THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 7, 1995
Remarks By First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
To The International NGO Community At A Forum
Of The U.N. World Summit on Social Development
March 7, 1995
Thank you. Good morning. Thank you Ambassador Teymour, Mr.
Desai, Mr. Nielsen.
I am honored to participate in this historic gathering,
where civic, religious, and social organizations as well as
government leaders from around the world are uniting in the fight
to eradicate absolute poverty, create jobs, and empower women and
men to become full participants in their societies.
It is a special pleasure to be able to speak to a gathering
that includes so many non-governmental organizations. Whether
they operate in great cities or in remote villages, NGOs always
have played a vital role in strengthening our global community.
But particularly today, as all nations face new challenges and
choices, the experience and wisdom of NGOs will be critical in
guiding us toward a safer, more just, and unified world.
The end of the Cold War has created extraordinary new
opportunities for growth and progress. But at the same time,
ethnic strife and civil conflict have erupted across the planet,
depleting our resources, draining our energies, promoting hatred
and intolerance, and imperiling our ideal of a free and open
Today, too many nations waste precious resources on building
weapons of mass destruction, staging wars, and doing violence to
basic human rights, instead of investing those resources in
people. Too often, natural resources are destroyed and human ones
exploited through socially irresponsible behavior. Today, too
much time is spent in naked pursuit of power instead of working
for peace and prosperity.
It has become fashionable in recent years to assign blame
for the world's problems to one group of nations or another. I
hope this Summit does not succumb to that temptation. In fact,
every nation needs to rethink its approach to social development
and most nations need to do more for their own people and
To meet the goals of this Summit, governments will have to
go about their business in new ways. They will have to rethink
how to protect their most vulnerable populations in a time of
shrinking resources and accelerated global competition. They will
have to respect basic human rights, and that includes the rights
of women and workers to be protected from exploitation and abuse.
And they will have to create conditions that encourage individual
initiative and a vibrant civic life.
Finally, as my husband said in a speech last week,
governments will have to choose engagement over isolationism.
With our economies and our societies becoming increasingly
interdependent, we must work to create a global community in
which economic growth and social progress result in shared
prosperity and opportunity.
On a large scale, there is no better place to start than
with an indefinite and unconditional extension of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty. The threat posed by these devastating
weapons endangers all the work we do to end poverty, create jobs,
and empower people. Moreover, in balancing priorities and
resources, all nations will have to realize that investing in
people, not the acquisition of nuclear arms, is the way to make
their societies stronger. Clean water, safe sanitation, basic
education and health care are better investments to strengthen
societies in both the short and long term than the acquisition of
or increase in nuclear arms.
Two days ago marked the 25th anniversary of the
Non-Proliferation Treaty, now joined by 172 nations that realize
that opposing the spread of nuclear weapons is in their
self-interest. And to further the goals of the Treaty, the United States and
Russia have agreed -- through START I and START II -- to reduce
our own nuclear arsenals. We must all continue the effort to deal
responsibly with this critical issue.
In addressing the world's social problems, we cannot expect
governments to act alone, particularly in an era of scattered
and, some believe, scarce resources. Governments need NGOs to
monitor their actions and mobilize them to find innovative
solutions to problems. NGOs also can inspire us to work more
effectively with each other -- within the NGO community and
within the community of nations. That is why the participation of
NGOs at this and other United Nation's Conferences is so
The great social movements of my own country during the 19th
and 20th centuries -- the abolition of slavery, the right of
women to vote, as well as the civil rights movement would not
have been achieved without the leadership of civic, religious,
and social organizations.
The same is true elsewhere. As Ambassador Somavia knows
well, civic organizations committed to human rights and the rule
of law were instrumental in assuring Chile's transition to
democracy. Through the work of nuns and lay people in the
Philippines, civic groups in Bulgaria, grassroots organizations
working across Africa and South America, and many others, NGOs
have helped improve the lives of tens of millions of men, women,
children and families struggling to escape tyranny, poverty, and
Ultimately, this forum and the Social Summit is about
supporting and building on that work, not for the sake of
governments or ideologies, but for people. It is about putting
people first. And putting people first requires realistic,
workable solutions to complex problems.
Too often, the assumption is that any solution will
inevitably be costly and complicated. In fact, we have proof to
We see grassroots efforts around the world that are reducing
poverty, improving health and education, and promoting individual
UNICEF, to take one shining example, has had a decade-long
focus on child survival and has pioneered many strategies that
are low-cost, including breastfeeding and oral rehydration
therapy and immunizations.
Last year polio was eradicated in the Western Hemisphere by
a multinational effort. And the U.S. was the lead donor for
And around the world, the percentage of children immunized
against major preventable diseases rose from 20 percent to 80
percent between 1980 and 1990.
In the United States, I'm frank to admit, we have had to
follow the lead of other countries so that finally we are
attempting to increase the immunization rates of our own
children, and our rates have increased but are not yet where they
need to be.
In South America, the involvement of NGOs in teaching
pregnant women self-diagnosis of maternal health problems has
resulted in a dramatic reduction in the infant mortality rate in
I myself saw at the Fabella Hospital in Manila, news mothers
staying in the hospital long enough to learn to nurse their
babies, which promoted a stronger bond between mother and child
and increased the chances of family stability.
And in countries where governments and NGOs have made
voluntary, safe and effective family planning available and have
provided related health services, we have seen an improvement not
only in the lives of individuals but in the economic well-being
of their countries.
Now, no one person, as we know so well, can be freed from
the bondage of poverty or fully integrated into society without
the means to earn a living. And the task of nations, and NGOs, is
to promote policies that lift up the poorest in society, and to
insist on core labor standards that help stop the exploitation of
workers, many of whom are children.
Governments must be responsible for promoting disciplined
economic policies. And in the United States the President is
working to renew the American economy through fiscal policies
that do assist those who are poor in such ways as providing tax
credits and attempting to raise the minimum wage.
Investing in education goes hand-in-hand with providing
economic opportunity. As capital and technology become more
mobile, differences in the quality of labor forces will become
that much more apparent.
And again, we can learn from each other as to how we can
reduce illiteracy and increase prospects for employment and
Opportunity should be the reward for taking responsibility
in life. That philosophy is a good guide when we consider
strategies -- governmental and non-governmental -- to promote
greater self-reliance and economic independence among all our
citizens, including especially the poor and disenfranchised.
We have an example of that which will be discussed at this
summit, when we look at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Dr.
Mohammed Yunus, whom many of you in this room know, as I do,
believes that if you give people access to credit -- and ask them
to take responsibility in return -- they will achieve greater
economic and social independence.
Through its small loans to the poorest women in rural areas
of Bangladesh, the Grameen bank not only has improved the
immediate circumstances of thousands of families, it has also
fostered a greater sense of purpose and spirit of community among
I only wish every nation shared Dr. Yunus's and the Grameen
Bank's appreciation of the vital role that girls and women play
in the economic, social, and political life of our societies.
Although women comprise 52 percent of the world population,
although they are the primary caretakers for children and the
aged and are a significant presence in the work force, they
continue to be marginalized in many countries.
Worldwide, more than two-thirds of the children who never
attended school or have dropped out are girls. Of the one billion
people who remain illiterate, two-thirds are women. And a
disproportionate number of those we call living in absolute
poverty are women.
Investing in the health and education of women and girls is
essential to improving global prosperity, and I am glad that this
Summit has endorsed the principle of equal rights and
opportunities for women.
In parts of Asia and South America we have seen the
education of girls help lift whole populations out of poverty. We
have seen the education of women enhance their roles as mothers
and increase their participation in civic life. So we must do
more to ensure equal rights for women, along with equal pay and
equal access to health care and education.
Tomorrow, as part of International Women's Day, it will be
my pleasure to announce a major new United States commitment to
expand educational opportunities for poor girls on three
I'd like to end by saying that we must all take
responsibility and do our part. Too often we engage in a false
debate that says on the one hand, only governments, or on the
other, only individuals, are responsible for solving their own
problems and those of the world. In fact, we all know that we
need a partnership that is going to bring us all together.
Governments can either support or undermine people as they face
the moral, social and economic challenges of our time.
Individuals can either take initiative and responsibility or fall
into hopelessness and despair. Simply put, no government, no
NGO, no person can remain idle given the magnitude of the
challenges we face and the uncertainties of the world in which we
For those who are skeptical about our capacity for progress,
I suggest that we all reflect on the life of one extraordinary
man, James Grant, who recently passed away. Jim may have been
more responsible for saving more lives over the past 15 years
than any other person in the world. Millions of children are
alive today because Jim Grant challenged us, set goals for us,
and devised simple, efficient, and affordable methods of
intervening on behalf of children and their families.
His legacy is not only found in the wonderful work that goes
on every day at UNICEF, or in the success of his infant formula
campaign, or in the packages labeled "Oral Rehydration Therapy"
that he would carry around in his pocket and pull out on any
occasion. His legacy is in the jobs that each of us in this
room, each of the people around the world and private voluntary
organizations and other NGOS and government organizations do day
in and day out, throughout the world.
It is our duty to continue to live up to Jim Grant's
challenge and to do our part to fulfill the goals of this Summit.
In closing, I would ask that as we go about our business in the
months and years ahead, whether we are in government or the
private sector or just acting on our own, that we draw strength
and courage from Jim Grant's example and do justice to his
memory. If we do that, then this Summit and all that follows
will be a success.
Thank you very much.