THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
September 5, 1995
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks to the World Health Organization Forum
on Women and Health Security
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much. Thank you Dr. Nakajima,
Mrs. Mongella, all of the panelists, delegates to this important
conference, and guests from all over the world. I am honored to
be here this morning among women and men who are committed to
improving the health of women and girls everywhere in our world.
I want to start by commending the World Health Organization
for making women's health a top priority and for establishing the
Global Commission on Women's Health.
I am also proud that in the preparatory meetings for this
Fourth World Conference on Women, the United States took the lead
with other countries 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 God-given potentials.
At long last, people and 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 and must not 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 practices, 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
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 those 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
There must be a renewed commitment to improving maternal
health. The World Health Organization launched in 1987 a Safe
Motherhood Initiative to have 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
The commitment of the World Health Organization 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 here.
In addition, 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
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 sterilizations.
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. But I
also want to emphasize what the Cairo document said on a
particularly sensitive issue to many represented here. It
declared that "in no case should abortion be promoted as a method
of family planning" -- and that too should be reaffirmed loudly
and clearly. 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
As Mrs. Mongella reminded us, violence is also a health
issue. It is about time we recognized it as such and began to
move against it whereever it occurs. 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 even suicide.
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 a
woman's body, leaving a lifetime of physical and emotional scars.
HIV, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases threaten more
and more women -- and you will hear more about that poignantly
and personally later. 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 -- and that means refusing to
deny the extent of the problem and beginning to deal with it in
order to start solving it and preventing it whereever we can.
More than 700,000 women worldwide face breast cancer each
year -- and 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 own mother-in-law struggled against breast cancer for
four years before losing her battle. That is another disease
that all of us must join forces together to combat.
Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death.
Some might think that is doesn't rank up there with the other
serious problems that will be discussed, AIDS/HIV -- and of
course it does not have the extraordinarly painful image and
effects that other threats to health do -- but is is a killer and
it causes great anguish among those who are struck down. 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 -- that are not only a burden to the
individual and the family -- but to the health care system that
are trying cope with diseases such as AIDS and breast cancer.
As the World Health Organization 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
also demand action.
Research indicates further 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
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
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
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 women.
- An Expansion of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer
Early Detection Program -- we hope 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 of drugs or other interventions that probe specific
differences between men and women in patterns of disease and
reactions to therapy.
- The specific health needs of older women will be
addressed through educational campaigns about osteoporosis,
cancer and other diseases.
- And the United States is conducting the largest
clinical research study ever undertaken to examine the major
causes of death, disability and frailty in post-menopausal women.
We come prepared to be partners working together on behalf
of women's health security -- which 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 I hope that through this conference we renew our
commitment to 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.
I want to thank so many of you in this room for the work you
do everyday to bring better health to women, men, children, and
families throughout world. Thank you for helping governments and
citizens understand that we cannot talk about equality and social
development without also talking about health care.
Most of all, thank you for being part of this historic and
vital discussion. It holds promise for our future, if we act and
continue to work together. I was pleased to find this
declaration on women's health and health security and to see in
it goals with measurable targets. That is what we must commit
ourselves to. Rhetoric alone, recognition of the problems alone,
will not save another girl child, will not prevent the disease
that cuts down too many women in their prime, will not ease the
passage of women in their older years who have worked so hard all
their lives. It is only by combining the rhetoric and
recognition with a commitment to specific actions that will bring
about the changes we want to see. I commend and thank you for
being part of that effort. Thank you very much.