Commentary: Women's rights must be a focus for U.S.

During her trip to Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to combine her job as a diplomat with her long-time advocacy on behalf of women. In between the speeches and formal ceremonies, the secretary took great pains to put the plight of women front and center, just as she promised to do during her confirmation hearing.

That focus is important because for all the advances women have made in the last 40 years, they remain the victims of repression, violence and enslavement in many cultures.

And yet, too much emphasis in the media focused on Secretary Clinton's sharp response to a mistranslated question that made it seem the questioner was asking what her husband's views were. She testily responded that Mr. Clinton isn't the secretary of state. In truth the questioner was asking for President Obama's views, but something got lost in translation.

This minor incident got more air time and ink than did Ms. Clinton's accomplishments during her trip. Some observers complained that she didn't break new ground diplomatically. But simply by going to Africa in a follow-up to Mr. Obama's earlier visit to Ghana and touching down in seven countries, Ms. Clinton let its people know that the continent is important to the United States. She emphasized good governance and criticized rampant corruption, as did the president while in Ghana.

But Ms. Clinton did something just as important by drawing attention to the plight of African women. She ventured to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a region of brutal conflict for more than 10 years. She visited a displaced-persons camp there and talked to women who have been raped, victims of an especially cruel war strategy that turns them into pariahs in their communities.

The politically motivated rapes are an assault on the social order, meant to destroy the heart of families by disgracing daughters, sisters, mothers. Ms. Clinton promised to deliver $17 million to help victims of this sexual violence and, commendably, to continue funding AIDS programs and the Millenium Challenge development grants begun by the Bush administration when Colin Powell was secretary of state.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.