Like many offices in the State Department, we use the last two weeks of the year to review where we’ve been and map out where we’re heading. This year, it’s an easy assessment to make. January 2009, we didn’t exist. December 2009, so many people are talking – and, yes, sometimes arguing, but at least talking about and carefully thinking over – women’s role in foreign policy.
Here are just a few of our highlights:
• May 13, 2009: Amb. Verveer testifies before the U.S. Senate Subcommittees on African Affairs and Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues about rape and sexual violence in conflict zones.
• October 1, 2009: Amb. Verveer testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the global costs and consequences of violence against women.
• October 21, 2009: Amb. Verveer testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight about the incidence of violence against women, and about possible solutions.
Ambassador Verveer also traveled to most regions of the world and met with women from all walks of life and spoke with their governments about the barriers that still remain to women’s equality. Among many other places, these travels took her to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and India. We saw major media take up the cause of women’s empowerment. Soon we’ll be launching a Women’s Leadership Fund to channel public/private partnership money to the places where it’s most urgently needed. And did we mention that you can track all these developments on our website as well as Facebook and Twitter?
We’re happy with this start, but, really, we’re focused on what comes next.
Next September marks the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women– the venue at which, in 1995, then-First Lady Clinton famously declared that “…human rights are women’s rights…And women’s rights are human rights, for once and for all.”
The Platform for Action that 189 countries agreed to at that conference in 1995 – the “Beijing Agenda” – outlined 12 areas in which action was critically needed to achieve women’s economic, political, and social equality. We’ve made progress on many of those issues, which ranged from women’s equal access to education, healthcare, jobs, and credit, to freedom from gender-based violence, and more, but the Beijing Agenda remains, clearly, an unfinished one.
As S/GWI looks ahead to 2010, we’re putting at the top of our action list all these remaining challenges to women’s equality. We’re also going to focus on two fundamental issues in particular: promoting women’s economic opportunities (from which other rights and freedoms often follow), and working to ensure that women around the world are safe from gender-based violence (without which safety other rights and freedoms are often impossible).
It’s a tall order. But the sense of momentum – from within government, from the private sector, from all of you – is undeniable, and we’re looking forward to reporting back to you our activities and our progress over the next few months. Happy holidays and happy new year to everyone!