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CARE National Conference: Hillary Clinton

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The highlight of the CARE National Conference was Hillary Clinton's keynote address. It's hard to imagine a more visible or appropriate figure to take the podium for this speech. Introduced by CARE President Helene Gayle as someone who has "established herself as one of the United States' greatest secretaries of state," Secretary Clinton took the stage to a standing ovation from a group of men and women clearly thrilled to be in her presence.

Secretary Clinton is, as Dr. Gayle pointed out, a "trailblazer" in many of the issues being addressed at the CARE Conference. She is the first secretary of state to visit Goma, Congo, a war-torn area in which rape is nothing less than an epidemic. She established the first Office of Global Women's Issues and the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. She is, said Dr. Gayle, "the first secretary of state to integrate gender issues and put girls and women front and center," pointing out that she meets with women's groups on almost every international trip. Quoting a comment made by Clinton 15 years ago that "women's rights are human rights," Dr. Gayle welcomed Clinton to the podium.

With the now ubiquitous orange CARE sticker on her lapel, Secretary Clinton revealed that the respect between her and Dr. Gayle was mutual: the CARE president was one of the first people she reached out to when she became secretary of state. Clinton invited Dr. Gayle to join the administration, but Dr. Gayle demurred, noting, "I care about CARE and am committed to CARE."

In her speech (full video below via CARE), Clinton addressed how women play an important role in the effort to empower partner countries' local and national leaders to "build their own capacity to provide citizens with the essentials like food, water, health care, education, economic opportunity, jobs, credit, responsive, accountable public institutions." Women, she noted, are powerful.

Clinton then turned to her main topic, nutrition. It was a wisely chosen topic, one that dovetails both with CARE's key issues, the President's Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, and a bipartisan bill currently pending in the House and Senate. (The legislation is not without its detractors, mostly surrounding its allowance of genetically modified crops.) "As governments and organizations search for strategic interventions in the fight against poverty," Clinton said, "....nutrition represents a ripe opportunity and one that can be addressed from many different angles." It's also one of key concern to women: in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, women produce 80 percent of the food, but have access to less than 5 percent of the land, credit and support services; in Kenya, more than 60 percent of farmers are women. Plus, when food is scarce, it's women and girls who eat last and least.

In addition to its global security implications, Clinton addressed the ramifications of improper nutrition both in the U.S. and abroad. One-third of children worldwide are under-nourished; 100,000 mothers die every year from causes related to under-nutrition; the effects of under-nutrition linger for generations as girls grow into women and and bear children; in the U.S., over 30 million children receive free or reduced-price school meals, oftentimes their only reliable source of nutrition; under-nutrition costs individuals more than 10 percent of their lifetime earnings; and so on. Clinton concluded, "Whether the primary focus of these programs is agriculture, health, or education, nutrition is the common thread because it's an issue that cuts across every sector."

It's a speech worth watching in its entirety; or, view the full text of the speech here. What did you think of Clinton's speech? Do you support the White House's stance on food security? Are there any other issues you wish Clinton had addressed in the speech? Let me know in the comments. And continue to check back here for more excerpts from the conference, including our day on Capitol Hill meeting with the offices of Sen. Durbin, Sen. Burris, Rep. Bean and Rep. Quigley.

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