Women Leaders Come to Washington

A police captain from Sudan, a mayor from Iraq, and a state prosecutor from Ecuador—all women—were three of the nearly 90 other women leaders from around the world whom the U.S. State department brought to Washington, DC in late 2018.

These diverse women were participants in an International Visitors Leadership Program on women, peace and security organized by the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.

The program was a welcome signal of the State Department’s continued commitment to the empowerment of women across the globe—especially in countries affected by war, violence, and insecurity.

The International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) was launched in 1940 to build mutual understanding between the US and other nations and to support emerging foreign leaders. Each year, over 4,500 men and women are selected by American embassies globally to partake in IVLP programs in the US on topics ranging from entrepreneurship to marine management.

The program in October 2018 was unique. It involved only women leaders, included several other conferences and trainings on women, peace and security, and encompassed travel to several cities around the United States.

At the end of their travels, the impressive group of women participated in a workshop led by GIWPS Distinguished Fellow Carla Koppell on operationalizing WPS policy. Her training touched on advanced advocacy skills, coalition-building, and included a case study on women’s activism in Liberia.

One goal of the IVLP, according to Koppell, was to highlight and explore women’s participation in the US political system at all levels. During Koppell’s workshop, an IVLP participant recounted an inspiring ‘light bulb’ moment while meeting with an American elected official who was one of the first women of color to assume her position in local office; the elected official commented that she realized that the local government would only truly represent her when women of color stepped forward for office. The IVLP participant said the meeting changed her perspective:  She realized that in order to effect change for women like herself, she needed to personally contribute to making the elective body in her own community look like her as well.

This IVLP session on women, peace and security supports the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, promulgated in 2011, and the bipartisan WPS Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump. The last IVLP session focused on women, peace, and security (WPS) occurred in 2014.

As Koppell said, the program is “living proof that women are becoming stronger advocates [for their rights] each day around the world.” The State Department has a significant role to play in supporting their efforts—and in signaling to the world that American leadership continues to believe women peacebuilders and leaders are critical to realizing a more stable, peaceful, and just world.

Last year’s program is significant in light of new research from Oxfam, which shows that reporting on women’s rights in official State Department human rights documents has declined 32 percent under the Trump Administration. Given these trends, the IVLP convening is a hopeful indication that the State Department continues to recognize the important role women play in addressing conflict.

We fervently hope that there will be more frequent convenings of women leaders in peace and security moving forward.

It is one important way to advance peace and security worldwide.


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