During an address to the “Vital Voices: Women in Democracy” forum held in Vienna, United States First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton urged female leaders in former communist countries to work hard for women’s rights. Clinton addressed over 1,000 prominent women leaders, representing 19 post-communist Eastern European countries, at the conference and urged them to banish poverty and prejudice. Clinton emphasized, as she has throughout her world travels, that government must treat women’s rights as integral to local, state and global economies as well as basic human rights. During international speeches, Clinton often notes that although women comprise half the world’s population, they comprise seventy percent of the world’s poor and approximately sixty-six percent of those who cannot read or write. In war zones, she notes, women and children are over ninety percent of the refugees. At the forum, Clinton also announced a $3 million U.S. grant to promote micro-credit and similar pilot programs designed to improve the status of women in the former Soviet Bloc. Vesna Pesic, a leader in Serbia” opposition democracy, commented on Clinton’s advocacy for women’s rights, “She’s not just a first lady, she’s a politician with a tough, persuasive voice. She seems very committed to her views, and I think people like her sense of conviction.”
According to statistics made available at the conference, women earn as low as forty percent of men’s wages for the same work in the former Soviet Bloc; Ukrainian women represent seventy percent of that country’s unemployed; Belarus professional women must look three times as long as male counterparts for work. The problems facing women in Eastern Europe have increased dramatically since the fall of communism. Many women no longer receive child-care or support from pension programs. And, unemployment throughout the region has increased dramatically.