From warm and walled Cartagena to temperate and sprawling Bogota, Colombia is a country whose 46 million people represent the very definition of a nation redefining itself. I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Colombia, where Secretary Clinton launched WEAmericas, a new initiative focused on women entrepreneurs -- one of the greatest drivers of economic growth. I also visited Bogota, where I spoke with government and civil society leaders on the global scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) and how we can better collaborate to prevent, respond to and address this issue.
More than 50 years of internal armed conflict has had a devastating impact on many of Colombia's women. Nearly 80 percent of those displaced by the conflict are women and children. Only a small number of women are part of the Congress, despite the existing quota law. Women have also yet to take their full place in Colombia's economy. According to the Ministry of Labor, the unemployment rate for women is double that of men (16.7 versus 9.9 percent) and according to the World Economic Forum, women earn 40 percent less than men for equal work. And yet, I came away with an incredible sense of optimism -- Colombia is a country that has many challenges, to be sure, but it is also poised for a resurgence.
With the help of some very talented women entrepreneurs, the Secretary's launch of WEAmericas was a convening of high level officials from across the region, including the Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón, the Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala, Barbados Foreign Minister Maxine McClean, and 40 women entrepreneurs from diverse regions of Colombia who are dedicated to growing their businesses and communities. WEAmericas is a series of public-private partnerships to address the three major barriers women entrepreneurs face when they start and/or grow a business: access to training and networks; access to markets; and access to finance.
Speaking with some of the women after the launch, it became clear that our investment -- along with our partners' investments -- will not only help to transform the lives of women in Colombia, but the region as a whole.
Our embassy in Bogota, led by Ambassador Michael McKinley, has done a tremendous job of putting women at the cornerstone of its work. Ambassador McKinley sets an example of commitment to integrating gender into the Embassy's policies. To foster a coordinated approach and streamline programming, the Embassy created a formal Inter-Agency Gender Working Group that includes representatives from several government agencies. The results are already impressive. We see them in the continued focus on Colombia's women, peace and security efforts; in USAID and the Department of Justice's emphasis on strengthening women's access to justice and victims' restitution; in the Embassy-sponsored Women's Labor and Business Roundtable; and with the Pathways to Prosperity Women's Entrepreneurship Network Initiative. Embassy Bogota has created a model for gender integration across all program areas.
Colombia's government is working to institute policies and protocols to ensure that women are at the center of the Santos Administration. From the High Counselor on Gender Equity, Cristina Plazas, to the Defense Ministry to the Labor Ministry -- officials told me a story of hard work, but also of hope for a better future.
Civil society is also leading this charge. I was inspired anew when I met with Jineth Bedoya, one of this year's International Women of Courage awardees. She told me that despite the threats she receives, she remains committed to the women of Colombia and to telling her -- and their -- story.
The women I met represent the backbone of a country that is rebuilding itself after approximately 50 years of armed conflict. They have borne a terrible and disproportionate brunt of this violence, especially sexual violence. These atrocities -- and the continuing impunity for offenders -- cut across ethnic, class, political and geographic lines. We will continue to work to support Colombia in its efforts to bring perpetrators to justice.
One woman I met in Colombia said it best when she told me, "Peace is a hope in Colombia, not yet a complete reality." The women of Colombia will continue to play a critical role in ushering in peace, justice and security.
Visit state.gov/s/gwi for more information on the Office of Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State and visit our Facebook page for more pictures from WEAmericas and my trip to Colombia.
Related Content: Ambassador Verveer explains why women are a foreign policy issue in her opinion piece on foreignpolicy.com.