(CNSNews.com) - During her tenure as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton says she's instructed U.S. diplomats and development experts to "partner with women to find ways to engage and build on their unique strengths, help women start businesses, help girls attend school" and "push" women to get involved in peace talks and elections.
"I've made women a cornerstone of American foreign policy," Clinton told a 'Women in the World Summit' in New York City on Saturday.
Clinton says the U.S. government, for example, is giving grants to female activists and journalists in Kenya to train them on "early-warning systems for violence." The U.S. also is supporting a new trauma center for rape victims in Sudan. And there's more: "We're helping women in the Central African Republic access legal and economic services. We’re improving the collection of medical evidence for the prosecution of gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"And that’s just the beginning," Clinton told the gathering -- "because from around the world, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Sudan to the new transitional democracies in the Middle East and North Africa, we’re expecting our embassies to develop local strategies to empower women politically, economically, and socially."
Clinton said the U.S. is "watching carefully" what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa, where the recent revolutions "held so much promise" but also "carried real risks, especially for women."
She mentioned that after participating in Egypt's revolution, women there have been blocked from participating "in their new democracies."
Clinton said she met a young Muslim woman in Tunis a few weeks ago who is working in partnership with the U.S. Embassy to build Tunisia's new democracy. "I told her that in America, in Tunisia, anywhere in the world, women should have the right to make their own choices about what they wear, how they worship, the jobs they do, the causes they support. These are choices women have to make for themselves, and they are a fundamental test of democracy."
Clinton said women in the Middle East -- even in the United States -- must fight for their rights:
"Now, we know that young woman in Tunisia and her peers across the region already are facing extremists who will try to strip their rights, curb their participation, limit their ability to make choices for themselves. Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies."
Clinton's apparent reference to the "reproductive rights" controversy involving a Georgetown University law student was met with applause.
"Yes, it is hard to believe that even here at home, we have to stand up for women’s rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America needs to set an example for the entire world," Clinton said. "And it seems clear to me that to do that, we have to live our own values and we have to defend our own values. We need to respect each other, empower all our citizens, and find common ground."
Clinton challenged women at the conference to "be part of the solution."