Melanne Verveer was the keynote speaker to a packed house at Global Washington’s second annual conference where the theme was “Bridges to Breakthroughs.” She is recognized as a leader for global women’s issues and is the co-founder and chair of the board of the Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO that supports global women’s leadership. She also worked to advance women’s rights working as Chief of Staff for the First Lady during the Clinton administration. Most recently, she has been established as the US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues by the Obama administration. As US ambassador, she coordinates foreign policy for international women’s economic, social, and political empowerment.
Verveer discussed the vital importance of incorporating women’s needs and challenges for achieving success in development strategies. “Data shows that strategies that ignore challenges of women have little chance of succeeding…No country can get ahead if it leaves half of it’s citizens behind,” she explained. For example, the Asia Pacific region is being shortchanged $40 billion because women are not enabled to fully realize their economic potential.
Historically, women’s issues have been seen as “soft” issues and not part of the world’s toughest “hard” issues. As a result, development policies and strategies have not succeeded because men and women around the world face different needs. Verveer discussed the difference between male and female farmers. Women make up the majority of the world’s small farmers and face consistent barriers because they are women. Women farmers need micro-credit, land-rights, and access to economic markets. Applying the gender lens to policies that help farmers is critical for creating a lasting positive impact.
Fortunately, there is growing recognition that women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment is central to solve the world’s pressing challenges from climate change to bringing about peace in Afghanistan. Every year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) puts out a yearly report on the gender gap in four areas; health, education, political empowerment, and economic participation. The WEF measures this data because it recognizes that countries where the gap is closing are far more prosperous and economically competitive. On a global level, the gap is closing in health and education, but still lags behind for political and economic participation. Verveer explained that while the potential in women is everywhere, world development is still struggling to implement the strategies that will empower them economically and politically. Therefore, gender equality remains key to progress and sustainable development. Verveer quoted Hillary Clinton’s stance that “Until women around the world are accorded their rights and opportunities to participate fully, global progress and prosperity will have its own glass ceiling.”
Verveer concluded, “the only way we can heal our world and the challenges of our time is to incorporate the needs of and challenges faced by women and girls around the world.”
Submitted by Nina Carduner