- History & Culture
'Women's Rights are Human Rights,' 25 years on
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech at a UN conference propelled this idea into the mainstream after centuries of society sidelining gender equality as “women’s issues.”
When Hillary Rodham Clinton approached the podium at a United Nations conference on women in September 1995 in Beijing, she faced an uncertain audience. Only a few people had read the speech, which was a well-guarded secret even to high-ranking members of the president’s cabinet. “Nobody knew what to expect,” recalls Melanne Verveer, the then first lady’s chief of staff, who later served as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues when Clinton became secretary of state.
Twenty-five years later, a single phrase from Clinton’s speech has entered mainstream parlance: “Women’s rights are human rights.” The concept wasn’t new. But the excitement and energy that Clinton’s speech generated at the Fourth World Conference on Women helped