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Hillary Clinton was told women couldn't be astronauts. So she took on gender equality instead

/ Feb 04, 2013 7:52AM / Print / ()

Outgoing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to State Department employees on February 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. Clinton bid a final farewell to her staff Friday, but her last day was marred by a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the US embassy in Ankara. Image: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

After four years, 112 countries and three decades of public service, Hillary Clinton took her victory lap over the weekend, officially resigning as the 67th US Secretary of State.

In one of her final acts in the job, she stood by as President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum ensuring Melanne Verveer's position in the State Department as ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues will now be a permanent post. It's a significant step for women's global rights, and one that has been a signature issue during Clinton's years in the political arena.

The woman once considered a polarising figure in US politics leaves her post with a 69% approval ratings, having worked exhaustingly to take steps integrating the global engagement of women's issues as part of US diplomacy.

Below, we feature some of our favourite moments that have come to define Clinton's career so far. 

Hillary, the astronaut: As a young girl, Clinton wrote to NASA asking how she might become an astronaut. NASA wrote back, telling her that no women would become astronaut. NASA sent their first woman in to space in 1983 and Hillary found another way to take on the patriachy.

Setting her agenda: In September 1995, Clinton, then US first lady, went to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and delivered a watershed speech on women's rights. Speaking of the abuse of women in China she declared: "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." 

Hillary the baker: As First Lady, Clinton received her own exorbitant level of scrutiny. Famously remarking that she "could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" instead of working at a high-powered law firm, Clinton subsequently bore the brunt of an extreme backlash after offending cookie bakers and stay at home mum's. Her most memorable moment, however, came when she continued to stand by her husband as his presidency was nearly consumed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She accused opponents of a “vast Right-wing conspiracy” as they tried to impeach him and watched her own approval ratings climb as a result of the scandal.

Hillary elected as Senator: Officially starting her political career, Clinton became the first First Lady ever elected to public office. She quickly became a dominant player in the Senate, gaining respect from both sides of politics. She easily won a second term in 2006 and in 2007 she delivered the news her supporters had been waiting for: she was running for president. She entered the Democratic primary as the overwhelming favourite but went down at the hands of Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

Hillary down (but not out): After waging a divisive campaign during the Democratic primary, Clinton conceded defeat at the National Building Museum in Washington in June 2008 and endorsed Obama for president. In reference to her popular-vote count in the Democratic race, she said: "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."

SNL does Hillary: Appearing in a skit titled 'A non-partisan message from Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton", Amy Poehler and Tina Fey playing the roles of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, took issue with the sexism that had permeated the 2008 presidential race, which for the first time had featured the strong presence of female leaders. 

Finding Osama Bin Laden: In one of the most notable moments during her time in Obama's cabinet, Clinton pictured above with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and members of the President's national security team, waited out the tense moments during the May 2011 Pakistan raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Asked why she had her hand over her mouth, Clinton answered: "Those were 38 of the most intense minutes. I have no idea what any of us were looking at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken. I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs. So it may have no great meaning whatsoever."

The Marie Claire moment: After former Clinton staffer Anne-Marie Slaughter famously unleashed the rounds of a work/life debate in her piece for The Atlantic titled 'Why women still can't have it all' in August 2012, Clinton responded with a verbal eyeroll, declaring "I can't stand whining". "I can't stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they're not happy with the choices they've made. You live in a time when there are endless choices ... Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don't even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself ... Do something!"

Hillary, the meme: In October 2011 Clinton was photographed checking her phone while wearing sunglasses aboard a military plane. The shot inspired theTumblr site Texts from Hillary Clinton. Hillary invoked the love of the internet by posting her own response meme.

A global business case for women: In her 2011 speech for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation's Women and the Economy Summit, Clinton called women a "vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come." "When it comes to the enormous challenge of our time -- to systematically and relentlessly pursue more economic opportunity in our lands -- we don't have a person to waste and we certainly don't have a gender to waste," Clinton said. She went on to urge policymakers to take steps to "successfully eliminate barriers and bring women into all our economic sectors."

Committed to "the cause of my life": In her final 'Townterview', Clinton conceded that politics was still a tough front for women. "First, although it is better than it was, having been in and around politics for many years now, there is still a double standard," she said. "And it is a double standard that exists from, you know, the trivial, like what you wear, to the incredibly serious, like women can't vote, women can't run for office, women are not supposed to be in the public sphere."

The jury is in: In her farewell address to the Council on Foreign Relations on January 31 Clinton highlighted her ongoing quest in achieving global equality for women - an effort she called the "unfinished business of the 21st century." "The jury is in. The evidence is absolutely indisputable: If women and girls everywhere were treated as equal to men in rights, dignity, and opportunity, we would see political and economic progress everywhere," Clinton said.

The end of her reign? Clinton leaves the State Departmen with an undeclared next act, but many still hope she will run in the 2016 presidential election. In her final one-on-one interview with AP since resigning she said she has made no concrete plans to run for presidency. "I am making no decisions, but I would never give that advice to someone that I wouldn't take myself," she said. "If you believe you can make a difference, not just in politics, in public service, in advocacy around all these important issues, then you have to be prepared to accept that you are not going to get 100 percent approval."

Asked if she still thought she could make a difference, she replied, "Absolutely". 

"I have deliberately cabined it off," she said. "I am going to be Secretary of State until the very last minute when I walk out the door. And then I am going to take the weekend off and then I may start thinking about all the various offers and requests and ideas that have come my way. "I have made no decisions and I just can't until I have time to think it through and see how I am going to put it all together. I will certainly write something. I will certainly speak. Those are givens, but the rest of it I don't have in mind. And I hope through my writing and speaking to continue making a difference as well."

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