Analysis: Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Hillary Clinton presented the speech, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, at the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women. Her immediate audience consisted of women who were already united in a common cause, that of promoting women’s rights as being an essential, and overlooked aspect of human rights. Despite this, her actual audience, the people who she wished to persuade with her message were the male leaders of the world who “question the reason for this conference,” and those “who wonder whether the lives of women and girls matter to economic and political progress around the globe.” Clinton employs various premises throughout her speech, but I would like to focus on the process premise of the emotion, guilt; the cultural premise of the triumphant individual; and the content premise of reasoning from symptoms.

The process premise of guilt is defined as an appeal to our sense of moral responsibility, usually by creating the realization that we have violated some moral rule or code of conduct. Clinton shares some disheartening facts concerning the number of women who are illiterate or live in poverty. She then continues to connect these same women in the minds of the listeners to their own mothers, daughters and wives by referring to them as caretakers, and describing their daily activities (cooking, cleaning, raising families, working, etc). She then returns to the idea that these women are being treated unjustly, are dying from preventable diseases, are being subjugated by their male family members and are denied the basic rights of self government. The male audience members should be feeling pretty guilty, either personally if they have advocated for any policies that might have encouraged these circumstances, or vicariously as a member of the male portion of the population which are promulgating this cultural phenomenon.

The cultural premise of the triumphant individual concerns the parable of the humble individual who works hard and eventually attains or even exceeds their goals and ambitions. Clinton uses this premise in her speech when she speaks of the women who she has met around the world who are working (despite government and cultural suppression) towards bettering their own lives and the lives of their families. Examples that she gives are the women who helped end apartheid, and the women in India who are creating businesses by purchasing milk cows, thread or rickshaws. I believe that this premise is especially useful in persuading men who may believe that women are weak, unenterprising or unmotivated. It also serves to inspire the other women listening to return home and encourage their peers to take action.

The content premise of reasoning from symptoms is defined as the practice of identifying a series of symptoms and then drawing a conclusion from them. Near the end of her speech, Clinton listed a series of human rights violations that strictly apply to females. She uses this list to imply that these issues are overlooked when discussing human rights, and that human rights so often refer only to men’s rights. The symptoms are the gross mistreatment of women, the cause is the cultural idea of inequality, and her proposed cure: the elevation of the world’s women to that of equals.

The non-verbal aspects of this speech that stood out to me the most were first off Clinton’s bright pink suit. It said, “hey! I’m a woman! I can wear pink if I feel like it, I am not bound by men’s fashions and expectations.” This tied in with her overall tone that women are equal to men, and should not be expected to play by their rules in every case. Another aspect was the way in which Clinton swiveled her head from left to right in between each statement, ensuring that each portion of the audience felt that she had noticed them, and was speaking to everyone there. Lastly, setting the last portion of her speech into a list format (using repetition!) allowed the audience time and opportunity to cheer and clap after each point was made. If she had given this list at the beginning of her speech, it would not have been as effective, as the audience was not all pumped up over the topic yet, and there might not have been any cheering, or if there had been, it would have detracted from the bulk of her message, which was sober rather than evangelical. Overall, this was an effective speech, but I believe it could have been more effective with a more dynamic speaker. Clinton’s voice was too monotone throughout much of the speech, and did not betray enough emotion over this important issue.

Works Cited

Clinton, H. R. (1995, September 5). Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Speech presented at U.N. 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session, Beijing, China. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from

SeanMichaelLeonard (2008, March 11). Hillary Clinton in Beijing, China - September 5, 1995. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from

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