Over the years I have often been asked, “Who are your role models?”. Unhesitatingly I have always responded with: my mother and Secretary Hillary R. Clinton.
I choose my mother for her calm, perseverance and ability to find a solution even in the worst moments. Secretary Clinton resonates with me for her inspirational leadership and her willingness to use her position to speak out.
Last June, I was at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in San Francisco and sitting on a bus next to a young Pakistani entrepreneur. As usual, the conversation veered towards the United States election and I told her how much I wanted Secretary Clinton to become President. She responded that she didn’t quite like her and didn’t really think she was worthy.
I explained to her that Secretary Clinton had done so much for the cause for women and girls when she used her position as First Lady to announce “Human Rights are Women’s Rights and Women’s Rights are Human Rights” on 5 September 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.
That one action, despite attempts by the U.S. Government and the Chinese Government to water down her statement, actually amplified the efforts to increase gender equality and fast track efforts to ensure the same.
So when I heard last October that I would be honoured and receive an award this year at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Summit at their 20th anniversary celebrations, I secretly harboured a wish to meet Secretary Clinton in person. Vital Voices was an organisation she started when she was First Lady and its mission is to further the opportunities for women around the world, including economic empowerment, political participation and eradication of violence against women and girls and harmful traditional practices.
I followed her presidential campaign from a far but with very keen interest. I could not understand why she was facing such a great backlash despite being extremely qualified. I even wrote my thoughts about it in an article. I knew if she became President, there was very little possibility of her being present at the Vital Voices Award ceremony despite it being their landmark anniversary. But I didn’t want her to be there, simply because I wanted her in the White House.
However, fate and history proved otherwise. Just before I could leave India for the United States, I received news that Secretary Clinton had confirmed her presence at the Awards ceremony. It was going to be one of her first major official events post giving her concession speech. I was thrilled, ecstatic even, truth be told. After a long period of silence from her end, I would not only get to see her but meet her, talk to her and hear from her. I could not wait. My excitement just kept increasing.
In fact, during my speech practice, the coach asked me to visualise my hero and imagine I was talking to her. I told him that I didn’t have to imagine as she was going to be there. I was just worried that I would be tongue tied when I finally met her and forget what I wanted to say.
So finally it was the awards night at the prestigious Kennedy Centre, and I was totally high-strung from excitement. There was secret service all around not just for Secretary Clinton’s presence but also because the Queen of Jordan was one of the other honorees. I was ushered backstage to have a private meeting with Secretary Clinton. She was talking to the Queen of Jordan. She was wearing red, symbolic of the call to action colour for Women’s Protest on 8th March. She looked beautiful, relaxed, glowing, calm and charismatic. As I watched her talk with the Queen, I wondered how her people could have let her down.
Before I realised it, it was my turn to meet with her. She welcomed me warmly, I thanked her for her work and she in turn thanked me for mine and encouraged me to keep at it as it was up to us now to take the fight forward. I even managed to hug her and through it all, I felt solidarity and comfort.
At the end of the awards, Vital Voices put together a special tribute to her. Ten women from around the world thanked Hillary for the work she had done and the inspiration she provided.
Secretary Clinton then went on to give a speech which truly touched everyone’s hearts. It was so positive and filled with hope. She asked everyone to stay focused, we had a lot of work to get done and that society benefits when women and girls are educated, have access to capital and credit, participate in the economy and politics.
Watching my hero from the sidelines, I saw the strength and resilience in her face and voice. If she could overcome the most humiliating defeat of her lifetime and still rise from the ashes, then anything is possible. It was a moment to be treasured and I will never forget it.