Vital Juncture for Women’s Rights Policy at the State Department

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In her confirmation hearing last week Hilary Clinton was asked by Barbara Boxer to talk about how she plans to use the office of the Secretary of State to better the”status of women in the world.”She was particularly interested in the problems of violence against women and sex trafficking, making explicit reference to the series of op-eds that Nicholas Kristof has published on these issues.

Not surprisingly, secretary-designate Clinton offered a strong response with respect to her agenda on women’s rights. She told the Senate panel:

I have also read closely Nick Kristof’s articles over the last many months, but in particular the last weeks, on the young women that he has both rescued from prostitution and met who have been enslaved and abused, tortured in every way: physically, emotionally, morally.

And I take very seriously the function of the State Department to lead our government through the Office on Human Trafficking to do all that we can to end this modern form of slavery. We have sex slavery, we have wage slavery, and it is primarily a slavery of girls and women.

So we’re going to have a very active women’s office, a very active office on trafficking. We’re going to be speaking out consistently and strongly against discrimination and oppression of women and slavery in particular, because I think that is in keeping not only with American values, as we all recognize, but American national security interests as well.

While these comments from now-Secretary of State Clinton gained applause from some precincts of the women’s and human rights community, they made some of us sit up in alarm. Not only was Mrs. Clinton misstating frequently repeated”facts”about sex trafficking, her answer to Senator Boxer signaled the continuation of the misguided Bush policies on this issue – policies heavily influenced by a particular camp in the women’s rights community that sees sex in general, and prostitution in particular, as the root of all evil for women. This ideology – one that has been shown all over the world to more often harm rather than help women in precarious situations – threatens to become the official policy of the Obama Administration if we aren’t careful.

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- Katherine Franke

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