How Hillary’s 1995 Speech Empowered the Voiceless

In 1995, Hillary Clinton gave a speech at the fourth annual United Nations Women’s Conference. The speech ranks #35 on American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century. In the broadest description, her speech urged the world to respect women. In a more ethical perspective, her speech changed the world.

After her name was called, she approached the podium in a pink suit. She greeted the dignitaries on stage and began a speech that would change the role of women forever. I will touch on several reasons as to why this speech was so important.


Even before she started speaking, much of the world, including many people in Bill Clinton’s cabinet, was shocked that they were about to listen to a First Lady speech. First Ladies, they contended, were not supposed to challenge a foreign government, especially while a guest on its soil. But Hillary did not listen to her critics. Like any appointed crusader, Hillary was determined to articulate her views.

Also, the location of the conference reminded spectators of the unequal status of women around the world. The fact that the speech took place in Beijing, China — an authoritarian state that curbs the slightest threat to a one party rule — compelled much of the world to listen to Hillary. To this day, the Chinese government muzzles any social dissidence. During that conference back in 1995, protesters were arrested. The less fortunate ones, disappeared. The Chinese government even blacked out all Chinese media reporting of the speech. It was actually a great place for Hillary to give a speech promoting women rights.


The Chinese government assumed that they knew better than the people, and that the people were better off without being tainted with Hillary’s speech. There was no difference from how the Chinese government suppresses threatening media to how Republicans assume that they know better than a woman about keeping her child. Or when conservative censorship panels compile a list of words or subjects that they feel shouldn’t enter our minds. There is only one person who controls me. Such conservative ideals are still prevalent in our society, though they are quickly eroding.

Despite the government’s attempts to stifle Hillary, word got out. Tens of millions of Chinese women, heard about the speech and began to question their place in society.


One passage from Hillary’s speech:

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.
Let me be clear, freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize and debate openly.

You should read the whole speech on the internet.

Say what you want about her, but the speech will go down in history as a defining moment for feminism. Not to be compared with the feminist movement in America or nineteenth century European feminism, Hillary was crusading for the voiceless women crushed beneath dictators around the world. These women don’t have a liberating society to champion behind. These women had been submissive since the start of time.


Hillary awakened them.

Hillary’s speech analyzed a woman from every culture in the world. She introduced a revealing epiphany to these women, that their lives are strikingly similar. Although separated by sweeping oceans, the abuse these women endure was identical. Whether she lives in a brownstone in Brooklyn or a fishing village in Thailand, women everywhere endure the same profound violations of human rights.

Who better to lead this battle, than the most famous woman in the world?

Most college speech classes use Hillary’s “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” to teach speech writing. According to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, a speech is persuasive if it contains three distinct ingredients : Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.
 –Aristotle 1356a 2,3

By using graphic images and disturbing truths, Hillary captures the listener’s attention. Hillary’s speech effectively used forms of pathos.

It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gets a hug from fifth-grader Hannah Tandy during a town hall meeting at Keota High School, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, in Keota, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

By repeatedly using the word ‘we’ in her speech, Hillary is giving herself, the speaker, a great deal of credibility. This is an effective use of ethos.

The great challenge of this conference is to give voice to women everywhere whose experiences go unnoticed, whose words go unheard. Women comprise more than half the world’s population, 70% of the world’s poor, and two-thirds of those who are not taught to read and write. We are the primary caretakers for most of the world’s children and elderly. Yet much of the work we do is not valued — not by economists, not by historians, not by popular culture, not by government leaders.

By using logos, a clear and evident chain of logic and proofs, Hillary’s speech proves to the world that it is in their best interest by following her advice will improve their lives.

What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations do as well. That is why every woman, every man, every child, every family, and every nation on this planet does have a stake in the discussion that takes place here.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles as she greets the children of U.S. Embassy employees at the embassy in Tokyo Sunday, April 17, 2011. Clinton is on a brief visit to Tokyo intended as a morale boost to the crucial U.S. ally. (AP Photo/Saul Loeb, Pool)

While Hillary touched on domestic abuse and sex trafficking and a litany of other human rights abuses, she was defiant. Hillary refused to be silenced. Her unwavering voice seemed to animate the world. Hillary embodied the strength of America. Above all though, she was brave. The little lady from the suburbs of Chicago was defending every voiceless woman in the world. The army she defied was larger than anything Genghis Khan ever went up against. Her mission was the same mission as every woman in the world.

In the capital of this tyrannical communist regime, Hillary read a speech that directly contradicted that regime’s female infanticide, forced abortions and other brutal assaults on women.

When she said, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” the crowd exploded into applause and a global movement was born.


Hillary has spent her life helping those who need help. She has been a crusader for women and children for most of her life. Cognizant of what a commendable woman she is, Republicans have been soiling her image for almost twenty years. It has worked on lots of people, albeit uneducated. Tell a stupid person enough times that the sky is falling and eventually they will run indoors.

I remember during the Obama McCain election, I got a cab ride through West Palm Beach. The cab driver warned me about candidate Obama. He tried to persuade me with these lofty biblical predictions of the Anti-Christ, that Obama was evil. He was convinced that if Obama was elected, the earth would shake and the heavens would plunge to the ground. He spoke about a cataclysmic apocalypse if Obama became our president.

Now, after his two terms, Obama’s approval ratings are at record levels and our country is infinitely superior to what it was when Junior handed it off.

Apparently, our cab driver’s bleak prophecy turned out to be bogus. However, it still offers a very insightful political lesson. Unable to tarnish Obama’s image, Republicans decided to ransack their supporter’s most intimate of emotions — fear and hatred. Knowing that a good majority of Republicans are uneducated and hence very impressionable, a smear campaign was orchestrated to convince Republicans that Obama wasn’t really an American or that he was a Muslim terrorist.


In addition to this powerful speech, Hillary helped establish the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women office.

While she was a New York senator she introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which prohibited the sale of “Mature” games and “Adults-Only” videos to minors. She also co-authored a 2003 law that urged drug companies to conduct safety tests for pediatric medicines. She also ensured funding was in place for schools so that high quality teachers could be recruited.

She has done more for women and children than maybe any other politician. Regardless, Republicans have the audacity to accuse Hillary of being bad for women.

One of several bizarre conservative reasons stipulate that since Hillary is pro-choice, she is turning her back on the trillions of unborn women. They contend, ‘how could Hillary be good for women, if she doesn’t care about the unborn women,’ Other women feel that Hillary is out of touch with most American women’s family values. They are convinced Donald Trump understands them better. And my name is Grizzly Adams.

Hillary was just the First Lady when she gave the “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” speech. Still, her speech was so powerful it shattered the glass ceiling hovering over much of the world. Women and children have never had a better champion than Hillary Clinton, our next president.


Originally published at Poli(tics) Today.

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