We hear it constantly: women have come so far, but we have a long way to go.
No one knows that better than Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton Press Secretary and the first female to hold that spot. Talking to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Myers said that being the lone woman in a White House boys club was “definitely challenging.” She explained:
“You remember, walking in to the briefing room, where most of the reporters at that time were men; most them were older than I was, and so establishing authority for me was difficult. It didn’t come with the job as it had for some of my male predecessors. I had to earn that over and over and over.”
But over the past two decades, a world that was so shocked to hear then-First Lady Hillary Clinton call women’s rights a human rights issue now accepts that statement as self-evident. As Myers points out, there are ”secondary benefits” to giving women more power, ranging from increasing economic growth to reducing violence, both in terms of domestic and international conflicts. “When you empower women,” Myers explains, “not only does it make them more likely to stand up for themselves, but when they have more economic value–and people, particularly men, recognize that–domestic violence decreases.” That’s why, says Myers, ”empowering women has become a strategic objective with U.S. foreign policy.”
Hillary Clinton gets much of the credit for that. As secretary of state, Clinton “did such a phenomenal job raising the profile” of women’s rights issues, Myers said. She brought together diplomats and business people to find common ground on women’s issues, and created a special bureau in the State Department to ensured that those issues would be a priority. And in one of her final moves before leaving office, as Andrea Mitchell pointed out, Clinton had President Obama sign a directorate “that it is now a matter of status,” not discretion, to maintain a focus on women’s rights internationally.
Myers’ 2008 book is the basis for BBC’s new documentary “What If Women Ruled the World,” premiering this weekend.