NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– Anastasia Somoza, an international disability rights advocate, rolled up in her wheelchair to have a word with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after she addressed a girls and women strategy session of the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 Annual Conference yesterday.
"I’ve known her since I was a little girl," Somoza told Women’s eNews in an interview following her talk with Clinton. "I’m here to ask that disability be made a component of all the CGI programs, just as girls’ and women’s issues have been."
It’s time for the voices of people with disabilities – and their families and caregivers – to be heard, said Somoza, a New Yorker who is completing a master of science degree in human rights this fall at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Disabilities often weigh more heavily on women and girls because they tend to do more of the caregiving, with adverse consequences for them on the job, according to Dennis Felty, president and co-founder of Keystone Human Services, whose community-based programs help individuals and families dealing with autism, intellectual disabilities, brain damage and mental health issues.
With her presidential intentions hanging over the Sept. 22 meeting, men and women in the audience rushed up to Clinton after she addressed the conference to ask questions and pose for pictures.
While keeping silent on whether she is running for president in 2016, the former secretary of state had plenty of other things to say during the session.
The CGI’s annual meeting, which will run through Wednesday at the New York Sheraton, began its focus on girls and women five years ago. Founded by former President Bill Clinton in 2005, it’s known for spurring public and private partnerships to work on ways to protect the environment, help people escape poverty and improve human rights.
Disturbing U.S. Trends
The Clinton Global Initiative may be international, but Clinton flagged plenty of disturbing trends for girls and women within the United States.
"We have a serious problem with women and education in this country," Clinton said, speaking to leaders of nonprofit organizations and corporate executives attending the strategy session on girls and women.
As a highlight of that problem, Clinton noted that uneducated white women are dying earlier than their mothers.
"Uneducated white women whose longevity has decreased, less than their mothers and, in some cases, less than their grandmothers" represent a trend that should be addressed by CGI programs, she said.
White women who drop out of high school are likely to die about five years earlier than their mothers did, according to a study led by S. Jay Olshansky, a professor who conducts research on human longevity at the University of Illinois. The life expectancy of this group dropped to 73 in 2008 from 78 in 1990, according to a 2012 study, which was featured last September in the "She the People" blog by Diana Reese for The Washington Post.
The lack of a high school diploma is often just one side of a fatal triangle that includes poverty and no access to regular medical care – a combination that is killing women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, according to the September 2013 story headlined, "What’s Killing Poor White Women?" by Monica Potts of The American Prospect. The magazine says it covers politics, culture and policy from a liberal perspective.
Crystal Wilson, of Cave City, Ark., was a case in point, Potts wrote. Wilson, a high school dropout and a diabetic who weighed more than 200 pounds, died in May 2012 at age 38.
The female face of poverty in Arkansas is familiar to Clinton, who was the first lady of the state during her husband’s nearly 12 years as governor.
The CGI session on girls and women also touched on maternal and infant health, especially with respect to helping women of color, as well as caregiver and child care issues, female entrepreneurs and increasing women’s legal rights to land ownership in underdeveloped countries.
Clinton pointed out that global conversations about improving the status of women go back to Beijing in 1995, when the Fourth World Conference on Women was held.
"We want to move it forward 20 years," she said, adding that the "No Ceilings" initiative, which she and the Clinton Foundation launched last year to bring together partnerships to work on speeding up the full participation of women and girls in the economy and society globally, still has plenty of work to do.
"I have been in this conversation for decades," Clinton said. "Let’s do what works. If you don’t move into the political arena with these ideas, it’s unlikely that you will get there."
Jan Paschal is a New York City area-based writer who specializes in finance, fashion and women’s rights issues.
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