Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday at a forum on global women's issues that the rights of women represent "the unfinished business of the 21st century" in the United States and around the world, receiving a rapturous reception for one of her first speeches since departing the Obama administration.
Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, offered no new clues about her future at the annual two-day Women in the World summit. She said the mission of gender equality is not limited to the developing world, pointing to the need for more women in the United States to achieve equality with men.
"If America is going to lead the way we expect ourselves to lead, we need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society. We need to make equal pay a reality," Clinton said, pointing to the need to extend family and medical leave and encourage women and girls to pursue careers in math and science. "We need to invest in our people so they can live up to their own God-given potential."
"This truly is the unfinished business of the 21st century, and it is the work we are called to do," Clinton said. "I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead. Let's keep fighting for opportunity and dignity."
The former first lady and New York senator was the keynote speaker at a star-studded conference focusing on women across the globe, featuring appearances by actresses Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep. It was Clinton's second high-profile speech this week and coincided with the announcement Thursday of her new memoir about her years as secretary of state.
Clinton has addressed the forum before, but the speculation about her future was an undercurrent in the audience. Tina Brown, editor in chief of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, the summit's sponsor, received loud cheers during her introduction of Clinton when she teased, "Of course, the big question now about Hillary is what's next."
Clinton said the world was "changing beneath our feet," urging advocates to encourage developing nations around the globe to embrace a 21st-century approach that makes the rights of women a central issue in foreign and domestic policy.
Friday's agenda included a panel on technology moderated by Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, discussions on women's rights in India and Libya and a luncheon interview with Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Underscoring the plight of women across the globe, attendees saw an emotional moment on Thursday from Jolie, who introduced Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls' education.
"Today I'm going to announce the happiest moment of my life," the 15-year-old said in a brief video from Britain, wearing a bright red headscarf and at one point shyly covering her face with her hands. She said that thanks to the new "Malala's Fund," which she will administer, a new school in her homeland would be built for 40 girls. "Let us turn the education of 40 girls into 40 million girls," she said.
Malala has garnered huge global attention since she was shot in the head in October by Taliban attackers angered by her activism. She was brought to Britain for treatment and surgery, including skull reconstruction. She's now started attending school there. She recently signed a deal to write her memoir, and she was also shortlisted for Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" in 2012.
Jolie gave a poignant rendition of her story. "Here's what they accomplished," she said of Malala's attackers. "They shot her point blank range in the head — and made her stronger. The brutal attempt to silence her voice made it stronger."
After Jolie's introduction, Brown, who created the Women in the World summit, now in its fourth year, told the audience that Jolie had just committed $200,000 personally to the fund, which was established by Vital Voices, with a donation from the Women in the World Foundation.
Streep was there to honor another activist, Inez McCormack of Northern Ireland, who died in January of cancer. At the first summit in 2010, Streep had played McCormack in a short play, called "Seven," with McCormack herself watching from the audience. Streep spoke some lines from the play on Thursday evening in a flawless Irish accent.