Last month, I participated in a conference with my fellow U.S. Ambassadors and other U.S. diplomats in Washington, D.C. At the opening event, on March 13, 2012, Secretary Clinton announced that she was releasing the first-ever policy guidance on gender integration for the State Department. This new guidance instructs our embassies and bureaus to implement specific steps to promote gender equality and advance the status of women and girls in all of our work in order to further both our national security and foreign policy goals. You can read more about the policy guidance in this fact sheet. Ambassador Verveer also wrote a DipNote entry about the policy guidance.
Later in the day, Ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer and I met with a group of U.S. Ambassadors to discuss the new guidance and exchange examples of our experiences with integrating gender into all aspects of our diplomatic work. The discussion was lively and encouraging -- while much remains to be done, my fellow ambassadors were excited by progress made and the path ahead.
I have made it a goal to change and improve the lives of women in the countries where I am privileged to serve. Key to implementing this goal has been to build a dynamic, theme-driven people-to-people program that starts by defining issues of priority to women and, then, identifying the barriers to making progress in these areas.
In Mexico, where I currently serve as U.S. Ambassador, the U.S. Embassy team is helping Mexican institutions address issues of violence against women and women's empowerment. Whether by supporting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) addressing domestic violence, strengthening one-stop justice centers for victims of crime, helping women prepare for political office, or assisting Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against women and human trafficking, the U.S. government through USAID has stood by Mexican organizations as they strive towards women's equality and empowerment. For example, Mexico's Family Justice Center in Nuevo Leon is a model for providing comprehensive services to crime victims, specializing in attending to women and families. Families can receive in a centralized place emergency shelter, medical attention, childcare, and access to prosecutors and police to assist with their cases. USAID supported the development of a manual that details how to establish and operate these justice centers, which are slated for replication in other states.
While I served in Argentina from 2006-2009, the U.S. Embassy tackled the widespread issue of trafficking in persons (TIP). Working with the amazing local activist Susana Trimarco, whose daughter was kidnapped and believed to have been a victim of sex trafficking, we secured grant funding to allow Susana's Foundation to provide training on victim identification and protection to anti-TIP units of provincial police departments in Argentina. We also supported Argentina's government, congress, and NGO activists to pass and implement Argentina's first federal anti-trafficking law. In addition, we partnered with NGO Vital Voices to support their organization of the second hemisphere-wide summit on women's issues, which included a very high-powered group of women's leaders from the public and private sectors, including Presidents Bachelet and Fernandez de Kirchner of Chile and Argentina.
Our embassy in Buenos Aires also worked with Maria Rosa Gonzalez and her NGO to encourage women in one of Buenos Aires's poorest villas to band together to fight the ravages of PACO, a drug more addictive and deadlier than crack cocaine. It is critical that as we in embassies work to meet the Secretary's gender policy directive we must identify and connect local champions to opinion leaders and allies at the federal, state and local levels.
When I was Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs and Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2010, I oversaw the formation of an interagency Gender Task Force that linked our diplomatic efforts and assistance programs to a larger, more comprehensive strategy, in line with the benchmarks set out in the National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA). The Task Force, which continues to meet regularly, ensures that policies and programs focus on the specific and unique needs of women, including the all-important task of measuring the impact and outcome of U.S. and Afghan programs.
U.S. Embassy Kabul also developed the government-wide Civilian Assistance Strategy for Afghan Women -- under which the U.S. government is providing more support to address the literacy, poor health, extreme poverty, human rights, and political exclusion that affect the lives of Afghan women. The Civilian Assistance Strategy addresses gender discrimination and inequality in Afghanistan by building sustainable capacity and institutionalizing opportunities for women across the public, private, and NGO sectors in line with NAPWA.
Ensuring that Afghan women are active participants in the political process since the end of Taliban rule has also been a high priority of the United States and the international community. In July 2010, Embassy Kabul hosted a meeting between a delegation of Afghan women, Secretary Clinton, and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton prior to the Kabul Conference hosted by Afghan President Karzai. At this meeting, the Secretary heard directly from the delegation and was able to bring their concerns to the table -- along with encouraging the participation of Afghan women -- at the Kabul Conference. At the conference, Secretary Clinton announced several new areas of support, which are now improving the health of Afghan women and their families and promoting greater gender equality.
As our nation's Ambassador to Mexico, I look forward to continuing our work to carry out the Secretary's vision of putting women at the center of our foreign policy agenda. The evidence is clear: investing in women will produce a stronger, thriving America and more secure and stable partners across the globe.