(TW: discussion of rape, gang rape, genital mutilation)
You won’t see Hillary Clinton in the same light ever again. Read Meryl Streep’s introduction of Hillary Clinton during the recent 2012 Women in the World conference:
Two years ago when Tina Brown and Diane von Furstenberg first envisioned this conference, they asked me to do a play, a reading, called – the name of the play was called Seven. It was taken from transcripts, real testimony from real women activists around the world. I was the Irish one, and I had no idea that the real women would be sitting in the audience while we portrayed them. So I was doing a pretty ghastly Belfast accent. I was just – I was imitating my friend Liam Neeson, really, and I sounded like a fellow. (Laughter). It was really bad.
So I was so mortified when Tina, at the end of the play, invited the real women to come up on stage and I found myself standing next to the great Inez McCormack. (Applause.) And I felt slight next to her, because I’m an actress and she is the real deal. She has put her life on the line. Six of those seven women were with us in the theater that night. The seventh, Mukhtaran Bibi, couldn’t come because she couldn’t get out of Pakistan. You probably remember who she is. She’s the young woman who went to court because she was gang-raped by men in her village as punishment for a perceived slight to their honor by her little brother. All but one of the 14 men accused were acquitted, but Mukhtaran won the small settlement. She won $8,200, which she then used to start schools in her village. More money poured in from international donations when the men were set free. And as a result of her trial, the then president of Pakistan, General Musharraf, went on TV and said, “If you want to be a millionaire, just get yourself raped.”
But that night in the theater two years ago, the other six brave women came up on the stage. Anabella De Leon of Guatemala pointed to Hillary Clinton, who was sitting right in the front row, and said, “I met her and my life changed.” And all weekend long, women from all over the world said the same thing:
“I’m alive because she came to my village, put her arm around me, and had a photograph taken together.”
“I’m alive because she went on our local TV and talked about my work, and now they’re afraid to kill me.”
“I’m alive because she came to my country and she talked to our leaders, because I heard her speak, because I read about her.”
“I’m here today because of that, because of those stores.”
I didn’t know about this. I never knew any of it. And I think everybody should know. This hidden history Hillary has, the story of her parallel agenda, the shadow diplomacy unheralded, uncelebrated — careful, constant work on behalf of women and girls that she has always conducted alongside everything else a First Lady, a Senator, and now Secretary of State is obliged to do.
And it deserves to be amplified. This willingness to take it, to lead a revolution – and revelation, beginning in Beijing in 1995, when she first raised her voice to say the words you’ve heard many times throughout this conference: “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights.”
When Hillary Clinton stood up in Beijing to speak that truth, her hosts were not the only ones who didn’t necessarily want to hear it. Some of her husband’s advisors also were nervous about the speech, fearful of upsetting relations with China. But she faced down the opposition at home and abroad, and her words continue to hearten women around the world and have reverberated down the decades.
She’s just been busy working, doing it, making those words “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” into something every leader in every country now knows is a linchpin of American policy. It’s just so much more than a rhetorical triumph. We’re talking about what happened in the real world, the institutional change that was a result of that stand she took.
Now we know that the higher the education and the involvement of women in a culture and economy, the more secure the nation. It’s a metric we use throughout our foreign policy, and in fact, it’s at the core of our development policy. It is a big, important shift in thinking. Horrifying practices like female genital cutting were not at the top of the agenda because they were part of the culture and we didn’t want to be accused of imposing our own cultural values.
But what Hillary Clinton has said over and over again is, “A crime is a crime, and criminal behavior cannot be tolerated.” Everywhere she goes, she meets with the head of state and she meets with the women leaders of grassroots organizations in each country. This goes automatically on her schedule. As you’ve seen, when she went to Burma – our first government trip there in 40 years. She met with its dictator and then she met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman he kept under detention for 15 years, the leader of Burma’s pro-democracy movement.
This isn’t just symbolism. It’s how you change the world. These are the words of Dr. Gao Yaojie of China: “I will never forget our first meeting. She said I reminded her of her mother. And she noticed my small bound feet. I didn’t need to explain too much, and she understood completely. I could tell how much she wanted to understand what I, an 80-something year old lady, went through in China – the Cultural Revolution, uncovering the largest tainted blood scandal in China, house arrest, forced family separation. I talked about it like nothing and I joked about it, but she understood me as a person, a mother, a doctor. She knew what I really went through.”
When Vera Stremkovskaya, a lawyer and human rights activist from Belarus met Hillary Clinton a few years ago, they took a photograph together. And she said to one of the Secretary’s colleagues, “I want that picture.” And the colleague said, “I will get you that picture as soon as possible.” And Stremkovskaya said, “I need that picture.” And the colleague said, “I promise you.” And Stremkovskaya said, “You don’t understand. That picture will be my bullet-proof vest.”
Never give up. Never, never, never, never, never give up. That is what Hillary Clinton embodies.
Big Damn Hero.