an Interagency Council on Women. The President said:
The (Women's) Conference is going to talk about education and domestic violence and grass roots economics, employment, health care, political participation ... And we don t intend to walk away from it when it's over. I m going to establish an interagency council on women to make sure that all the effort and good ideas actually get implemented when we get back home.First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton serves as Honorary Chair of the Council. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala chaired the Council from its inception through March, 1997. On March 8, 1997, the President announced that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had agreed to serve as Chair of the Council, following the strong leadership provided by Secretary Shalala. The Council consists of high-level representatives from Executive Branch agencies.
This intragovernment body is charged with coordinating the implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at Beijing, including the U.S. commitments announced at the Conference. The Council is also charged with developing related initiatives to further women's progress and with engaging in outreach and public education to support the successful implementation of the Conference agreements.
The Council welcomes inquiries and comments from all parts of the globe at the following addresses:
... Whether we are working on domestic violence, or reproductive rights, or job security, or pay equity, or workplace discrimination or on any other issue affecting women and girls, our actions are founded on the knowledge that women's rights and human rights really are one and the same thing. Here in America, we are committed to build on the progress that is being made on behalf of women and girls. As soon as the Beijing conference ended, the President established the Interagency Council on Women, which brings together representatives from each federal agency to develop policies that support the advancement of women and girls in the United States.
Let me give you a few examples of what our government and our nongovernmental groups, working together, have accomplished in a short time.
The United States has an office at the Justice Department devoted to ending violence against women through tougher laws, better enforcement, and prevention. A nationwide 24-hour violence hotline that went into effect earlier this year provides immediate crisis intervention for those in need. In its first six months, that hotline received more than 44,000 calls.
The Department of the Treasury has established a Presidential Awards Program to honor individuals and institutions who are making significant efforts to promote microenterprise in communities across our country. For those of you who have not heard of microenterprise, it's a fancy word for a modest program of providing loans to women who might not otherwise have access to credit. The women use these loans to start small businesses and help support themselves and their families.
In the field of health, Secretary Shalala and her department continue to make women's health a top priority, encouraging public-private partnerships to improve research in breast cancer and other women's diseases and establishing a National Women's Health Information Center.
The Department of Education has taken new steps to promote equity for girls and women and the Department of Housing and Urban Development has launched a home ownership initiative for women.
And importantly, the Environmental Protection Agency will now assess the special impact of environmental health risks on women.
We see in these examples that the United States is not just paying lip service to the Beijing platform, but is acting on it.
Members of the Women's Council continue to work in their own agencies to promote the President's commitment to women's concerns. At the State Department, the Senior Coordinator for Women's Issues, in a position created by Congress to promote the human rights of women within American foreign policy, works to integrate issues affecting the lives of women in the everyday work of the Department's bureaus and embassies. The State Department strongly supports the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
One of the most shared concerns voiced at the Beijing Conference was violence against women. At the Justice Department, Ms. Bonnie Campbell, whom President Clinton named Director of the Violence Against Women Office in March 1995, leads a comprehensive national effort to combine tough new federal laws with assistance to states and localities to fight domestic violence and other crimes against women. Ms. Campbell's office, an outgrowth of the Violence Against Women Act passed as part of the 1994 Crime Act, includes a Violence Hotline for women across the nation that averages more than 6,000 calls a month.
Under the S.T.O.P. Violence Against Women grant program, each state and territory has received $426,000 in grant funding to assist police, prosecutors, and victim service providers in combating domestic violence and sexual assault. Further, an interim rule published by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in May 1996 allows battered spouses and children of citizens or of legal permanent residents to self-petition to become legal permanent residents themselves. This renders it unnecessary for family members eligible for permanent residency to rely on an abuser to remain in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services also offers programs under the Violence Against Women Act, which include grants for battered women's shelters; education and prevention grants to reduce sexual assaults against women; and grants to develop educational curricula on the topic of violence against women.
The work of Bonnie Campbell's office reflects the determination of the President's Interagency Council to respond aggressively to all acts of violence against women while at the same time encouraging the kind of education and advocacy that will reduce the level of violence against women in the United States and eventually produce a more civil society.
Concerned with women and their employment status, the Department of Labor works on a variety of issues related to women in the work force. These include protecting women from wage abuses in certain low-wage industries; helping women plan for retirement, and informing women of their legal rights as employees.
Secretary Albright has also been actively engaged in championing the advancement of women as a foreign policy objective. On March 12 of this year the Secretary spoke before an audience at the State Department celebration of International Women's Day. Her remarks included the following:
Let me begin this morning with one very simple statement. Advancing the status of women is not only a moral imperative; it is being actively integrated into the foreign policy of the United States. It is our mission. It is the right thing to do, and frankly, it is the smart thing to do ... .
Today, women are engaged in every facet of international affairs, from policymaking to dealmaking, from arms control to trade, from a courtroom of the War Crimes Tribunal to the far-flung operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to the top floor of the State Department.
So we have much to celebrate. We also have much further to go ...
Whether one is bumping against a glass ceiling or standing on a dirt floor, equality remains -- for most -- more aspiration than reality.
It is in America's interest to change this. Advancing the status of women is directly related to our foreign policy goals. We want to build peace and expand the circle of democracy. We want to sustain a growing global economy that creates jobs for Americans. And we want to see a future in which the values we cherish are more widely shared ... .
In the effort to advance the status of women, the United States is a leader; but a leader cannot -- and we are not--standing still. At President Clinton's initiative, we are incorporating concerns related to women into the mainstream of American foreign policy ... .
The integration of women into our foreign policy is an active, ongoing, worldwide process. It requires working not only with other governments, but also with non-governmental organizations and other agents of progress. It affects everything from the design of AID programs, to policy decisions made by our bureaus here in Washington, to Embassy activities around the globe.
And it reflects our understanding that progress requires not simply opening doors, but a vigorous effort to reach out and spread the word that the old era of injustice and repression must end so that a new era of opportunity and full participation may dawn ... .
Another notable Administration activity to promote the advancement of women has been undertaken by the United States Agency for International Development. USAID has begun a Women's Political Participation and Legal Rights Initiative overseas to overcome limitations on women's legal rights. AID-sponsored programs include Political Leadership Training, Civic and Voter Education, Technical Training and Leadership Services, and Non-Government Organization Capacity Building. All of these efforts are designed to give women greater access to government and to governing, and to show women around the world ways in which they can determine their destiny.
Thus, both in domestic policy and foreign policy, the Clinton Administration has stressed the importance of women's causes and of improving conditions at work and at home for women everywhere. As the roles of women evolve in our society and in other societies, it is clear that the beginning of the next millennium will see far more opportunities for women than they have known in modern history. The United States expects to be in the vanguard of ushering in these opportunities.
U.S. Society &
USIA Electronic Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, June 1997