Late on election night, I received an email from a Planned Parenthood staff person, Njeri Wahome, in Nairobi, Kenya. Njeri wrote to me to verify what she was seeing on television -- that Senator Obama had won. "Can it be true? We are over the moon ... at the making of history." For a woman who has dedicated her life to improving the health of women and children in her home country, Njeri knew that a change in U.S. administration could have a dramatic impact on women in Kenya. For the past eight years, the Bush administration has enforced a global gag rule, an executive order that prevented thousands of health care entities around the world from providing women with birth control. In some parts of Africa, women have a one-in-10 risk of dying in childbirth. And as Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times in October, the result of the so-called "pro-life" policy has likely been tens of thousands of additional and avoidable abortions each year. In addition to implementing the gag rule, each year the Bush administration has denied funding to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, at the behest of the far right -- money that would have paid for the provision of critical reproductive care.
Today, the incoming administration will generate another celebration by women all around the world when President-elect Obama names Hillary Clinton as our next secretary of state. The selection of Senator Clinton represents an important first step down a new path for American foreign policy -- an enormous shift represented by the selection of a champion of women's health and rights to be in charge of America foreign policy. As first lady and as a U.S. senator, Hillary Clinton visited more than 80 nations, but for a majority of the world's population, her unique quality may be her gender. Senator Clinton understands that improving the status of women is not simply a moral imperative; it is necessary to building democracies around the globe. Improving the status of women is key to creating stable families, stable communities, and stable countries. Women's ability to control the size of their families, regardless of economics, nationality, or culture, has a direct impact on their economic well-being and that of their children. Senator Clinton understands that women's quality of life directly affects the major issues confronting the globe: national security, environmental sustainability, and global poverty.
In a speech that, by the standards of the Bush administration, sounds positively radical, Clinton addressed the Cairo Plus Five Forum at the Hague in 1999, saying, "Women's reproductive health and empowerment are critical to a nation's sustainability and growth ... we now know that no nation can hope to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century if half of its people lack the opportunity and the right to make the most of their God-given potential. No nation can move forward when its women and children are trapped in endless cycles of poverty; when they have inadequate health care, poor access to family planning, limited education."
What a new day it will be when we can quit fighting with our government over the need to bring health care, education, and equality to women in every country -- including our own. Let's hope for a swift confirmation for our new secretary of state and celebrate her taking on this enormously important assignment. To Njeri and the thousands of women like her who see the impact of U.S. policy every day -- it is the true beginning of the 21st century.