WASHINGTON, DC -- Hillary Clinton helped launch a Washington, D.C. think tank's new center focused on Latin American women leaders with a suggestion the U.S. take a cue from its southern neighbors on electing women presidents.
"It may be predictable for me to say this, but there's a lot we can learn from Latin America's success at electing women presidents," said Clinton, who if elected could be the first woman to serve as president of the U.S.
Latin America's election of women presidents - from Isabel Peron of Argentina to Dilma Rousseff in Brazil _ in Latin America has drawn much attention, along with the rise of women to other political offices in a region often stamped with a "machismo" culture.
Clinton's remarks were part of an official launch of a Latin American Women's Leadership initiative by The Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. The council is a think tank focused on international affairs.
Clinton said there have been enormous gains in Latin America since a 1988 visit she made to Montevideo, Uruguay's capital, where she spoke about women's leadership.
Since then, the percentage of women legislators in Latin America has nearly doubled, she said. Girls are now equal to or surpassing their male classmates in educational enrollment and voters have elected women presidents Brazil, Panama, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina and other leaders, she said.
Capricia Penavic Marshall, ambassador-in-residence at the Atlantic Council, said in 2014 there were four women presidents and three women Cabinet ministers in Latin America. Much of their gains has been attributed to quotas instituted through legal and constitutional changes. As a result in some places more than 50 percent of legislators are women, versus roughly 20 percent in each chamber of the U.S. Congress.
Women have long played a "critical" role in advancing human rights in Latin America, such as in Cuba and Venezuela and have argued for justice and health in peace processes, Clinton said.
She called for raising incomes, ending poverty, eliminating gender-based violence, strengthening reproductive rights, ending pay gaps between men and for improvement of the lives of indigenous and "Afro-descendant women" who trail Latin America's averages in almost every indicator.
"Women are leading Latin America's transformation at all levels, as entrepreneurs, doctors, bankers, executives … working to lift their families out of poverty and bring whole economies into the future, sparking innovation and growth," Clinton said.
She argued that the global Gross Domestic Product would grow by nearly 12 percent by 2030 if the global gap in workforce participation were closed.
"Advancing the full participation of girls and women isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing as well," she said.
Clinton called the commitment of the region's support for women's leadership a sign of a deeper alignment in Latin America.
"I believe firmly that no region in the world, no region, is more important to our long-term prosperity and security than Latin America," Clinton said to applause.
Not forgetting that she's on the campaign trail, Clinton used the forum to take a jab at some of her GOP rivals regarding Latin American and Caribbean issues.
"I know there are Americans who only think of Latin America as a land of crime and coups. They're very out of date," she said.
"They want to return to a failed policy on Cuba and cut our ties instead of strengthening them. They talk about deportation and walls, instead of recognizing that America's diversity is our greatest strength and supporting meaningful reform that will keep families together, benefits all of us," she said.
The Republican Party jabbed back: "As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ignored our allies in Latin America, leaving the region vulnerable to brutal dictators, violence, and oppression. Hillary Clinton's actions, or lack thereof, speak louder than words," party spokeswoman Ruth Guerra said in a statement.
Clinton has infused her career and campaign with the themes of a 1995 speech she gave near Beijing on women's rights. This year marks the 20th anniversary of that speech.