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Hillary Clinton urges women to step up

Private citizen Hillary Rodham Clinton was at Bryn Mawr College on Tuesday to talk to women from around the world about more of them taking leadership roles in their countries. But the closest she got to discussing her own aspirations - whether she will run again for the presidency in 2016 - was a joking allusion.

At Bryn Mawr College, Hillary Clinton speaks at an international women's conference on July 9, 2013.   Here, she shakes the hand of Marayah LWM Fineah of Liberia.  ( APRIL SAUL / Staff )
At Bryn Mawr College, Hillary Clinton speaks at an international women's conference on July 9, 2013. Here, she shakes the hand of Marayah LWM Fineah of Liberia. ( APRIL SAUL / Staff )Read more

Private citizen Hillary Rodham Clinton was at Bryn Mawr College on Tuesday to talk to women from around the world about more of them taking leadership roles in their countries. But the closest she got to discussing her own aspirations - whether she will run again for the presidency in 2016 - was a joking allusion.

"I want to see more women as head of government," she said. "I always get in trouble when I say that."

Clinton spoke at the Women in Public Service Project's Institute 2013: Peacebuilding and Development. It began Sunday and runs through July 19. The 350 people in the audience, including 46 institute delegates from 35 nations, stood, applauded, and cheered - with students throwing in the college cheer in ancient Greek, since this is Bryn Mawr - when college president Kim Cassidy introduced her.

"It's great to see all this sisterly affection so close to the City of Brotherly Love," Clinton said.

She launched the project in 2011 when she was secretary of state, building on her work as first lady and as a U.S. senator promoting women's and girls' rights globally.

"I may have left the State Department, where we were privileged to begin this program, but I am absolutely committed to the cause," Clinton said.

The institute is a two-week program for emerging women leaders in countries ravaged by wars past or present. The slogan "50 by 50" describes its goal: to have 50 percent of all public-service positions globally held by women in 2050.

Women hold less than 21 percent of all seats in parliaments and legislatures, Clinton said.

"The message of empowering women in government is spreading around the world," she said.

Even though technology could have allowed them to meet through the Internet and on Skype, she said she had learned the importance of person-to-person contact. That's the best way to get more girls in school and more women in decision-making positions, and to end the dangers that girls and women face in countries at war, she said.

Looking at the delegates from nations including Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Kosovo, Clinton said, "It's important that we look at how daunting the challenges are, but how great the opportunities are to address them as well."

She said progress for women needed to be based on evidence, not just good intentions. Some studies show the benefits of female participation in governance.

"If women participate in their economies, the economy grows," she said.

Clinton's comments sounded as though they could have been part of a campaign speech. But she focused on the women in front of her, and after greeting some of them, quickly left the wood-paneled hall.

With Clinton's quick exit, former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, who now leads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a cosponsor of the institute, was left to give her thoughts on whether the woman who ran against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 might run again. Clinton had not tipped her hand to Harman.

"Only she knows," Harman said in an interview. "But she is an electric force for the aspirations for true women's equality."