The U. S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer believes the most under utilized resource in the world is women and girls and that both men and women need to be agents of change in order to correct the inequity. Verveer shared her message with the crowd that filled in Geneva Room in the Warren Hunting Smith Library during Wednesday’s President’s Forum lecture. She is the first person to ever hold the title; Verveer was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama in 2009.
“We cannot solve global issues unless women are participating at all levels of society,” said Verveer. Throughout the world women continue to be subjugated; females are killed at birth simply for being female, women are sold into human trafficking, and young girls are forced into child marriages. Not only are these practices utter violations of human rights, they are harmful to the world’s population as a whole.
“No country can get ahead if it leaves half of the country behind,” explained Verveer. “There is no greater underutilized resource than women and girls.” As it stands, women make up a majority of the world’s poor, and they account for two thirds of the world’s illiterate – a fact that Verveer stresses is unacceptable and irresponsible.
In fact, there is a quickly growing body of evidence supplied by major organizations and publications – including the U.N., World Bank, and The World Economic Forum – that a smaller gender gap means more prosperity and greater progress. “When it comes to development, the most economically intelligent move is to educate a girl. She will in turn educate a family, a community,” said Verveer.
In the Asian-Pacific region in particular, it is estimated that between $42 – $47 billion is lost annually in gross domestic product because women are not utilized. “They are not just short-changing women – they are short-changing the world,” said Verveer. “We cannot afford to support policy that does not advance women.”
Verveer praised the courage of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the United States, whose powerful idea was realized on the very ground HWS students walk every day. However, Verveer also spoke of powerful and inspiring women who continue to break boundaries today; she told the story of a doctor in Somalia who provided a safe haven in the midst of unspeakable horror, and of a woman in Pakistan who took a stand in court against those who raped her – using her settlement money to build a girls’ school and a boys’ school.
Although these women have been oppressed and violated by their societies, Verveer warned against looking at the women who have faced unthinkable atrocities as victims. “They may have been victimized, but they are not victims,” said Verveer. “We must remember they are the agents of change.”
With confidence, Verveer encouraged the students of HWS to be agents of change for this human rights movement. Much of the work that needs to be done, explained Verveer, is grassroots – starting at a cultural and community level. “It is a matter of changing mindsets. It is helping men understand that girls have value.” Although it takes effort, commitment and time, there is evidence every day of ways that change is occurring, and it is essential to remain hopeful and steadfast in this work.
“Women and girls from every continent are doing extraordinary things; they are still on the road to equality,” remarked Verveer. “Walk that extra mile with them to create a better world. It’s not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing. The rising of women is the rising of us all.”