Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is stepping off the fast track this year, and, though it has not been well-publicized (yet), her turn as Secretary of State may well be regarded as one of the most important periods for women the world has ever known.
One of the first actions Secretary Clinton took as Secretary of State was to create the position of United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. Melanne Verveer was appointed as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women's Issues on April 6, 2009, by President Barack Obama. The office was set up to ensure that women's issues are fully integrated in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Ambassador Verveer works with governments around the world, including those in the Middle East, to ensure that women's rights are a priority. The Office of Global Women's Issues also promotes stability, peace and development by empowering women politically, socially and economically, through public and private partnerships.
As just one recent example, Melanne's team recently brought together the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, ExxonMobil Foundation, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Kauffman FastTrac, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Vital Voices, Walmart Foundation, and WEConnect International to promote women-owned small and medium-sized businesses in the Americas.
Ambassador Verveer is also at the forefront of empowering women in Afghanistan. She and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have signed a letter urging President Obama and President Karzai to enact an eight-point plan to protect Afghan women. Verveer works tirelessly to connect women's rights champions in Afghanistan with policymakers, NGOs and philanthropists who are committed to making sure that the Afghanistan does not return to the dark rule of the Taliban, as the U.S. military presence in the country draws down.
Secretary of State Clinton put women at the heart of the efforts of the State Department because she was sure that doing so would yield the greatest returns for U.S. national security. According to Secretary Clinton, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2009, "We have seen again and again -- in microfinance and other programs -- that women are entrepreneurial, accountable, and practical. They invest their earnings directly in their families and communities. And they pay back loans at a higher rate than is the norm." Another piece of the puzzle is food security because people who are starving and angry are more prone to rioting and violence. In the developing world, women are the farmers.
Empowering women in countries where women are just gaining the right to vote is a tricky proposition. However, because her commitment is now decades deep, Secretary Clinton has written the road map for a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for State Department officials and ambassadors worldwide. Through diplomacy and corporate-supported programs, women participate in national and community level dialogues in Afghanistan, South Sudan and Burma; engage politically and in the reform of the security sector as Arab Spring countries transition; and promote access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Nepal to El Salvador. One example of this is the U.S.-Pakistan Women's Council with a mission to promote the economic advancement of women in Pakistan. The Council will connect U.S. and Pakistani corporations, foundations, universities, and individual donors with programs in Pakistan that support economic opportunities for women.
Alyse Nelson, president and CEO, Vital Voices, is another ally in Secretary Clinton's commitment to women. Vital Voices was founded by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Melanne Verveer in 1997. Today, under the leadership of Alyse Nelson, the Vital Voices international staff and team of over 1,000 partners, pro bono experts and leaders, including senior government, corporate and NGO executives, have trained and mentored more than 12,000 emerging women leaders from over 144 countries in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East since 1997. These women have returned home to train and mentor more than half a million additional women and girls in their communities.
In the new book Vital Voices, written by Alyse Nelson and Hillary Rodham Clinton, you will learn the dramatic, compelling stories of these leaders, who were moved to improve the economic, political and social lives of their sisters, despite daunting personal odds. You will meet Kakenya Ntaiya, who found a clever way to convince her father to let her go to college and graduate school, instead of becoming a child bride. After being educated in the United States, Ntaiya went home to Kenya to open a girl's school -- where 90 girls are getting educated today. Lubna Al-Kazi helped women get the right to vote in Kuwait, in 2005. Sunitha Krishnan is saving young girls from sex traffickers in India. There are countless stories in Vital Voices to be moved by, including Alyse's own inspiring story of how she broke through personal and governmental barriers to attend the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995, and how that commitment launched her career today.
As Secretary Clinton ponders her next move (which many hope will be another run at president), women worldwide have a lot to thank her for. And if her programs continue under the new Secretary of State, and, as a result, the world moves to greater food security, equality and peace, then history should remember her as one of the most important Secretary of States the U.S. has ever known.
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