Women's rights 'unfinished business'

Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state and possible candidate to become America's first female president, called women's rights on Friday the "unfinished business of the 21st century."

Clinton, whose current spree of public appearances is feeding speculation about a potential 2016 White House run, got standing ovation after ovation from the mostly female audience at the Women in the World conference in New York.

But the wife of former president Bill Clinton gave no hints about her own ambitions, instead devoting her speech to what she called "the great unfinished business of the 21st century: the advancing of rights of women and girls."

"Too many women are treated, at best, as second class citizens; at worst as some kind of subhuman species," she said.

Clinton cited local outrage over the shooting of a Pakistani teenage girl by the Taliban and the gang rape of an Indian woman as evidence of a potential sea change in which social media tools have greatly empowered activists.

"We are meeting at a remarkable moment of confluence," she said.

"There is a powerful new current of grassroots activism stirring, galvanized by events too outrageous to ignore and enabled by new technology that give women and girls voices like never before."

"We need to seize this moment," she said.

Clinton said the need to expand women's education, healthcare access and employment opportunities wasn't just "a nice thing to do," but an integral part of building more stable, prosperous societies in troubled, male-dominated parts of the world like Pakistan.

"Laws and traditions that hold back women, hold back entire societies," she said.

However, Clinton also turned her sights on her own country, noting that women's life expectancy has shrunk in the United States, as has participation by girls in school science.

"On average, women live shorter lives in America than any other major industrialized country.

"Think about that: we are the richest, most powerful country in the world, but many women in America are living shorter lives than their mothers," she said. "The clock is turning back."

Concerning the possibility that she might try to break the ultimate glass ceiling when President Barack Obama finishes his second term, Clinton did not even drop a clue.

"I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead," was all she told the rapt crowd in the packed 2,586-seat David H. Koch Theater in Manhattan's Lincoln Center.

Many in the audience clearly wanted more. It only took Clinton's entry on stage in a bright pink jacket to get fans -- including several in the press gallery -- up on their feet, cheering with cellphone cameras held aloft.

Conference host Tina Brown, the editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, lavished praise on Clinton in her introduction, then asked teasingly: "Of course, the big question about Hillary is, 'what's next?'"

The only answer was yet another big cheer from the theater.

And if any more proof was needed of the Clinton brand's clout, the panel convening immediately after Hillary Clinton departed provided it: daughter Chelsea Clinton was the moderator.