Our Interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

October 25, 2011 | Gini Reticker

This interview between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Women, War & Peace Executive Producer Gini Reticker was conducted on July 8, 2011 and appears in part in the film War Redefined.


GINI RETICKER: So the first question I wanted to ask you about was — this hour that we’re doing is called War Redefined, and talks about how in today’s conflicts, women really bear the brunt of a lot of conflict, but they’re often overlooked in conflict resolution. So if –- when you’re thinking of war from the perspective of women in today’s conflict zones, how does that redefine the way we look at war?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s way past time that we redefine what we mean by war, because there are no front lines in the wars in today’s world. There are often not even organized military units, unfortunately. There are states, there are networks, there are terrorist groups, there are militias. And the fact is that in today’s wars around the world, the primary victims are women and children. It didn’t used to be that way when there was a more organized military campaign. But today, we see women being victimized in great numbers all over, in every conflict.

And I think it’s also important to look at how we end conflicts and who has to be at the table for sustainable conflict resolution and, hopefully, peace. And I have long believed –- and everything that I’ve done from Northern Ireland to Central America to Africa and Asia has convinced me –- that we do need to have women actively involved. Their voices need to be heard, they need to be in positions of responsibility and authority. And thankfully, slightly over 10 years ago, the United Nations recognized that as well.

GINI RETICKER: And with that in mind, what’s your greatest fear for what’s going to happen with the women in Afghanistan? With the U.S. withdrawing and negotiations with the Taliban, what are your fears for women?

Well, with respect to Afghanistan specifically, I think we all are very concerned about whether it is possible to achieve a sustainable resolution through the process of reconciling and reintegrating insurgent fighters, the Taliban, back into Afghan society.

Now, we have set forth three redline conditions that have to be part of the outcomes: Number one, they have to renounce violence, they have to break ties with al Qaeda, and they have to respect the constitution and laws of Afghanistan, which for many of us means they have to respect the rights of women and also of ethnic minorities, because it’s not only worrisome about women in general, but also about the different ethnic groups within Afghanistan. And again, the primary victims would likely be women and children in the absence of some kind of sustainable resolution.

I have said from the very beginning that it’s going to be one of my highest priorities to argue for and ensure that we do nothing which sets back the rights and the security of women. I’ve told that to Afghan women, I’ve told that to Afghan leaders, I’ve told that to my own government and international officials as well. I feel that it is part of my responsibility to do all that I can to ensure that whatever the United States is part of in trying to resolve this conflict, we do nothing that undermines the gains that have been made for women. Now, obviously, that will be easier to do if women are actually involved in the peace jirgas, in the high peace councils, at the international conferences. And so I am working very hard to make sure that happens as well.

GINI RETICKER: So you’re going to do that by gaining them access to that process? They can speak for themselves?

Well, they can speak for themselves, but they can also speak for so many who are voiceless. I mean, honestly, we have to be clear that the life for many Afghan women is not that much different than it was a hundred years ago, 200 years ago. The country has lived with so much violence and conflict that many people, men and women, just want it to be over. Yet there are some quite impressive, farsighted Afghan women who know that peace on any terms may not be sustainable and may not be good for women next year and the year after. So we have to keep injecting the voices and perspectives and experiences of women into all that we do to try to resolve this conflict.

GINI RETICKER: In the hour, we introduce the concept of human security.


GINI RETICKER: So how does -– what does exactly human security mean on the ground, and how does that impact our decisions about foreign policy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, human security is a concept that I am very committed to enshrining in American foreign policy. So in our first ever so-called Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the QDDR, we have placed women’s rights and responsibilities and human security at the center.

What does it mean? Well, in some respects, it’s a very simple concept. Can you live free of violence and conflict? Can you be safe in your home, in your fields, in your neighborhood?

And that is something I have campaigned for and worked on, particularly to end violence against women, to criminalize domestic abuse, to stand up against rape as a weapon of war and other sexual and gender-based violence.

And I want to be sure that when we talk about human security, we know that there are certain conditions that have to be met in order for people to live in a safe environment. And that doesn’t exist in too many places. So even where there is not active conflict, there is too much domestic violence, there is too much criminal activity, whether it’s narco-traffickers or murderers or other terrible crimes being committed.

So human security really goes to the core of who we are as human beings and whether we respect the human life and dignity of our fellow citizens. And then of course, you can expand the concept to talk about “Do you have enough food,” because that’s a security issue; “Do you have a safe place to live,” because that’s a security issue. But I think at the most fundamental level, it is “Can you live free of violence,” and the answer to that in too many places is still no.

GINI RETICKER: So how does that impact your decisions about foreign policy? I mean, how do you look at that?

Well, I am reorganizing the State Department so that we have human security as one of our key goals. We will have a new bureau in the State Department committed to conflict stabilization operations, where women’s roles will be front and center. And it is sometimes a hard call, because there is, in the minds of some people -– in fact, there’s been a long debate that there may be a contradiction in some cases between human rights and human security. I don’t buy that. I think that in some instances, when you’re trying to save lives, the first and foremost obligation is to focus on doing that.

But what makes life worth living, what gives us the ability to fulfill our human potential, are the right of speech, the right of religion, and all the other rights that we hold dear. So we are going to elevate the role of human security, but not in any way that contradicts or undermines our longstanding and very strong commitment to human rights.

But take the Democratic Republic of Congo, take Eastern Congo; 5 million people have died there in the last two decades. It is a war without front lines. It is a war primarily carried out by militias, some of whom are indigenous to the Congolese people and some of whom are made up of those from the outside and even funded by outside interests. But the fact is that women are not secure. There is no human security for the people of the Congo, particularly for women and children.

And rape has become almost the single-most used weapon of war. The militias come through, they take women out of their homes, they take women out of the fields, they take girls, they take babies, they rape them and leave them. They don’t kill them. And that is, to me, such a terrible indictment of the international community, my country included, that we have yet to figure out how to stop this. We have U.N. peacekeepers. I’ve traveled there. We’ve certainly done more for the victims of these horrific crimes. We have pushed the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to try those responsible, including officers in their own army. But the fact is it goes on, it still continues.

So we have to focus on stopping the conflict, and that’s why human security has to be given an even higher level of visibility in our foreign policy, because it’s not just stopping wars; it’s stopping these “heart of darkness” activities that have too often gone on.

It’s also protecting women in the Arab Spring that is happening now, from Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Syria and so much else. I mean, women were in the forefront of calling for their human rights –- the right to participate, the right to have a say in their governments. But then when they marched on International Women’s Day, they have been assaulted, they have been subjected to terrible invasions of privacy and dignity by their own governments or their own militaries as well as outsiders and mobs.

So we just have to do more to apply the lessons that we have learned. And one of them is to ensure that women are given the rights to be able to make decisions for themselves and their families, and that their voices are heard in the highest levels of every institution.

GINI RETICKER: How does the idea of women and looking at what women need key to global security?

Well, look at the example of Liberia and the wonderful film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. There was a terrible conflict that had gone on for years, and out of that conflict arose a strong voice of women -– some women whose voices we know like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but hundreds more, market women who are not going to be president, they’re not going to be in some kind of government, but they stood up for themselves. And I honestly believe it was the women of Liberia who forced those decision makers from within Liberia and from West Africa to come together finally in Ghana and to be forced to have to resolve the conflict. And that’s a perfect example. There are other examples. I think the role that women played in ending the troubles in Northern Ireland, something that I was involved in; what women on both sides of the conflicts in Central America did to try to end the years of bloody civil war there.

So, women themselves have to empower themselves. They can’t wait for somebody to point to them and say, “Now you must be a leader and you must go forth and try to end this conflict.” It has to come from within, and it has in so many different settings. And then the international community has to respect, nurture, protect those voices of women and make sure that when the conferences are held and the peace treaties are being negotiated that the women are not outside the doors, as they were in Ghana to end the conflict in Liberia – although they did a pretty good job of preventing the men who were in the room from going anywhere until they resolved the conflict – but they need to be in the room.

And I sit across from so many lines of men in so many different settings, many of them just normal negotiations and discussions, but very often in conflict situations, and there’s rarely a women in the room. And yet I look at the statistics. I know the stories. It is women who are primarily suffering. So what we’re trying to do in the United States and what we’re trying to do in the United Nations with the new position for women that Michelle Bachelet is filling and the new position focusing on violence against women that Margot Wallstrom is filling is we’re just going to do our very best to make it clear there has to be an ongoing commitment, there has to be a systematic response, and no more can you just sort of say, “Well, the women will be fine, don’t worry about them.”

It’s interesting, because like with Afghanistan, one of the things in making the film that I’ve had to kind of constantly go back to is that it’s not that women in Afghanistan are just fighting for their own rights. They’re fighting for the rights of the whole country –

That’s right.

GINI RETICKER: – they’re against the warlord-ism, they’re against the corruption.

That’s right.

GINI RETICKER: – and that –- the idea in these conflicts today that somehow, it’s going to be the guys who are the thugs who are going to negotiate the peace, they’re not state players, so they don’t actually have -– they don’t represent the interests of the people. So that in some way makes me think, “Well, how are we really doing — ” look at who is going to -– who negotiates the peace? Who do you negotiate with when you’re talking to –-

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, yeah, this is a very complex question, who negotiates the peace, because if you don’t get the guys with the guns in the room to negotiate the peace, you’re not going to stop the killing. So you’ve got to deal with some pretty unsavory characters who, in the so-called real world, have the capacity to either stop fighting or be stopped. And you can’t ignore them.

But that’s no longer enough. I think that’s the difference. It’s not that we’re going to shut out the people who have either started or responded to conflicts, because the fact is they have to be part of ending those conflicts. But we can’t just listen to them and we can’t just cut deals with them to satisfy their short-term personal or ethnic or tribal or whatever other needs that they bring to the table. So that’s why you need these other voices. And you need international facilitators who can say, “Well, wait a minute, it’s not just your tribe, it’s not just those in your sect who live in this country, and it’s not just men who have to be satisfied. It is minorities and women.” So you have –- you need a bigger aperture for how you think about, talk about, and negotiate for peace.

And if you go back and look at the vast majority of pictures of any peace conference or international gathering going back a hundred years or whenever photography started, there aren’t any women there. Maybe there’s a spouse, maybe there’s a queen occasionally, but very few women. But now we’ve had so many women who have been in positions of responsibility, we have so many women who are major players in the affairs of their countries. Because the point that needs to be stressed is that in order to have a sustainable peace -– not something that is cobbled together and then falls apart within a month or a year -– people have to feel that their voices were heard. Because with the social media world that exists now, it is easy to spark discontent, even to spark a demonstration. And that’s good as far as I’m concerned because that’s one way of getting people’s voices out there.

So as we think about resolving conflicts going forward now, it’s not only because it’s the right thing to have women’s voices, minority voices, et cetera, in the room; it’s no longer going to be possible to keep them out of the process. There may not be a physical presence inside the room, but there will be Facebook and Twitter and all other kinds of communication going on. And I think that is a mind change that is only slowly dawning on a lot of the leaders around the world, predominantly men, who make these decisions.

And I think there’s also some continuing education and pressure that has to be brought to bear because it’s not that men in these responsible positions are against women. They just don’t accept, let alone understand, the importance of ensuring that women’s voices are heard.

I think one of the unfortunate tragic incidents of the last several months, when the women in Ivory Coast marched on Women’s Day and were attacked, I think that was a turning point. The situation was kind of uncertain with a person that most of the world thought -– Ouattara -– who had been, we thought, elected, be able to take office, or would Gbagbo be able to hold on. And when the government’s military or security forces turned out a peaceful demonstration of women, I think a lot of people were like, “What’s that about? How can we be governed by a president who would treat the women of our country like this?” And so this -– and maybe people wouldn’t have known about it had it not been for social media.

So these things are all converging, and I think that makes it more likely -– not guaranteed, but more likely -– that women’s voices finally will be heard and women will be at the table.

GINI RETICKER: Thank you. One more thing is that – U.N. Resolution 1325 –


What is the significance of it, and do you think it’s made a difference, and does it make it easier? Does it at least give a platform for how to –

1325 was a foundational document. When it was passed by the Security Council back in 2000, I was very pleased because for the first time, women were there in the deliberations of the Security Council when it came to war and peace -– not an individual woman leader, but all women who are, as we’ve said, primarily now the victims. And we have built on 1325 with 1888 and other Security Council resolutions, and a systematic approach toward addressing violence against women in conflict and in other insecure settings. And I think certainly the United Nations with its new emphasis on positions with very distinguished women like former President Michelle Bachelet and Margot Wallstrom addressing issues concerning women has gone a long way to put this important issue on the agenda for all of us.

GINI RETICKER: Thank you very much.



  1. Theresa Stephens says:

    Security is important to all of us! What does it mean to you? The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is asking that question and gathering other information relevant to the National Action Plan for U.S. implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. We would appreciate your help if you can take a moment to fill out a brief survey. This information will be collected and shared with policy makers in the U.S. government. http://tinyurl.com/3e4zffz Help us make a difference!

  2. Masha says:

    This is good. First we should start educating our own back yard. B’cause hatred in religion is so much some people are blinded by it and do anything to make “my God” good syndrome. That too plays a role in some violence. Actually that’s where the war began and always will according to Buddha. Violence against women is part of some of these religious beliefs. Without any attachment if we could teach nonviolence to children at least the generations to come will learn to respect their mothers, sisters, wives.

  3. WEBert says:

    Surely Secretary Clinton is the most ignorant of all past incumbents of that office.
    An example of her incompetance: she says women and children are the prime objects of today’s style of war. As though that has never been the case before. Has she never heard of Hiroshima or Dresden? Were they not “military campaigns”? I hate to suggest she study the United States prosecution of war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    • Deemers says:

      Webert….. Hillary is the only person with the experience – more than the current sitting president – able to take the issues on all over the world, she is more respected than by other males in the world than in her own home country. So, once again, the only ignorance here are those who do not ultimately understand that acts of aggression, no matter where they take place, always affect women and children more in terms of collateral damage, than upon those who originate the acts of aggression. A travesty at all that is must be explained to you as if you have no understanding of the suffering of others… so typical of megalomaniacs.

  4. Shourav baroi says:

    Akti siso dichea dak bisho akhon bodle jak.*°we are

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  11. shourav says:

    sodo bisher dhoni dese bebostapona dekhley hobena dekhte hobe por knti golor obost.karon goribrai osocheton,tai por cuny golr women der kono sadhinotaynei.jemon banglades dhaka amader city tai sodho dhakar bese kore bangladeshna 64destic dea akti bangla .ami bolte chasi akto anno ketgory dea women pawor hobe.ma pare songsar dore rakhte temon desh o

  12. shourav says:

    25det jishos barthday so,ai din thekei amra chesta korbo women der odhikar vidhi kora,jey des golote women der odhikar horon kora hoi,manos hisebe jormo hoyeo tara bondi pethibir kase tade fidom deoa ochit.anek anek kaj kora ochit kora ochit women der nie sochonota molok adverismen and vibinno kormokado kore womender socheton pasapasi mendero korte hobe karon amader poros sasito somaj,asomaje anek poros tar waif k deyna nischit odhikar,abar hok noton war je war ane dibe noton somaj noton bisho,akti siso debe dak biso abar bodlejak.we,are

    • shourav says:

      amder noton ko0re vabte hobe,karon jara asob songsathay kaj korse taraki sodho takar jonnoi korse naki seba jodi boli seba tahole bolbona tak.amader tinomol thekey ar bebostanitehobe,dele sajate hobe nonotkore ilove women omen pare jormod dete women parer bishodete.hok abar jodhoo hok valobasr jodhoo

  13. shourav says:

    amra jodi dekhi women der valo abodan,tahole pothomi asbe songsar karon akti ma tar songsar k tekie rakhar jonno tar sorbosho deto postot,and dey ar akti poroser dhara ta sombhobnoy.tahole womender keno ai abosta ta?tara keno akhono poros khchay bondhi?he abar chai jodho akti noton jodho bodle dear jodho,

  14. shourav says:

    amra ai sobhotar choa peao ki shobho?na lojja hoea ochit tader jara deshe boro cheare bose boro kaj korse,tara parsena,dete parsena sisor nischit odhikar karon ta dete hole dete hobe womenr odhikar,amra mano amader parte hobe sicol khole dehobe maer paer,we,are

  15. shourav says:

    maer chokher jol moste hobe ma tumi jormo dao kanna noy tumi jormo dao akti siso,ar siso dey pithibi,ar kanna noy haste hopbe noton kore vabtehobe,dete hobe sobuj aronno,we,are

  16. shourav says:

    jalate hobe noton alo,noton alor maje pabe donia maer hobejoy ,jotoi asok adhar asbei alo,go cum next dy amra dibo ank alo ar oshobhonoy shobhor hok joy

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