Secretary Clinton was in Australia last week as a part of her Asia-Pacific tour. Australia was Clinton’s last stop on her seven-part tour and while she was there, she met with the Prime Minister and defense and foreign ministers, and spoke at a town hall style meeting in Melbourne before a crowd of about 500 young people.
First, the good:
At the town hall meeting, Clinton repeatedly mentioned her commitment to gender equality, returning to the subject several times during the evening. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, she called women’s ongoing inequality “of the biggest pieces of unfinished business in this century,” and identified the link between women’s persecution and national poverty. When asked what she thought was the greatest international challenge facing people aged 21 and under (hat tip to whomever asked that one!) she said it was gender inequality:
I think that there’s very clear evidence … that societies that do not expand opportunities for women are societies that are more prone to authoritarianism, more prone to extremism, less likely to develop, more likely to be left out of the 21st century’s opportunities
Clinton also denounced the military junta in Myanmar, calling its recent election “flawed,” and praised Barack and Michelle Obama for doing “a great job being fully involved parents” and for ensuring that their daughters are not exploited for press or for politics. And that photo, of Clinton with Australia’s first woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard, made me proud to be a citizen of both these great countries.
And now, the bad:
Clinton also acknowledged that burqa bans like the one passed in France this October, are not terrible ideas. Often, she told a young Muslim woman in answer to a question about the bans, men on suicide bombing missions avoid detection by carrying them out wearing a burqa:
If you’re a Pakistani police officer, respectful of the women of your culture and that’s being abused and misused by the suicide terrorists, that causes a real dilemma. So if you are looking at other countries that are understandably nervous about extremist activity, like France and other European countries, I think it’s a close question.
Finally, while she “expressed concern over the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people around the world,” Clinton reaffirmed her opposition to gay marriage. Clinton, as you might remember, was the first highly visible American politician to record an “it gets better” video last month – President Obama and Nancy Pelosi soon followed suit. But as Ann says in her American Prospect column this week, it is upsetting to see someone with Clinton’s power both express concern about persecution of an entire class of people while supporting laws that, well, persecute that entire class of people. For me, it’s especially upsetting when she does it in my homeland.
Picture: Fiona Hamilton for The Australian