The kickoff event of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) and the arrival of its executive director, Amb. Melanne Verveer, brought hundreds of people to the Hilltop. It also attracted attention from the media.
The Georgetown Voice sat down with Verveer to talk about how she sees the Institute fitting into Georgetown.
I think this is an important time for Georgetown. It is an academic institution of international renown. Every place I have traveled, both in my White House years and in my State Department years, I have met countless Georgetown graduates, many of them in our diplomatic corps around the globe. To now have this be a significant part of what Georgetown can contribute to, I think, makes a lot of sense.
Women are often written out of history, yet they have played a very significant role in many of these efforts, and we want to be able to have a center for research and a center for scholarship. We can begin to create that record in a very significant way and bring in top researchers and contribute to the scholarship and exchange that with parties all over the globe; I think it will be a major contribution from Georgetown.
I think, beyond that, we can be a place to spotlight discussions like we’ve had this afternoon on a range of topics, from the role that women play in combating terrorism to specific regional challenges. We can also be a place for international collaboration.
Bloomberg Businessweek spoke with Verveer about her role as the first ever U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women's issues.
As ambassador, Verveer, one of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest confidantes, traveled to more than 60 countries in an effort that shows the growing prominence of women’s issues on the international agenda -- and just how much remains to be done.
Alongside Clinton, whom she’s known for three decades, Verveer has worked to bring visibility and empowerment to women. When Clinton, as first lady, famously declared in Beijing in 1995 that “women’s rights are human rights,” Verveer was by her side as her chief of staff. In her ambassadorial role, Verveer has worked to also elevate women’s issues within U.S. policy making circles.
Asked in an interview about what has been a guiding principle of her women’s advocacy, Verveer cites a 2009 conversation she had with an Afghan woman in Kabul.
“Please don’t see us as victims but as the women leaders we are,” Verveer said she was told at that meeting, which took place soon after President Barack Obama appointed her ambassador-at-large.
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin attended the launch events and provided context for her readers.
Afghan women wonder whether the United States will help them preserve their gains.
In an interview, Verveer said frankly, "To me, Afghanistan is the primary laboratory" for the institute's work.
She said Afghan women tell her, "We have made more progress in 10 years than in the past 50 years." But these women also worry that when the U.S. or Afghans sit "with the enemy, women won't be present, or that deals will be made without their participation. One thing that every Afghan woman I speak to says is, 'Don't push us back.'
"They also say they can't believe the international community and the United States will allow that to happen. On the one hand, they fear; on the other, they hope."
So what can concerned Americans do to help Afghan women continue to progress? [Afghan activist Nargis] Nehan stressed that they should stop thinking of these women as victims.
"We have demonstrated our leadership capacity," she insisted. So offering further training to proven women leaders will help them advance their cause. "We need a long-term commitment for education and support from the international community," she insisted. "Without that, it will be very difficult to sustain our gains."