This week in Beijing, I had the privilege to participate in the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED) that Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner led for the United States. Prior to the arrival of Secretary Clinton, I was fortunate to meet with many of China's top women leaders from the government, the All-China Women's Federation, the business community and civil society, all of whom were tackling a range of issues -- from the social impacts of the economic transformation to addressing barriers to entrepreneurship.
At the conclusion of the Dialogue and just before departing Beijing, Secretary Clinton sat down with women civil society leaders, many of whom she has known for more than a decade. It was in Beijing 15 years earlier that the UN Fourth World Conference of Women took place and it was there that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton delivered her historic address reminding the world that "women's rights are human rights." The Chinese women told Secretary Clinton that her words inspired them then and continue to inspire the work that they are doing today to carry out the Beijing Platform for Action that was adopted in at the Conference in 1995 to advance women's economic, political, and social participation.
In listening to the women activists in Beijing, we were reminded that while our cultures are different, women in our countries share many of the same aspirations and often face similar barriers to advancement and progress. China's well-known women's rights lawyer Guo Jianmei, for example, has broken ground on cutting edge issues like domestic violence and employment discrimination, and is committed to working to improve her society through the law. Guo spoke eloquently and passionately about her work in defending women's rights and her wish that the government would see her as a partner. Others talked about the needs of rural women. In a discussion organized by Mary Kaye Huntsman, the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to China, several prominent women discussed continuing challenges. Wu Qing, women's rights advocate and scholar, works today with rural women, many of whom are illiterate. She noted that the key progress in China was linked to progress for China's rural women.
Women in China are also frustrated by many of same obstacles that face women around the world. Feng Cui, Vice Chair of the China Women's Entrepreneurship Association and a former leader in the All China Women's Federation lamented that while many women entrepreneurs in China have achieved success, "they have difficulty balancing work and family."
At the closing session of the SED, I spoke briefly about the importance of women and development as essential to smart development, smart economics and smart diplomacy. In response to my statement, both Vice Minister Wang Quishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo acknowledged the importance of focusing on women. Vice Minister Wang said that "hunger, women, children and disease are the issues that move people, that touch people's hearts." He also said that women and development need to be on the agenda for the next meeting, and specifically mentioned the challenges confronted by rural women in China. State Councilor Dai added that development can only be successful when women's issues are addressed.