Hillary Clinton Faces Test of Record as Women’s Advocate – Welcome to World Woman Foundation

Hillary Clinton Faces Test of Record as Women’s Advocate

MIAMI — It was supposed to be a carefully planned anniversary to mark one of the most important and widely praised moments in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political career — and to remind the country, ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, about her long record as a champion for the rights of women and girls.

Instead, as Mrs. Clinton commemorates her 1995 women’s rights speech in Beijing in back-to-back events in New York, she finds herself under attack for her family foundation’s acceptance of millions of dollars in donations from Middle Eastern countries known for violence against women and for denying them many basic freedoms.

This was not how she intended to reintroduce herself to American voters.

Mrs. Clinton’s glide path to a likely April announcement that she will seek the presidency was built around women’s issues. Advancing women has been her central life’s work, as she and her admirers say proudly; she made it a priority as secretary of state and focused on it as a philanthropist. But that focus also allowed Mrs. Clinton, who played down her gender in 2008, to frame her second attempt at the White House in what could be one way to make it special and new: as a shot at history for her and for all women.

And for someone who has so long been lampooned, and demonized on the right, as overly calculating, playing up her gender as a strength would also allow her to demonstrate her nurturing, maternal — and newly grandmotherly — side to voters whom she may have left cold in the past.

Even her most strident critics could not have predicted that Mrs. Clinton would prove vulnerable on the subject.

But the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei — all of which the State Department has faulted over their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues.

The department’s 2011 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the last such yearly review prepared during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure, tersely faulted the kingdom for “a lack of equal rights for women and children,” and said violence against women, human trafficking and gender discrimination, among other abuses, were all “common” there.

Saudi Arabia has been a particularly generous benefactor to the Clinton Foundation, giving at least $10 million since 2001, according to foundation disclosures. At least $1 million more was donated by Friends of Saudi Arabia, co-founded by a Saudi prince.

Republicans quickly zeroed in on the apparent contradiction. Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief, told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month that Mrs. Clinton “tweets about women’s rights in this country and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights.”

And on Wednesday, the Republican National Committee released a biting video showing President Obama calling political donations from foreign sources “a threat to our democracy” — and Mrs. Clinton smiling next to several Middle East leaders.

On Saturday, Mrs. Clinton’s husband, the former president, felt compelled to defend the foundation’s fund-raising. At an event at the University of Miami, where Mrs. Clinton and the couple’s daughter, Chelsea, discussed “No Ceilings,” the foundation’s project measuring the advancement of women and girls, he defended the charity’s acceptance of foreign donations, pointing to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in particular.

“Do we agree with everything they do? No,” Mr. Clinton said. “You’ve got to decide when you do this work whether it will do more good than harm if someone helps you from another country,” he added.

The “No Ceilings” report, to be unveiled Monday, finds that “there has never been a better time to be born female,” but catalogs a host of problems and obstacles — legal, economic and social — that persist. One section has particular resonance for Mrs. Clinton: “Almost twice as many women hold political office today compared to 20 years ago, but they still are very much a minority,” the report says, adding that “the pace of change in women’s leadership has been far too slow.”

“There’s a lot of unfinished business,” Mrs. Clinton said Saturday of the report’s findings.

A foundation official said no foreign governments had contributed to the “No Ceilings” effort. “Anyone that supports the Clinton Foundation does so knowing we work to empower girls and women around the world,” said Maura Pally, its acting chief executive.

Reports of Mrs. Clinton’s use of only a private email account while she was secretary of state, meanwhile, have cast a new light on efforts by outside groups to obtain access to her correspondence with the Clinton Foundation during her tenure at the State Department — about donations or anything else.

That correspondence, if it exists, would most likely have taken place on Mrs. Clinton’s private email address, putting its accessibility — to journalists, scholars or political adversaries — in doubt. Already, Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, has made 16 appeals under the Freedom of Information Act for State Department correspondence mostly related to Mrs. Clinton and foundation donors.

The donations from countries with poor records on women’s rights, however, presented a difficult appearance problem for a candidate running in part as the embodiment of women’s aspirations to equality.

“It’s a perfect example of the conflict of interest here,” said Richard W. Painter, a White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.

“The United States has at least two issues that are very important with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “One is continuing to fight terrorism, and the second is the rights of women.”

Mrs. Clinton’s ramp-up to a candidacy built around women’s issues continues in New York on Monday, when she and the philanthropist Melinda Gates unveil the “No Ceilings” report. The next day, Mrs. Clinton will be the keynote speaker at a United Nations gathering on women’s empowerment.

Both events explicitly invoke Mrs. Clinton’s forceful speech in Beijing as first lady in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, when she gave a devastating litany of abuse afflicting women around the world and declared: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

The Beijing speech has been a touchstone for Mrs. Clinton since she stepped down as secretary of state in early 2013. But the more she recalls it, the more Republicans seek to diminish it. “She made one statement in Beijing that wasn’t very profound — that women are human beings,” said Bruce Fein, a lawyer and supporter of Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky.

At the State Department, Mrs. Clinton emphasized how empowering women and girls could also enhance economies, national security and the overall progress of a country. She appointed a close aide, Melanne Verveer, as the first United States ambassador at large for global women’s issues.

Some of that work was behind the scenes, however. In her memoir, “Hard Choices,” Mrs. Clinton tells of quietly intervening when Saudi Arabian courts refused a mother’s pleas to block the marriage of her 8-year-old daughter to a 50-year-old man. “Fix this on your own, and I won’t say a word,” she recalled telling the Saudis. A new judge, she wrote, quickly approved the divorce.