Ambassador for women’s issues expresses hope for female leadership

Olivia Daniels

Staff Writer

On Wednesday, September 16, Dr. Melanne Verveer, the US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, delivered a lecture on women and their roles in global development and foreign policy. A group of students and faculty members gathered in the Lilly Family Gallery in anticipation of  the event. Dr. Chris Alexander, director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program, opened with a warm introduction of Dr. Verveer, summarizing her career and efforts as an advocate for women globally. Alexander pointed to Verveer’s extensive career in US politics; she served as Chief of Staff to former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Assistant to former President Bill Clinton. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed her the first of her current position.

Verveer began her lecture by discussing her experience she had had so far at Davidson, emphasizing the senses of awareness and motivation that she saw in the student population during her visit. According to Verveer, the Davidson community exemplifies the qualities that our world desperately needs, specifically extensive “global understanding” and “commitment to sustainability.” Verveer then emphasized how impressed she was with the Dean Rusk Program, not only by its success and high standards, but also by its accessibility to students with many different academic interests.

From her wide discussion on the potential of millennials and their influence on society and innovation, Verveer narrowed her points to speak about what she considers to be “one of the world’s most powerful demographics,” women. Citing various UN and global committee efforts to include women and heighten their involvement in international development, Verveer discussed how governments measure the progress of such initiatives or goals. Assessing some, such as the goal for enhanced participation of women in the UN Security Council, as not yet fulfilled, Verveer

went on to point to new expectations being set by current policies. For instance, she mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals, which are initiatives by the UN as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals, and their potential to carry more specific categories and initiatives for enhancing gender equality and female empowerment throughout the world.

Verveer transitioned from these wider goals into a more specific dialogue regarding women and their roles in economies – both on national and global levels. Pointing to studies done by the World Economic Forum, Verveer explained that while gaps between men and women may be closing in terms of access to health and education, gaps in political and economic participation remain wide. Verveer emphasized that not only are such gaps unfair, but they also hinder the progress of our global economy and stand in the way of our reaching our full economic potential as a global community. According to Verveer, if women are not given the opportunities to develop their talents and skills as economic leaders through equal access to land and capital, how can the world expect to progress as a strong economic force? Continuing this point, Verveer firmly emphasized that investing in women is akin to investing in the future.

With more specific examples about her experiences in various developing nations, Verveer highlighted the importance of integrating women in terms of development. Citing the successes of microloan projects and self-help groups for women, Verveer pointed to her firsthand experiences in India and Bangladesh.

Returning to her prior claim about the untapped productivity of women, Verveer explained to the audience that if women had equal opportunities as men do to agricultural resources, “women’s productivity would go up to the extent that we could feed 150 million undernourished people globally.” Verveer went on to discuss the potential impact of women in various other development issues, including climate change and technology.

Verveer concluded her lecture by discussing the absence of women in peace and security roles across the globe. Returning to her previous point about the UN Security Council’s recognition that “women are critical to prevention,” Verveer emphasized that women are underrepresented in peace negotiation; as a result, half of the world’s population which has yet to be empowered could offer momentous contributions to the world of international relations and security.

Then, pointing to the successful efforts of select governments in recognizing the weaponization of rape in civil conflict, Verveer urged the audience to support and work for change for those affected, and not to see these women – and all women – as merely victims, but as pools of potential leadership and contribution through moral obligation, strategic analysis and intelligent thinking.

Following the lecture, students expressed mixed reactions to the event. While some thought that Verveer had effectively conveyed the importance of the most concerning issues facing women today, others were not so sure.

“Although I was very impressed by all of Ambassador Verveer’s accomplishments and duties, I was very disappointed by her unwillingness to touch on certain controversial issues or topics concerning women in America today outside of the big issues such as unequal pay and sex trafficking,” Angeline Pilo ‘16 remarked.

Other listeners were particularly inspired by Verveer’s lecture: Anthony Solis ’19 said, following the event, “[Verveer’s lecture] made me realize that it isn’t about a single group of people anymore. It isn’t only about you or me; it is about all people and that is something very important that we, as young people, will contribute to in the coming years.”


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