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U.S. Department of State
95/09/05 Remarks: First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
TEXT AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
FIRST LADY HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
REMARKS FOR THE
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION FORUM ON WOMEN AND HEALTH SECURITY
SEPTEMBER 5, 1995
Thank you, Dr. Nakajima.
Dr. Nakajima, Dr. Sadik, Gertude Mongella, delegates to the Fourth U.N.
Conference on Women, and guests from all corners of the world, I am
honored to be here this morning among women and girls everywhere.
I commend the World Health Organization for making women's health a top
priority and for establishing the Global Commission on Women's Health.
I am proud that in the preparatory meetings for this Fourth World
Conference on Women, the United States took the lead in highlighting the
importance of a comprehensive approach to women's health. That approach
builds on actions taken at previous women's conferences and the recent
conferences at Cairo and Copenhagen, whose goals to promote the health
and well-being of all people were endorsed by 180 nations.
Cairo was particularly significant as governmental and non-governmental
participants worked together to craft a Program for Action which, among
other things, calls for universal access to good quality reproductive
health care services, including safe, effective, voluntary family
planning; greater access to education and health care; more
responsibility on the part of men in sexual and reproductive health and
childbearing; and reduction of wasteful resource consumption.
Here at this conference, improving girls and women's health is a
priority of the draft Platform for Action. It includes such goals as:
Access to universal primary health care for all people -- a goal not yet
achieved in many countries, including my own. The promotion of breast
feeding. The provision of safe drinking water and sanitation. Research
in and attention to women's health issues, including: environmental
hazards, prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,
encouragement for adolescents to postpone sexual activity and
childbearing, and discouragement of cultural traditions and customs that
deny food and health care to girls and women.
Goals such as these illustrate a new commitment to the well-being of
girls and women and a belief in their rights to live up to their own
At long last, people and their governments everywhere are beginning to
understand that investing in the health of women and girls is as
important to the prosperity of nations as investing in the development
of open markets and trade. The health of women and girls cannot be
divorced from progress on other economic and social issues.
Scientists, doctors, nurses, community leaders and women themselves are
working to improve and safeguard the health of women and families all
over the world. If we join together as a global community, we can lift
up the health and dignity of all women and their families in the
remaining years of the 20th century and on into the next millennium.
Yet, for all the promise the future holds, we also know that many
barriers lie in our way. For too long, women have been denied access to
health care, education, economic opportunities, legal protection and
human rights -- all of which are used as building blocks for a healthy
and productive life.
In too many places today, the health of women and families is
compromised by inadequate, inaccessible and unaffordable medical care,
lack of sanitation, unsafe drinking water, poor nutrition, insufficient
research and education about women's health issues, and coercive and
abusive sexual practices.
In too many places, the status of women's health is a picture of human
suffering and pain. The faces in that picture are of girls and women
who, but for the grace of God or the accident of birth, could be us or
one of our sisters, mothers or daughters.
Today, at least fifteen percent of pregnant women suffer life
threatening complications and more than one-half million women around
the world die in childbirth. Most of these deaths could be prevented
with basic primary, reproductive and emergency obstetric health care. In
some places, there are 175,000 motherless children for every one million
families. Many of those children don't survive. And of those who do,
many are recruited into a life of exploitation on the streets of our
world's cities, subjected daily to abuse, indignity, disease, and the
specter of early death.
There must be a renewed commitment to improving maternal health. The WHO
launched in 1987 a Safe Motherhood Initiative to halve maternal
mortality by the year 2000. To reach that goal, more attention must be
paid to emergency medical care as well as primary prenatal care.
Providing emergency obstetric care is a relatively cheap way of saving
lives -- and along with family planning services is among the most cost
effective interventions in even the poorest of countries.
The commitment of the WHO and its Global Commission on Women's Health to
make childbearing and childbirth a safe and healthy period of every
woman's life deserves action on the part of every nation represented
One hundred million women cannot obtain or are not using family planning
services because they are poor, uneducated or lack access to care.
Twenty million of these women will seek unsafe abortions -- some will
die, some will be disabled for life. A growing number of unwanted
pregnancies are occurring among young women, barely beyond childhood
themselves. As we know, when children have children, the chance of
schooling, jobs, and good health is reduced for both parent and child.
And our progress as a human family takes another step back.
The Cairo document recognizes "the basic right of all couples and
individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and
timing of their children and to have the information and means to do
so." Women should have the right to health care that will enable them to
go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide them with the
best chance of having a healthy infant.
Women and men must also have the right to make those most intimate of
all decisions free of discrimination, coercion and violence,
particularly any coercive practices that force women into abortions or
On these issues, the US supports the provisions in the Beijing Platform
for Action that reaffirm consensus language that was agreed to at the
Cairo Conference about a year ago. It declared that "in no case should
abortion be promoted as a method of family planning." The Platform asks
governments "to strengthen their commitment to women's health, to deal
with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health
concern and to reduce the recourse to abortion through expanded and
improved family planning services."
Violence against women remains a leading cause of death among girls and
women between the ages of 14 and 44 -- violence from ethnic and
religious conflicts, crime in the streets and brutality in the home. For
women who survive the violence, what often awaits them is a life of
unrelenting physical and emotional pain that destroys their capacity for
mothering, homemaking or working and can lead to substance abuse, and
Violence against girls and women goes beyond the beatings, rape,
killings and forced prostitution that arise from poverty, wars and
domestic conflicts. Every day, more than 5,000 young girls are forced to
endure the brutal practice of genital mutilation. The procedure is
painful and life-threatening. It is degrading. And it is a violation of
the physical integrity of woman's body, leaving a lifetime of physical
and emotional scars.
HIV, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases threaten more and more
women -- and experts predict that by the end of this decade more than
half of the people in the world with HIV will be women. AIDS, which
threatens whole families and regions, demands the strongest possible
response. Governments and the international community must address head-
on the growing number of women who are being infected.
More than 700,000 women worldwide face breast cancer each year -- over
300,000 die of it. It's the leading cause of death for women in their
prime in the developed world. In the time I speak to you today, 25 women
around the world will die of breast cancer. In my own country, it is
hard to find a family, an office, or a neighborhood that has not been
touched by this disease. My mother-in-law struggled against breast
cancer for four years before losing her battle.
Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death. Ninety percent
of women who smoke began to smoke as adolescents -- leading to high
rates of heart disease, cancer, and chronic lung disease later in life.
As the WHO points out, we also need to recognize and effectively address
the fact that women are far more likely to be exposed to work-related
and environmental health hazards. Policies to alleviate and eliminate
such health hazards associated with work in the home and in the
workplace demand action.
Research also indicates that certain communicable diseases affect women
in greater numbers. Tuberculosis, for example, is responsible for the
deaths of one million women each year and those in their early and
reproductive years are most vulnerable.
When health care systems around the world don't work for women; when our
mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and co-workers are denied access to
quality care because they are poor, do not have health insurance, or
simply because they are women, it is not just their health that is put
at risk. It is the health of their families and communities as well.
Like many nations, the United States brings to this conference a serious
commitment to improving women's health. We bring with us a series of
initiatives which represent the first steps to carrying out this
Conference's Platform for Action.
We are continuing to work for health care reform to ensure that every
citizen has access to affordable, quality care.
We are proposing a comprehensive and coordinated plan to reduce smoking
by children and adolescents by 50 percent.
We are working to address the many factors that contribute to teenage
pregnancy, our most serious social problem, by encouraging abstinence
and personal responsibility on the part of young men and women;
improving access to health care and family planning services; and
supporting health education in our schools.
We are pursuing a public policy agenda on HIV/AIDS that is specific to
women, adolescents, and children.
We are continuing to fund and conduct contraceptive research and
We are addressing the health needs of women through initiatives such as:
-- The National Action Plan on Breast Cancer -- a public, private
partnership working with all agencies of government, the media,
scientific organizations, advocacy groups and industry to advance breast
health and eradicate breast cancer as a threat to the lives of American
-- An Expansion of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early
Detection Program -- which will ensure that women who need regular
screening and detection services have access to them, and that those
services meet quality standards.
-- The inclusion of women in clinical trials for research and testing
or drugs or other interventions that probe specific differences between
men and women in patterns of disease and reactions to therapy.
-- The special health care needs of older women will be addressed
through educational campaigns about osteoporosis, cancer and other
-- And the US is conducting the largest clinical research study ever
undertaken to examine the major causes of death, disability and frailty
in post-menopausal women.
Women's health security must be a priority of all people and governments
working together. Without good health, a woman's God-given potential can
never be realized. And without healthy women, the world's potential can
never be realized.
So let us join together to ensure that every little boy and girl that
comes into our world is healthy and wanted; that every young woman has
the education and economic opportunity to live a healthy life; and that
every woman has access to the health care she needs throughout her life
to fulfill her potential in her family, her work, and her community.
If we care about the futures of our daughters, our sons, and the
generations that will follow them, we can do nothing less.
Thank you for the work you do every day to bring better health to the
women, children, and families of this world. Thank you for helping
governments and citizens around the world understand that we cannot talk
about equality and social development without also talking about health
Most of all, thank you for being part of this historic and vital
discussion, which holds so much promise for our future.
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