Chelsea Clinton champions youth engagement and women’s rights

Chelsea Clinton leads a plenary discussion at CGI.
Chelsea Clinton leads a plenary discussion at CGI 2013.
CGI

(New York) – Chelsea Clinton recognizes that being the daughter of a former US President and former Secretary State pushes her onto the American political stage.

It is an opportunity rather than a burden for Clinton. In a conversation with a small group of bloggers on the Sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative last week, she described her interest in women’s rights, national service and youth engagement.

CGI used to host a separate track for women and girls. The idea was to raise the issues concerning the group, but the foundation came to realize that it was not a separate issue. Rather, women and girls are a part of all aspects of development.

“All of our work must have implications for girls and women and for the gender gap,” she said.

The organization now advises its members to consider how they are going to reach women and girls, as well as other marginalized groups, when developing their pledges. The change is working, she said. Nearly two-thirds of all commitments this year included women and girls in their plans. That is up from half last year.

It is also reflected in the work done by the Clinton Foundation itself. The Clinton Health Access Initiative is an implementation arm where Clinton is a board member.

“I certainly feel a responsibility to ensure that we realize all our work has implications for girls and women,” she said.

Chelsea listens to a reporter ask a question.She says that gender equity is a vital part in improving societies, but recognizes that there are different priorities for an issue like female genital cutting as opposed to inheritance laws. Like her mother argued the day before, Chelsea made it clear that the approach must be evidence based. The foundation wants to focus on interventions that are proven to work.The most effective way to do so is to start when children are young. She cited  Finland and Sweden as countries where gender equity is baked into education starting at pre-school. As the children get older the ambitions of the two groups remained the same.“Role models really matter. It’s hard to imagine yourself as something you don’t see,” she said citing actress and activist Geena Davis as an example. “We need a really awesome female astronaut superhero.”Media is vital to changing this, she said. Research led by Davis into the representation and inclusion of women in television and film reveals a staggering disparity that nears invisibility. Working with partners in the media industry to engage young people.Bringing it back to the classroom, Clinton described how schools are failing young people by not providing them with basic civic education. She described the story of a young person telling her how great it was that gay rights were enshrined after President Obama reversed his position on gay marriage. The new common core curriculum that will be implemented in schools across the US does not include a civics component. The lack of understanding of the basics of our political system is problematic.Geena Davis at CGI.
CGI

“We need young people to engage. To show up and vote. To understand what they are voting for when they do vote,” she argued.

When asked on challenge faced by young people who are saddled with high college debt, Clinton pushed back saying that young people need to act to make change. They need to know the proposed solutions, who is working on the issue and fend off a cynical view of government.

The elderly, an increasing part of the US population, gets out there and votes. That is why medicare remains as it is, she says. It is the young people who need to fix the problem.

“If we want the student loan and the student debt conundrum to change, young people need to show up and vote,” she said.

While not discussed, there are speculations that Clinton is making her way into the political sphere that her parents have come to succeed. She has deflected questions about her political ambitions, but the US may get a taste of what could be next year. Clinton used a question about service and engagement as an opportunity to talk about AmeriCorps, a signature creation by her father when he was President in 1994. The national service organization will be 20 years old next year and Chelsea wants more funding and support for the program.

Meanwhile, she continues to participate more visibly in the Clinton Foundation’s work. The press briefing provided in advance of the conversation shows a sudden increase in international trips and events over the past two years. She appeared on stage at last year’s CGI, but was more of a family representative than an active leader for the event. That changed this year with conversations like this one and leading one of the plenary sessions. As the Clinton Foundation draws some rather unflattering attention in recent months, Chelsea is stepping forward and may just indicate where it is headed.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.