[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[March 11, 1998]
[Pages 356-358]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the Observance of International Women's Day
March 11, 1998

    Thank you. Thank you very much, Doctor. 
And to all our distinguished guests here today, let me welcome you and 
say that I have rarely enjoyed anything in this room as much as I have 
what has already happened.
    I've told this story before, but I feel just like I did the first 
time I gave remarks, a speech, as a public official. It was at one of 
these civic banquets, and it started at 6 o'clock in the evening. 
Everyone in the audience was introduced, hundreds of people--except 
three people, and they went home mad. [Laughter] Five people spoke 
before me. I got up to speak at a quarter to 10, and the man who 
introduced me did not do nearly as good a job as our distinguished 
guest from Thailand--he said, ``You know, 
you could stop here and have had a very nice evening.'' [Laughter] Well, 
we could certainly stop here and have had a very fine occasion.
    Let me begin by thanking the Secretary-General for being here. We've had a very good meeting, just 
before we came over here, to talk about our shared goal of preventing 
the spread of weapons of mass destruction and of securing Iraq's 
compliance with its obligations under the U.N. Security Council 
    The Secretary-General deserves the thanks of 
all Americans for securing the agreement with

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the Iraqi Government to open all sites for inspection. The commitments 
made to him, as well as last week's successful U.N. inspections in sites 
that had previously been closed, are quite significant. They must be 
carried out. The last 6 days must be replicated in the coming 6 months. 
And the United States must remain vigilant to see that that occurs.
    Let me say, since we're honoring women today, in case you all missed 
it and you want to be reminded of what the stakes are and what is going 
on now, I commend to you the op-ed article from the distinguished 
British physician in the hometown paper 
here today, discussing the consequences of the use of chemical weapons. 
Mr. Secretary-General, your work is important, 
and we intend to see that you succeed.
    Let me also say that the United Nations is an invaluable partner in 
an increasingly interdependent world where we have to work together on 
things, as evidenced by the presence here today of members of the 
diplomatic corps, the Russian Health Minister, our distinguished physician from Thailand, and so many people from the U.N., and 
those of you in NGO's who work around the world. If the United States 
expects to continue to exercise a leadership role in a way that benefits 
our own people in the 21st century, we have got to pay our U.N. dues and 
fulfill our responsibilities.
    The Secretary-General has supported the 
reform of the U.N. in positive ways, and I'm doing my best to get 
legislation through the Congress which will fulfill our responsibilities 
to the United Nations, to the IMF, to the cause of U.N. reform.
    I'm very proud to be here with all of you today to celebrate your 
progress and to chart our course to the future. I especially thank the 
Members of Congress who are here and those whom they represent who 
couldn't be present for their support and leadership. I thank the 
First Lady, the Secretary of 
State, and the Attorney General for the accomplishments of the last 5 
years. I think it's fair to say, that as long as I live, I will always 
look back on the First Lady's speech at Beijing as one of the high 
watermarks of our public service in this White House.
    You know, we always say that human rights must be a central pillar 
of America's foreign policy, but that is meaningless if those rights are 
not fully enjoyed by half the people on the planet. Secretary 
Albright has already discussed our 
assistance to Afghan women and girls who have suffered much under the 
Taliban. Today I want to announce some further actions to advance your 
cause and our cause.
    First, I'm instructing Secretary Albright and our AID Administrator, Brian Atwood, to expand our international efforts to combat violence 
against women. All too often, we know violence limits the choices open 
to women and young girls, damaging their health, disrupting their lives, 
obstructing their full participation in society. We will provide $10 
million to strengthen partnerships with governments and NGO's to help 
them to fight violence against women everywhere.
    Second, I am launching a variety of steps to combat the inhumane 
practice of trafficking of women. I've asked our Attorney General to make sure that our own laws are adequate to the task 
we face here at home, that trafficking is prevented, victims are 
protected, traffickers are punished. And we will use our consular and 
law enforcement presence in other nations to combat trafficking 
worldwide, to assist victims, improve legislation, train judges and law 
enforcement officials in other lands. We will step up our public 
education campaigns abroad in an attempt to stop trafficking at its 
    Secretary Albright has already 
discussed her partnership with the Government of Ukraine to jointly 
develop a comprehensive strategy to fight trafficking to and from that 
country with the hope that our cooperation will become a model for other 
nations across the globe.
    Finally, I have asked my Interagency Council on Women to convene an 
international conference to cast a spotlight on this human rights 
atrocity and develop new strategies to combat it. One important tool, as 
the Secretary-General has reminded us, for making progress on these 
issues is the women's human rights treaty, the U.N. Convention on the 
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It has the 
cumbersome acronym of CEDAW, but its message is very simple.
    Again, I thank the Secretary-General for his 
leadership. I ask you to think about this convention and its impact. It 
has a proven record of helping women around the world to combat 
violence, gain economic opportunity, strike against discriminatory laws. 
Its provisions are consistent with United States law, which already 
provides strong protections for women. It offers a means

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for reviewing and encouraging other nations' compliance.
    Yet, because of our historic and often manifest allergy to joining 
international conventions, we remain alone in our hemisphere, alone 
among the industrialized nations of the world, apart from 161 other 
nations alongside nations like Sudan and North Korea in not ratifying 
this treaty.
    This is not an issue of party but of principle. Today I am sending a 
letter to the Senate leadership asking them to ratify the treaty, and I 
ask the Senate to do so this year. We signed this treaty in the late 
1970's. Finally, after we took office, the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee voted the treaty out of committee with a bipartisan vote in 
1994. If we are going to be true to our own legacy of leadership in 
human rights, we must ratify this treaty.
    When you look ahead to this new century and new millennium and you 
ask yourselves what you would like the story of the next 100 years to 
be, surely all of us want one big chapter to be about how, finally, in 
all nations of the world, people of all races and ethnic groups, of many 
different religious persuasions and cultural practices came together to 
guarantee that every young girl got a chance to grow up to live up to 
the fullest of her abilities and to live out her dreams. Let that be our 
mission as we leave today.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:47 p.m. in the East Room at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Dr. Saisuree Chutikal, Senator, 
Parliament of Thailand, who introduced the President; Dr. Christine 
Gosden, professor of medical genetics, University of Liverpool, whose 
editorial-page commentary on Iraqi use of chemical weapons appeared in 
the Washington Post on March 11; and Minister of Health Tatyana 
Dmitriyeva of Russia.