Former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an appearance at Georgetown’s Gaston Hall on March 31 to present the annual Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards for Advancing Women in Peace and Security to four Colombians who played key roles in negotiating the 2016 Colombian peace agreement. Clinton spoke about the crucial role of women in peacebuilding and peacekeeping and encouraged states to prioritize female participation in government.
The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS), headed by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, who served as Clinton’s chief-of-staff during her time as first lady, bestows the awards annually “for exceptional leadership in recognizing the important role of women in creating a more peaceful and secure world.”
The 2017 awards celebrated the peace agreement that ended over 50 years of conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recipients included Humberto De la Calle, lead negotiator for the Colombian government; Maria Paulina Riveros, deputy attorney general of Colombia; Elena Ambrosi, a key member of the Colombian government’s negotiating team in Havana; and Jineth Bedoya, a journalist and advocate for victims of sexual assault. To learn more about their experiences in shaping the peace agreement, read Bryce Couch’s upcoming analysis.
In introducing Clinton, Georgetown President John DeGioia echoed the secretary’s famous phrase, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights,” a sentiment met with thunderous applause.
Clinton recalled her tenure as first lady in the 1990s when she and then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright decided to focus their efforts on elevating the rights of women and girls.
“Advancing the rights and full participation of women and girls is the great unfinished business of the twenty-first century,” Clinton declared, reflecting on the progress made and the challenges still ahead.
She pointed to the devastating effects of the refugee crisis on the Middle East and Europe and emphasized the importance of including women in conversations surrounding its resolution. Combatting violent extremism, climate change, and sexual violence will all require the presence and the initiative of women leaders, as well as the willingness of men to listen to and learn from them, according to Clinton.
Clinton also did not hesitate to criticize her former-opponent President Donald Trump’s administration and his policies regarding women’s rights. In her speech, she stated that budget cuts in healthcare and education constitute “a blow to women and children and a grave mistake for our country.”
In fact, she even went so far as to make a jab at Trump’s oft-criticized disregard for scientific facts and findings after citing research that highlights the positive impact of female participation on peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
“Here I go again, talking about research, evidence, and facts,” she said to considerable applause and laughter.
“[However], women are not inherently more peaceful than men. That is a stereotype. That belongs in the alternative reality,” Clinton continued, hinting once again at the Trump administration’s reliance on alternative facts.
In the end, she concluded with a plea to the U.S. government to focus on maintaining global peace.
“I am pleading that our government will continue its leadership role on behalf of peace in the world because the world must continue this work with or without U.S. involvement,” Clinton said. “Will we be left behind or will we continue to lead the way?”
Clinton’s speech marked her return to the ambitious women’s rights agenda that she championed as both first lady and secretary of state. Although women’s advancement remained an essential part of her presidential campaign, it was unclear whether she would return to her advocacy work after her loss in November 2016. Yet, despite failing to shatter “the highest and hardest glass ceiling,” Clinton launched her return to public life with renewed energy and a message of hope for all women at a time when many have braced themselves for an attack against their reproductive and workplace rights.
The Georgetown community appeared extremely receptive to Clinton’s message, with students lining-up as early as 8:30 p.m. on March 30 to secure a spot in Gaston Hall. Attendees also interrupted her speech with several prolonged rounds of applause and shouted ‘I love yous.’
It remains to be seen whether Clinton’s rousing appeal to the U.S. government will serve as a stepping stone to concrete action on women’s rights policy or simply as a selling-point of her lecture tour or a chapter in her next book. Whatever the former-secretary’s motives, it is clear that her message of female empowerment and participation in matters of peace and security resonated with the students who may one day achieve the goals set out by Clinton and Albright two decades ago.
After all, in the words of Clinton herself, “a rising tide of women’s rights lifts entire nations.”