Clinton gives hope to Congolese women's rights activists

Hillary Clinton, Goma, DRC, Aug. 11, 2009 | ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images 

The only thing many Americans might remember about Secretary Clinton's Africa trip was her outburst at a Congolese student who asked her a sexist question, but women's rights activists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remember something far more important: Clinton's sincere concern for women.

The secretary of state boldly defied security advice and flew to Goma, the epicenter of the region where rape has been used as a weapon of war. As the first high-level U.S. official there, she wasn't lecturing; she was listening. Tears welled up in her eyes as women told her their horrific stories, like that of the woman who was raped while pregnant and lost her baby. "Clinton was so warm and compassionate, activists said, they felt they could almost call her Hillary," the Los Angeles Times reported.

For the first time in a decade, I have hope again," [a prominent Congolese women's rights activist told the L.A. Times]. "The message I gave her first of all, as a woman, not as secretary of state, is that a woman can feel the pain all these women feel.

"I had another image of Mrs. Clinton" before meeting her, [the activist] said, "and I have really discovered a woman with a big heart. I saw in her eyes many times tears. I know she was deeply moved."

That personal concern is a good thing for Congolese women. John Prendergast, a founder of the anti-genocide group the Enough Project and an Africa analyst during the Bill Clinton administration, told the L.A. Times:

When an issue becomes specific and personal to a Cabinet member, it has a better chance of getting the kind of personal attention needed to push through the initiatives that can make a difference. … I think she's now personally invested in having some kind of solution in Congo.

"She's stated her desire is to have an end to the conflict. … She separated herself from the usual high-level visitors [to Congo] by saying we are [going] to deal with it."

This is definitely one area where having a woman as secretary of state can truly make a difference.

Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images