WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton stepped out of the shadows tonight at an award ceremony held to recognize leaders from around the world who worked to improve the plight of women and featuring such guests as Nicholas Kristof and Vice President Joe Biden.
The event, Vital Voices' Global Leadership Awards, was the former secretary of state's second public appearances since she left her post at the end of January.
Clinton founded the original Vital Voices Democracy Initiative as first lady in 1997 with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and has attended 11 of 12 such award ceremonies - every year except 2012 when she was traveling.
She reflected on her time as first lady, fighting for women's rights with former Chief of Staff Melanne Verveer by her side against problems that are far from over. She said today a map of the world shows "too many countries where women still face violence and abuse, too many political systems that treat women like second class or even worse.
"But that's not all the map shows. It's not what Melanne and I see," Clinton said. "When we look at the map we do see progress, because we know people who are making that progress against the most extraordinary odds every day, everywhere. We see the opportunities that are there to be seized. We see, we hear those vital voices."
Though some have speculated the high-profile Democrat could go head-to-head with Biden in a future primary election, Clinton said she was "delighted" that the vice president could be at the ceremony this year.
"Vice President Biden and I have worked together on so many important issues," she said. "One that is particularly close to his heart is the fight against domestic violence, and I know what a personal victory it was for him to see the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized last month."
Biden presented an award to the event's only male honorees, three brothers who run an NGO standing up for victims of human trafficking in India.
Before introducing the Kant brothers - Ravi, Nishi and Rishi - Biden declared that the U.S. government has an obligation to stand up for equal rights for women around the globe.
"In the end we know this is more than just policies and legislation," the vice president said. "We have to change fundamental norms and we have to let women around the world know that they aren't standing alone, that they don't have to accept their circumstances, because we won't accept it either."
Biden denounced practices like forced child marriage and sexual violence that occur around the world, calling them "barbaric." In Egypt, he said, we have a responsibility to support efforts to stop mistreatment of women.
"In each of these cases we have an obligation to act not just because we have a moral obligation, which should be self-evident to every human being, but because it's in all of our interests," Biden said. "Because again to quote my little sister, 'Peace, justice and equality can never be achieved when we use only half the brain power in the world.'"
Though neither Biden nor Clinton dropped any hints about future ambitions, a group of about 30 people gathered outside the Kennedy Center to urge Clinton to run for president in 2016.
The supporters and former campaign volunteers held signs imprinted with "Ready for Hillary," and some homemade signs reading things like "Power to the Pantsuit 2016," and "Hell Yea Hillary." They waved and shouted "2016 Hillary" as cars honked pulling into the Clinton event at the Kennedy Center this evening.
"It's going to happen, it's going to happen," Ray Anderson of Arlington, Va., said, "I think she'll run - she's got to save the country, right?"
The rally was organized by Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that launched recently and declared itself set to go should Clinton decide to run in the 2016 presidential campaign. Word was put out on local college campuses, Facebook as well as the super Pac's new website.
Supporters said they came out tonight to give Clinton the "little extra push" as she is making her decision whether to run.
"I am 99 percent sure, but that's why we're here - to make it 100 percent," McKayla Masen of Massachusetts answered, when asked whether she thinks Clinton will throw her hat into the ring. "It lets her know that people are supporting her."
Supporters out tonight predicted that if Clinton runs, in their opinion, she will win the White House.
"She's unbeatable," Jazmin Gargoum of D.C. declared.
Allida Black, chair of Ready for Hillary, is a professor at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs and a long-time Hillary supporter. She said she believes "very, very strongly" that if ("when," according to Black) Clinton jumps in the ring, it is her job to have a base of eager supporters ready and waiting.
"Hillary is such a leader. I mean it's in her DNA she can't get rid of it," Black said. "The issues of my lifetime are the issues that she has spent her lifetime addressing, and one of the things that those of us who formed this organization believe is that she has the stamina, the wisdom, the shrewdness, the toughness and the hugest heart that this job requires."
Clinton's next speaking engagement is just days away. On Friday she is scheduled to address the Daily Beast's Women in the World Summit in New York.
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