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A Q&A with Inaugural Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues

Melanne VerveerMelanne Verveer, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, will speak at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 16, in the Lilly Family Gallery of Chambers Building on the Davidson College Campus. The event, part of the Bank of America Lecture Series of Davidson's Dean Rusk International Studies Program, is free and open to the public.

President Obama nominated Verveer to the post of ambassador-at-large in 2009. In her role, she worked closely with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to coordinate foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women, traveling to 60 countries.

Verveer made strides to mobilize concrete support for women's political and economic empowerment through public-private partnerships, as well as toward more fully integrating women's participation and rights into U.S. foreign policy.

President Obama also appointed Verveer to serve as U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Today she is the director of Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, and co-author of the forthcoming book, Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose.

In advance of her talk, Verveer offered her thoughts on how governments and individuals can advance global women's rights issues:

Q: Why should U.S. foreign policy address women's issues around the globe?
A: No country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. We can no longer relegate this global economic, social and political imperative simply to the category of "women's concerns." We cannot possibly solve the challenges the world confronts-whether having to do with peace and security, the economy, the environment and so much more-without the participation of women. Today we have an evidenced-based case built on a plethora of research and data that shows this is both the right thing to do and the smart thing. As the President's national security strategy noted, "experience shows that countries are more peaceful and prosperous where women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity." Moreover, the oppression of women and the denial of their rights and the instability of nations goes hand-in-hand.

Q: As the United States' (the world's?) inaugural U.N. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, what challenges did you face at home and abroad?
A: As a diplomat, my mission was to focus on relations with other nations and peoples. My most important challenge was to ensure that these issues are integrated into all aspects of U.S. foreign policy-in regional operations, human rights, conflict and stabilization, economic statecraft, etc. When we take women's perspectives and participation into consideration, we are that much more effective in achieving our overall goals.

Q: What are the most pressing global women's rights issues to be addressed to raise the quality of life for women, and to allow them to fully participate in society?
A: Women's full participation in the economic life of their countries, whether in the workplace or as entrepreneurs; their engagement in the area of peace and security (from prevention to post-conflict reconstruction); combating violence against women in all its forms (this is a global scourge); ensuring the right to an education and access to health care; full participation in political decision making; and ensuring legal rights. Gender equality and women's empowerment encapsulate these and related issues.

Q: These are global issues affecting millions of people—who are the players that must come together to make change?
A: Change comes from the top and the bottom-the grassroots. Public policy and government decisions play a pivotal role. So do the actions of leaders in business and other fields that impact women's progress. Action at the bottom-where people lead their lives-is also critical. Often deeply entrenched practices cannot change without the collective action of communities and the engagement of men and women. Change also comes through greater collaboration-when civil society, government and the private sector work together to create solutions to critical challenges.

Q: How can private citizens affect change?
A: Everyone can do something. Everyone can find his/her purpose. In fact, this is how we have always created change. So many young people today are addressing needs in their communities and working to make a difference in faraway places. There are so many NGO's one can join. It's all about being motivated and connecting with others. I have co-authored a book that will be released in a few weeks called Fast Forward. It consists of interviews with women who are making a difference, and many are young women who see a problem and work to address it. They are private citizens who are working to fast-forward progress for women and girls around the world.