Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Different Take On Secretary Clinton's Africa Trip

Faithful NQ reader, CG, mentioned recently that the Washington Post actually did a very nice article on Secretary Clinton's recent trip to Africa. Well, you coulda knocked me over with a feather. This morning, in my daily "DipBlog" from the State Department, sure enough, there it was, along with a link to an interactive map of where Secretary Clinton went (also mentioned by CG). I had a pretty painful day on Tuesday, one about which I can't write just yet, so I appreciate CG's heads-up, and of course, love getting my DipBlog. You can sign up, too, if you wish. Here's the LINK to do so. It's a cool site, with articles, videos, and of course, travel alerts and such.

Now to the article in Washington Post, "Clinton Puts Spotlight On Women's Issues." May I just say, before I share the article with you, that she is doing EXACTLY what she said she would do. I'm just sayin' - she is remaining true to her principles and what she considers to be important. Unlike SOME people I could name. About time some in the MSM got the memo, but WaPo did:
She talked chickens with female farmers in Kenya. She listened to the excruciating stories of rape victims in war-torn eastern Congo. And in South Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a housing project built by poor women, where she danced with a choir singing "Heel-a-ree! Heel-a-ree!"

Clinton's just-concluded 11-day trip to Africa has sent the clearest signal yet that she intends to make women's rights one of her signature issues and a higher priority than ever before in American diplomacy.

She plans to press governments on abuses of women's rights and make women more central in U.S. aid programs.

But her efforts go beyond the marble halls of government and show how she is redefining the role of secretary of state. Her trips are packed with town hall meetings and visits to micro-credit projects and women's dinners. Ever the politician, she is using her star power to boost women who could be her allies.

"It's just a constant effort to elevate people who, in their societies, may not even be known by their own leaders," Clinton said in an interview. "My coming gives them a platform, which then gives us the chance to try and change the priorities of the governments."

Wow. That is quite a statement. I am glad she is doing this work abroad, for the marginalized and oppressed. Oh, how I wish she was doing it as the President (and we know she would have kept her word then, too).

But, things don't always run smoothly, as we know:
Clinton's agenda faces numerous obstacles. The U.S. aid system is a dysfunctional jumble of programs. Some critics may question why she is focusing on women's rights instead of terrorism or nuclear proliferation. And improving the lot of women in such places as Congo is complicated by deeply rooted social problems.

"It's great she's mentioning the issue," said Brett Schaefer, an Africa scholar at the Heritage Foundation. "As to whether her bringing it up will substantially improve the situation or treatment of women in Africa, frankly I doubt it."

Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, said that Clinton has to tread carefully in socially conservative regions, particularly those where the U.S. military is at war. "You might be right, in the narrow sense of women in that country or region need to be empowered, but you're saying something inimical to other U.S. interests," he said.

Despite Clinton's efforts to spotlight women's issues, it was her own angry response to what she perceived as a sexist question at a town hall meeting in Congo that dominated American television coverage of her Africa trip. A student had asked for former president Bill Clinton's opinion on a local political issue -- "through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton." Snapped Hillary Clinton: "My husband is not the secretary of state. I am."

Clinton is not the first female secretary of state, but neither of her predecessors had her impact abroad as a pop feminist icon. On nearly every foreign trip, she has met with women -- South Korean students, Israeli entrepreneurs, Iraqi war widows, Chinese civic activists. Clinton mentioned "women" or "woman" at least 450 times in public comments in her first five months in the position, twice as often as her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice.

And that is why it still shocks me that women who consider themselves feminists, and womens organizations, did not wholeheartedly throw their support behind Hillary Clinton, rather going for the young, inexperienced man. Clinton is not new to this issue, and doesn't just pay lip service to it, either:
Clinton's interest in global women's issues is deeply personal, a mission she adopted as first lady after the stinging defeat of her health-care reform effort in 1994. For months, she kept a low profile. Then, in September 1995, she addressed the U.N. women's conference in Beijing, strongly denouncing abuses of women's rights. Delegates jumped to their feet in applause.

"It was a transformational moment for her," said Melanne Verveer, who has worked closely with Clinton since her White House days.

Clinton began traveling the world, highlighting women's issues. She gradually built a network of female activists, politicians and entrepreneurs, especially through a group she helped found, Vital Voices, that has trained more than 7,000 emerging leaders worldwide. She developed a following among middle-class women in male-dominated countries who devoured her autobiography and eagerly watched her presidential run.

"She might not be having the same restrictions as we have, but she has had restrictions -- and she's moving on. That's a symbol to us," said Tara Fela-Durotoye, a businesswoman in Abuja, Nigeria.

Clinton's legacy is evident in such places as the Victoria Mxenge housing development outside Cape Town, South Africa, a dusty sprawl of small, pastel-colored homes she championed as first lady. When her bus rolled into the female-run project during her trip, a joyful commotion broke out. Women in purple and yellow gowns lined the streets, waving wildly.

Huh. How does this match with the rhetoric spewed by Obama about Hillary Clinton and her work abroad? Does the expression, "Liar, liar, pants on fire" mean anything to you? And yet, people bought his words, hook, line, and sinker. I wonder how they're feeling now, especially when they read what the effects of her work are, discernible, and quantifiable:
A youth choir swayed outside a community center decorated with photos of Clinton on her previous visits to the project, which has grown to 50,000 houses. Clinton vowed in a major policy address last month to make women the focus of U.S. assistance programs. The idea is applauded by development experts, who have found that investing in girls' education, maternal health and women's micro-finance provides a powerful boost to Third World families.

Ritu Sharma, president of the anti-poverty group Women Thrive Worldwide, said she already sees the results of Clinton's efforts in the bureaucracy. When Sharma's staff recently attended a meeting about a new agricultural aid program, she said, one State Department official joked, "We have to integrate women -- or we're going to be fired."

Still, Sharma questioned whether the program would succeed in reaching poor women, especially given the weaknesses in U.S. foreign assistance.

"There's a lot of healthy skepticism about 'Will it really happen?' " she said.

In a sign of the priority she gives to the issue, Clinton has appointed her close friend Verveer as the State Department's first global ambassador for women's affairs.

"She will permeate the State Department, as I want her to, with what we should be doing about empowering and focusing on women across the board," Clinton said.

This reminds me - do you remember that Obama has a school named after him in Kenya? You know, the one to which he has given not one thin dime? Uh, yeah. Who walks the walk here? Clearly, it's Hillary:
One issue Verveer has been concerned about is violence against women, particularly the stunningly high number of rapes in eastern Congo. Last week, Clinton, Verveer and the delegation boarded U.N. planes to visit the remote, impoverished region and meet with rape victims. Clinton pressed the Congolese president to prosecute offenders and offered $17 million in new assistance for victims.

"Raising issues like the ones I've been raising on this trip to get governments to focus on them, to see they're not sidelined or subsidiary issues, but that the U.S. government at the highest levels cares about them, is important," she said. "It changes the dynamic within governments."

Clinton's efforts are being reinforced by a White House women's council and a Congress with a growing number of powerful female members. One sign of that: Aid dedicated to programs for Afghan women and girls increased about threefold this year, to $250 million, because of lawmakers such as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who was recently named head of the first Senate subcommittee on global women's issues, and Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

It is striking how much time Clinton dedicates to women's events on her trips, even ones that receive little public attention. In South Africa, a clearly delighted Clinton spent 90 minutes at the housing project, twice as long as she met with South Africa's president. "It feeds my heart," she explained. "Which is really critical to me personally since a lot of what I do as secretary of state is very formalistic. It's meetings with other officials."

"It is striking how much time Clinton dedicates to women's events on her trips, even ones that receive little public attention." Because she doesn't do it for the publicity, she does it because it is the RIGHT thing to do!! That is another big, huge, difference between Hillary Clinton and other politicians. She does a LOT of things about which people don't know (as in, not publicized in the media) because she actually, genuinely cares about people.
And that is why she will always be my hero - because she cares, because she SHOWS she cares, and because she brings action to her words. I think we could use a whole lot more of that from our elected officials, don't you?

If you wish to see where Secretary Clinton went, and what she did, click on this link: Secretary of State Clinton's Africa Travels - Interactive Map


elise said...

Hi Rev Amy. Shaefer believes Hillary's efforts will not bear fruit and he would prefer she concentrate on national security and terrorism. It's not surprising a spokesperson from the Heritage Foundation would prefer to continue the failed policies and politics of the past.

If women can be empowered with education and economic independence, they will not just contribute to the overall economy of the country. They will learn self-respect and teach their children to respect themselves and others. They will learn the abuse they and their children are subjected to are unacceptable perversions.

Most of all, she gives them hope as she has to so many in our country. There is no need for Mr Shaefer to caution her against speaking up against the unspeakable cruelty to women in other countries out of fear she may disrupt some fragile diplomatic efforts of the US. She is the Sec of State and her message is fearless as it was in Bejing in 1993.

Thank you,

elise said...

Hi Rev Amy. Shaefer thinks the work Hillary is doing in Africa will not have an effect and would prefer she spend her time working on terrorism and national security issues.

I disagree of course. It's impossible to quantify, but when women in a society are empowered with education and economic opportunity, they cease to be victims. They recognize the abuse of their children as an unacceptable perversion. They teach their children respect when they are able to respect themselves.

It's discouraging but not surprising a spokesperson from the Heritage Foundation would remain entrenched in old policies and politics which are demonstrable failures.

I don't know if you recognize my name? I went to NQ after Huffpo and dailykos banned me and I because disenchanted with TM.

I loved NQ, but I feel it has changed. Too often recently, my comments have not been posted and the "spam filter" excuse only goes so far. My husband is a systems annalist and generally smart man and he doesn't believe it either.

Aside from what IMO is an attempt to discourage my comments, it is full of vitriol. I'm not a troll and never supported Obama. I've been a true blue Hillary fan since the late 1990s. I have been "unaffiliated" since June, 2008.

I like your brand of humor and your posts.

Thank you,

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hi, Elise!

Excellent points abt Sec. Clinton. She has often said that a country cannot improve overall unless women and children are educated. And you are absolutely right - from that will flow so many benefits, it is hard to quantify them, as you said.

It is amazing that men like Shaefer will always find a way to downplay the important work Sec. Clinton is doing. It is so narrow-minded to not get that when you hold down half of the population, by abuse, economic insecurity, etc., that it affects EVERYONE.

Elise, I promise you, that damn Spam filter at NQ is a HUGE pain in the butt. I have had comments held up in Spam before - I'm not kidding! What happens is when people continue to resubmit their comments, the filer "learns" them, and automatically starts yanking out their comments. It seems particularly sensitive to the word "idiot," and any variation on that word. Oh, you can cuss up a storm, but call something/one anything related to that word, and out ya go. It's CRAZY.

I might add, no one monitors the filter constantly. It's ony if one of the writers, or the Administrator happens to look, or if someone tells us in the Comments that their comment is trapped, that we know. Seriously, it's nuts!!

I am sorry, though, that the level of discourse has pushed you from NQ (and yes, I do recognize your name!). I don't like when the comments become vitriolic, either. We all do NOT have to agree on every single thing - but the conversation should be respectful, even if there is disagreement. I understand people get heated, I do, too - but when the ad hominems start flying, it ends any chance of being heard.

Thanks so much for coming by, Elise!

elise said...

Hi again. I just want to say thanks for responding to my comment.

I read an article on MSN today about Forbes list of the one hundred most powerful women in the world. They mentioned Michele Obama, Janet Napolitano and a couple of other women in the Obama administration, but not Hillary. I didn't go to Forbes to see if she is listed, but if she isn't, Forbes is a fraud. I think it was a Newsweek article.

What the media is still doing to Hillary is depressing and counter-productive. It is unbelievable this is the result of anything other than sexism directed at an intelligent, strong woman. I don't remember if Condi Rice was treated in this manner, but she was never a threat to anyone.

Two examples of the type of comment on NQ which are particullary odious to me were in response to your post, Women Losing Themselves In Men (?). Seatle Moss and Patrick Henry? Reading those rants filled me with dispair. The blindness to their own misogony is too typical.

It's as though bigotry and racism is so clearly difined, anyone can identify it, but even well educated women have lived with the
idea of inequality so long we don't recognize how it effects us.

I have a daughter and four grandaughters and I've reached a point in my life where I no longer want to play nice. No one listens.

Thank you again. I'm aware you have been going through something difficult right now and I appreciate you taking the time to write.


Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, Elise -

I saw that Forbes list. I think Hillary was in there, #36 or something like that. Nancy Pelosi, of all people, was ranked a bit higher than Hillary. Spare me.

Listen, I totally understand your frustration, especially abt the responses the other night. I was not amused, either. Patrick Henry has actually said some very nice things to me before, so this was a complete 180. Seattle Moss seemed dead set to draw people away from NQ and follow him to his Facebook page. Whatever. But there were PLENTY of people there who were NOT amused by their attacks and misogynistic statements, thank heavens. It is a shame that they did express such sexism, but unfortunately, that seems to be the world in which we are now living. This past election opened the doors WIDE to this level of sexism/misogyny. It is up to us to fight back.

And I very much appreciate your willingness to fight back, especially given your own family. I know I don't want my nieces and grand-nieces growing up in an atmosphere in which they are treated the way Hillary (and Sarah) were treated, and with these 18th century expectations of how they should "lose themselves" in their men. Holy smokes - it makes me shake my head to even think abt it!!!

And you are SO right abt how so many women just seem to accept this. It is more important to them that these men "like" them, than to stand in solidarity with women for women's rights. A sad commentary, indeed.

Oh, you're welcome, Elise. I appreciate your comments, too. I couldn't agree more with where we are right now. It makes me ill.

And thank you. It has been a hard week. I am hoping to write abt it for Saturday's post.

Thanks again for coming by!