“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” Hillary Clinton said at the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Her words were reaffirmed at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards, an annual awards ceremony held on campus that recognizes and celebrates women who have advanced global peace and security. The event included remarks from Hillary Clinton and President John J. DeGioia, as well as Melanne Verveer, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and current executive director for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS).
The 2021 awardees hail from around the world—Mexico, Russia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and China—and focus their work on a wide range of issues affecting women, from climate change to ending child marriage. Despite facing resistance and threats from authorities, they continue to pioneer women’s rights activism in their countries and fields of expertise.
Awardee Marina Pisklakova Parker from Russia created the first hotline for reporting domestic abuse in Russia, an issue often disregarded by Russian authorities. Palwasha Hassan from Afghanistan pioneered the first women’s legal support organization in Afghanistan, Roazana, and continues to advocate for women’s access to education while in exile in the U.S.
Following the awards ceremony, Verveer led a discussion with the recipients, during which they reminisced about the 1995 conference and the impact it had on their work and on the larger context of gender equality.
“The conference itself was a turning point in both the definition and the fight for gender equality,” Clinton said.
Awardee Patricia Espinosa of Mexico, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), added, “Beijing was a change in my view, Beijing was a change in human history. I think we really need to see it in this bigger dimension.”
Clinton and Verveer extended gratitude and recognition to women’s rights activists in Afghanistan in particular—including Hassan, director of The Afghan Women’s Educational Center.
“I especially want to recognize and celebrate an especially courageous group of women: women from Afghanistan,” Verveer said. “We and others have been working to help evacuate them and will continue to support them and their resettlement.”
Georgetown and GIWPS have been active in responding to the crisis in Afghanistan by helping the evacuation efforts of women activists through the GIWPS-launched Protect Afghan Women project established last summer. The initiative supports Afghan women whose lives are in imminent danger through a donations-based emergency fund. Georgetown also co-founded the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council (USAWC), a non-partisan public-private partnership bringing different stakeholders together to support Afghan women and girls’ education, health care, economic empowerment, and leadership, in 2002.
Following the event, Clinton visited Lauinger Library’s fifth floor exhibition highlighting the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women, which includes 85 artifacts gathered by Verveer from the conference’s time. Students gathered around the library hoping to catch a glimpse of Clinton as she left the building.
For many Georgetown students, attending the event and seeing an influential political figure like Clinton was an incredible opportunity to engage with global issues they care deeply about.
“I love being able to attend these events where I get to relate them with what I’m learning in my classes, in the news, and with what I’m doing outside of academics,” Elisabeth Koch (SFS ’24) said.
Koch also emphasized her appreciation of Clinton and the awardees’ acknowledgement of the long-term action still needed to improve gender equality worldwide. Among the long-term goals Clinton and the awardees emphasized were the inclusion of women in climate change negotiations and the creation of a global treaty that addresses domestic violence.
“We have a lot at stake and we need women leaders from every corner of the globe to continue to speak up, to stand out, and yes, to seek power,” Clinton said.