Every global movement has its watershed event, but few are as little-known as the 1995 Beijing Conference. Widely considered the major turning point for the women’s rights movement, the conference marked the first mass gathering in history to address women’s issues on a global scale. Over 47,000 women and men hailing from nearly every country in the world descended upon Beijing and a suburb, Huairou, for two galvanizing weeks to address major inequalities women face, such as genital mutilation, arranged marriage, honor killings and unequal pay. At the time, the UN regarded these issues as “women’s issues.”
The goal of Beijing was to render them human rights violations — and to work toward collectively eliminating them.
A new documentary by Dyllan McGee and Michael Epstein, “MAKERS: Once and For All,” brings to life the suspenseful moments that culminated in the UN’s Beijing Declaration, a landmark document that changed the course of women’s rights. The film features extensive footage of Hillary Clinton, who attended the conference in a move that proved controversial at the time but was ultimately critical to Beijing’s sociopolitical success.
In her opening speech at the 1995 conference, Clinton said, “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
At the premiere of “Once and for All” at DOC NYC’s closing night, Clinton took to the stage once again to speak about the documentary and the influence of Beijing on the current state of women’s rights.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am not only to be here, but that this extraordinary film has been made,” Clinton said. “When I went to Beijing as part of the U.S. delegation, it was, to say the least, controversial. There were a lot of challenges about whether [the U.S.] should go, and if we did go, whether I should go. I felt very passionately that the U.S. needed to be represented, and I personally wanted to push the envelope on women’s rights as far as I could.”
The former Secretary of State expressed reverence for the way in which McGee and Epstein handled the material. “When Dyllan took on this project, I had no idea what she would find,” she said. “You will see footage in this film that no one’s ever seen. I don’t know where she got it! You will get a sense of both the excitement and anxieties that surrounded the challenges in Beijing, the incredible resolve and commitment that comes through on the faces of the women.”
Clinton emphasized the conference’s role in “laying a blueprint for action” in women’s rights worldwide, but she was quick to admit that women have not yet achieved full equality.
“We’ve made progress,” Clinton said. “Globally, the gender gap in education has virtually closed. The rate of maternal mortality has been cut in half. There are more laws on the books prohibiting discrimination and violence against women than ever before. But there is still a lot to do here at home and around the world. I hope this documentary will help you think about doing your part. Let’s keep making history together!”