As we begin a new year, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security also embarks on its 10th anniversary year. Our world is beset by many challenges: from Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and very existence; to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and its trampling of women’s rights; to the existential threat of climate change that is already producing extreme droughts and floods, and resulting in displacement and conflicts. At the same time, we are witnessing the rise in authoritarianism and the diminution of democracy. Women are disproportionately impacted by these and other challenges. However, they are also on the frontlines of change – problem-solving, leading, peacebuilding and pushing back against the forces of disorder and retrenchment.
Ten years ago when the Institute was founded, it was our goal to engage in cutting-edge and impactful research to make the evidence-based case for women’s meaningful participation in conflict prevention and resolution; to mount programs on the critical issues and collaborate with global leaders and policymakers to influence outcomes for peace; to spotlight changemakers around the globe who are advancing progress in the area of women’s participation, peace and security; and to prepare the next generation of leaders – our Georgetown students – to more effectively make their contribution to creating a better world. As we embark on our 10th anniversary of operations, I would like to give you a brief overview of our remarkable achievements and future plans.
Women, Peace and Security Index
This year, we will release the fourth edition of the first-ever Index on Women, Peace and Security (WPS Index), a comprehensive study on the well-being of women across three dimensions: inclusion, justice and security. In the Index, we rank over 170 countries. In countries where women are prospering, nations are more peaceful and resilient. Where women are oppressed and marginalized, nations tend to be destabilized and mired in fragility, and conflict. The well-being of women and the well-being of nations go hand in hand. The Index, a collaboration with the foreign ministry of Norway and the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security, has become an important reference tool for policymakers, media and advocates alike. Our “Bridging Theory and Practice” initiative will convene a group of experts early in 2023 to focus on recommendations for the Index.
Advancing Women, Peace and Security
We will also build on our foundational work to grow progress on women’s participation in peace and security through research and programmatic initiatives. We have been working with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Japan on tackling norms, specifically masculinities, that impede conflict resolution as well as collaborating on advancing the WPS agenda in Japan. We are also partnering with the governments of Spain and Finland on Commitment 2025, an initiative to track and advance progress on the WPS agenda through coordinated leadership involving committed governments. We are excited to launch a new program this year to formally track the evolution of women’s engagement in peace and security efforts from Colombia to Ukraine, thanks to support from the Carnegie Corporation.
Today’s conflicts and attacks on women’s rights encircle the globe, including Ukraine, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, Ethiopia, South Sudan and more. Our efforts in these areas go to the heart of our mission. Through programs and related actions, we have focused on WPS in Ukraine and the voices of women on the frontlines in the war; conflict-related sexual violence in Tigray; standing with women in Iran in their protest against human rights abuses and demand for “women, life and freedom;” and women in Myanmar who are rising up against a military coup that is destroying the nascent democracy. We will be redoubling our efforts to support women in conflict-affected situations.
Onward for Afghan Women
One of our largest programs, “Onward for Afghan Women,” has encompassed efforts to support the evacuation of over 1,200 women’s rights defenders and former prominent government and civil society leaders and their families who were in grave danger under the Taliban. Today we are working to enable them to influence policymakers and continue their work against the great odds in Afghanistan. The Taliban have adopted draconian measures to push women back, depriving women and girls of the right to go to school and universities; forcing them out of their jobs; regulating every aspect of their lives from their dress to their freedom to travel – literally erasing their rights as human beings. Through our network, we are providing a platform to foster constructive dialogue with Afghan women experts and provide recommendations to government leaders; to put a powerful lens on what is occurring in Afghanistan, from the humanitarian crisis to growing assaults on women and girls; and to lead convenings and issue reports on critical challenges. Two Afghan women leaders are serving as distinguished fellows with the Institute. Our ability to play a leading role in support of Afghan women has been made possible by support from the Open Society Foundations, Bank of America, New Venture Fund, and many generous individuals. With our staff expertise on women and Islam, we have also created negotiation tools to enable Muslim women to demonstrate that women’s rights are not inimical to Islam.
Addressing Climate Change
We have expanded our research on climate change and the role of women in adaptation and mitigation. We released important studies on inclusive adaptation and climate action, and on climate, gender and fragility. We have also mounted several seminal programs on women as agents of change in climate and the inclusive transition to renewable energy, and most recently at COP 27 on the role of women in climate security and agriculture. We are planning to significantly grow our engagement on climate, including in the context of the WPS framework and national action plans, thanks to generous foundation and government support.
Women’s Rights Worldwide
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth UN World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing, we produced an in-depth report on the progress that has been made on gender equality and the challenges that remain in closing the gaps in parity. The report, which was a partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, was undertaken with the leadership of former Secretary Hillary Clinton, our honorary founding chair, and a group of former global women leaders, including the late former Secretary Madeleine Albright who was a powerful force in our work. As an outgrowth of the report, a follow-up conversation took place last year to chart ways to advance progress in critical areas, from confronting rising authoritarian pushback to the existential threat of climate change to women’s leadership in peace and security. This year, in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation, we will initiate efforts with global women leaders to support women’s political participation in strengthening democracy as well as the creation of a high-level response network to support women in conflict zones.
The Next Generation
Our work is enhanced by significant numbers of Georgetown students whom we employ on various research and program development projects. They are among the best and the brightest! We also offer a graduate certificate in Gender, Peace and Security, the only one of its kind, to provide interested students with immersion in issues, skills building and experiences that will better equip them to qualify for positions in growing fields, particularly as governments, international bodies and NGOs seek qualified applicants in WPS. Several students have told us that they applied to Georgetown because of the existence of the certificate program. Our staff will be teaching a number of course offerings in 2023.
Our Georgetown Ambassadors for Women, Peace and Security program is flourishing. The ambassadors are a group of committed women leaders dedicated to advancing women’s progress and supporting the work of the Institute. They come from across the US and Europe and engage in our programs. We gathered this past year in Northern Ireland to meet with women peacebuilders past and present who have been instrumental in sustaining the peace there. We also traveled to Paris where we honored the Belarus democracy leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, at the residence of the US Ambassador and met with key leaders in the French government and UNESCO. We also came together on the Hilltop for our annual Hillary Clinton Awards for advancing peace and security, which this year went to HRH The Countess of Wessex of the UK for her leadership in the struggle against sexual violence in conflict, First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, and other Ukrainian women leaders in government and civil society on the frontlines of defending their country. Another of the recipients recently received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts on behalf of safeguarding human rights and addressing crimes against humanity, including sexual violence being used as a tool of war.
Over the past year, the Institute has grown substantially and its range of partners has expanded. Today, we actively collaborate with dozens of governments around the world, multilateral organizations, foundations, and private businesses. At the same time, we aspire to do more, elevating the voices of women leaders in more conflict affected and fragile states globally, expanding research around the WPS agenda, and broadening our teaching to reach more graduates and undergraduates.
I hope this has provided some insight into our efforts. Because of your generous support, the collaboration of many policymakers and advocates around the globe, and exceptional women on the frontlines of change, we have never been stronger or more relevant – and our work has never been more important. On behalf of our hardworking, dedicated and talented staff, thank you for being an invaluable participant in our common cause at this challenging moment in history.
Ever onward in 2023,
Ambassador Melanne Verveer
Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security