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Author Helene Cooper on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Posted: March 16, 2017 | Ellee Watson, George Washington University, Former WFPG Intern
A day after International Women’s Day, Helene Cooper of The New York Times joined WFPG at the beautiful home of WFPG board member Maureen White to talk about her newly released book Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Elisabeth Bumiller moderated the discussion.
The subject of the book is Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but the book encapsulates more than just Sirleaf’s ascent to the presidency. It also examines how Liberian women by acting together were able to elect a female to the presidency in a country that has been under male rule for decades.
In a room full of women and some lucky men, Helene Cooper discussed the women who inspired her to write the book.
Cooper decided to write the book 12 years ago while she was on assignment in Africa. Cooper travelled to the continent to write a series on development in Africa for the New York Times. As a part of the assignment, she visited Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, and her home country, Liberia. In Liberia, she encountered women that “she had known all her life.”
She saw old women carrying bamboo on their backs, market women selling goods to support their families, and young girls bathing their siblings in creek water.
"These were the women I had grown up with all across Africa, the worst place to be a woman, who somehow managed to carry that continent on their backs,” Cooper said.
Cooper chose three excerpts from her book that emphasized the determination of Sirleaf and the Liberian women to persevere through two civil wars, where women in particular were brutalized, and upend years of male rule.
The first excerpt Cooper read to WFPG guests detailed how Sirleaf became the symbol of the movement to liberate the women of Liberia.
In 1985, Liberian President Jackson Doe sentenced Sirleaf to ten years in prison for sedition. While in prison, Sirleaf witnessed the aftermath of a brutal rape. One night, soldiers cornered a nineteen or twenty-year-old Glo girl in her cell and gang-raped her. Sirleaf comforted her afterwards as she was bleeding and crying. She held the girl in her arms and rocked her back and forth.
"President Doe didn’t realize it, but in locking Ellen Johnson Sirleaf up with that Gio girl, he created both an international cause celebre and ignited the women’s movement in Liberia,” Cooper read, "All across Liberia young women were riveted by this story of this jailed political dissident who’s standing up to the men running this country."
The question and answer section evolved into a conversation between Helene Cooper and the guests, many of whom were female diplomats, over how to groom and empower female leaders. The conclusion guests reached was that there is still a lot of work to be done, but for little girls everywhere, Sirleaf provides the example that a woman can be president.
Top Journalists Discuss Trump's Foreign Policy
Posted: March 2, 2017 | Ellee Watson, George Washington University, Former WFPG Intern
Four journalists joined the WFPG and NYU on Monday, February 27 for an event on Trump Foreign Policy: Changing and Disrupting Global Norms. Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times moderated a discussion with Anne Gearan of The Washington Post, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times, and Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal.
The panelists emphasized throughout the discussion that President Trump has not and is unlikely to act on many of the claims he made during the campaign.
During the campaign, Trump filtered his foreign policy plans through the lens of a populist based, trade based, and oppositional campaign not only against Hillary Clinton but also other stated enemies like rapacious foreign trade, China, Mexico, NATO, and ISIS.
"We hear America first, but we're not sure how exactly that plays out in foreign policy," Julie Hirschfeld Davis said.
As the republican nominee, Trump did not specify his plans to act on these issues, so it was hard to tell what the administration's priorities would be once in the White House.
"Obviously, the fight against ISIS is very high on their minds and is likely to be the first organizing principle in terms of focus and money," Anne Gearan said.
Other than the fight against ISIS, President Trump has not yet followed through on the promises he made during the campaign.
For instance, as a candidate, Trump said that the Iran Nuclear Deal was a mistake and that China was tearing apart the American economy. However, in office, President Trump has not walked away from the Nuclear Deal and has affirmed the United States' One China Policy in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"President Trump seems to be a little sheepish when it comes to the rubber meeting the road in these issues," Hirschfeld Davis said, adding, "We're not seeing that big of a change."
The biggest change that could occur under President Trump is the pivot away from a two-state solution towards a one-state solution. He has talked about a one-state solution and ignoring a United States policy that has been in place since 1967. This would be the biggest change if it actually happens, but it is not likely to happen, according to Anne Gearan.
Jay Solomon said there are four issues the Trump administration will try to address in the first term - Middle East Peace, ISIS, the war in Syria, and the Iran Nuclear Deal.
On ISIS, President Trump has signaled that he is content to strengthen relationships with dictators or strong men in places like Egypt to stop the spread of ISIS.
"You're seeing a complete reversal of what the Bush administration thought at the end of its eight years," Solomon said.
On the two other issues, President Trump has had to walk back a little bit from his campaign rhetoric. He campaigned saying that the Iran Nuclear Deal was terrible and needed to be torn up, but since taking office, he has backtracked because of pressure from congressmen and other Arab States who are convinced that this deal neuters Iran a little bit.
President Trump talked during the campaign about setting up safe zones with some sort of cooperation with Russia in Syria. However, the potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign will call into question any sort of cooperation in Syria.
Hirschfield Davis said that it is hard to make predictions about American foreign policy going forward because it is not clear who is holding the reigns of foreign policy in this administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been noticeably absent during the first month of the administration, and other senior administration officials give different talking points when asked the same question.
There is no clear division of labor when it comes to foreign policy in the first month of the administration, so it is hard to plan out what the administration will do over the next few months.
Getting Started in International Affairs:
Learning to Network, Power Pose and Take Risks
Posted: September 2, 2016 | Stephanie Verganza, Recent Graduate of University of California, Irvine, WFPG Intern
As a recent graduate, who just moved to the city, I was very excited to attend the career panel, Where Do You Start? Careers in International Affairs on August 11th. The panel included a group of incredibly successful and accomplished women in the field of international affairs—Dawn Calabia, consultant on statelessness, displaced populations, resettlement, and asylum; Sandra Pepera, National Democratic Institute; Ambassador Linda Jewell, retired from the US Foreign Service; Andi Gitow, UN Information Center in DC; and Patricia Ellis, WFPG. They each spoke briefly about their careers and what led them to choose to work in their respective areas. I was surprised to learn that they each had very unique, non-linear, paths to their careers. While in college, I was led to believe that each field has a very specific checklist of requirements and qualifications needed to be successful. Yet, it was encouraging to hear that many of the panelists either stumbled into or discovered their passion for international affairs at a later age. Following the opening remarks, the panelists proceeded to discuss many important topics, but a few points that I found to be especially valuable included finding a sponsor, doing the wonder woman pose, taking risks, and creating a five-year plan.
As soon as I began sharing my plans of moving to DC, the first thing people would tell me was to network, network, network. Similarly, many of the panelists also stressed the importance of networking, especially when looking for a job. However, hearing this was nothing new to me. What really caught my attention was something Pepera added. She said that, “women are over-mentored and under-sponsored.” She explained that what she meant by this was that young professionals need more than just a network of contacts or mentors—they need someone who is willing to make a personal investment in them. I appreciated this distinction, especially after she added that mentoring tends to come at no cost to the mentor, as opposed to a sponsor who will make an invest and actively seek to help you succeed.
Gitow made another very important point which was that women, when speaking at meetings, tend to begin by saying “I just…” or “I’m not sure this is a good idea, but…” in an effort to somehow qualify what they say. Pepera commented that she believes women do things like this because, unlike boys, girls are raised to be humble and nice. Calabia also commented that women need to learn to speak loudly and show up to meetings with confidence. She suggested doing a “wonder woman pose” right before important events to gain some confidence. While this seemed silly to me, she stated that psychological studies have shown that doing this really does have an impact on a person’s ability to participate in discussions. Ellis added to this, suggesting that attendees take public speaking classes to help build confidence.
Another helpful recommendation came from Pepera, who suggested creating five-year plans. She emphasized the need to think beyond the present when looking for jobs, especially if you’re considering having a family. Additionally, the panelists stressed that the particular lifestyle associated with the field of international affairs may not be ideal for everyone, which is why it’s important to really understand which kinds of environments you thrive in. Pepera also commented that many people realize after 30+ years of working that they are no longer interested in their field. She made a clear point to avoid getting stuck in a profession and emphasized the importance of having transferrable skills, which will allow you to transition into new careers. Lastly, Ambassador Jewell made the case of taking risks when applying to jobs. She underlined that many women don’t apply for positions they’re well qualified for because they feel that they’re either not ready, or don’t meet all the requirements. She then said something that was very surprising to me, which was to apply to jobs even if you only meet 30% of the qualifications, adding that “the men are doing it.” I thought a lot about this last point, even after the event, and will definitely keep this in mind as I work on my job applications.
Overall, I found the discussion to be very informative, engaging, and most importantly, encouraging. I was inspired by each of the panelists and very grateful to them for sharing their stories. I look forward to future career panels at the WFPG and hearing from more inspirational women leaders.
Shelly Culbertson's "The Fires of Spring"
Posted: July 21, 2016 | Ellee Watson, George Washington University, Former WFPG Intern
On Tuesday, July 12, Shelly Culbertson joined the WFPG at the Embassy of Slovenia to discuss her new book "The Fires of Spring" that focuses on how six different countries experienced the Arab Spring. She traveled to Tunisia, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, and Egypt to learn about the history and the people that catalyzed the movements. Culbertson told the WFPG she started the book because she wanted to find out what was accomplished during the movements and what might happen in the future. Ultimately, she concluded that the Arab Spring is not over yet. Arab Spring Phase One, as she calls it, was about rejecting and overturning the institutions that infringed upon freedom. “Arab Spring Phase Two will unfold over the coming decades in the day to day processes by incorporating the values of the Arab Spring and putting them into institutions as time goes on," Culbertson said. This process will look different for each country. Culbertson emphasized that each country had its own Arab Spring for unique reasons because the Middle East is not monolithic. The countries have separate histories and specific problems their people wanted to address.
Although each movement was unique, Culbertson identified three themes that linked the movements together - the government becoming more accountable, women taking on new roles, and Islam questioning its role in the state. While writing the book, Culbertson interviewed politicians, bloggers, journalists, and activists in order to get a sense of how the Arab Spring unfolded. "In interviews over and over again," Culbertson said, "I heard that the Arab Spring was opening up new windows for women." She detailed her interviews with two women in particular, Meherzia Labidi of Tunisia and Mervat Talawy of Egypt, who had a hand in writing their country's new constitutions. Talawy fought alongside four other women to put the clause "Women have equal rights" within Egypt's Constitution. Culbertson was quick to remind WFPG guests and members that the United States doesn't even have this clause. Despite the progress the region has made in some areas, the region is facing two monumental problems in youth unemployment and Syrian refugees. Culbertson said that the Middle East is 70 percent under the age of 30, and across the region, at least a quarter of this demographic is facing unemployment. To create long-term stability, these countries must invest in education and grant opportunities for youth.
The refugee crisis has taken the spotlight in Europe, but Culbertson reminded the audience how many refugees remain in the Middle East. The average time for a refugee to return to his original country is 25 years. This means that short-term solutions like refugee camps and humanitarian aid are unlikely to breed long-term success. Instead, according to Culbertson, countries should follow Jordan's lead and implement longer-term solutions like providing job training and basic school for Syrian children.
The Middle East has a way to go before it accomplishes the goals the Arab Spring movements set out, but Culbertson is optimistic. "Profound change is on its way," Culbertson said.
UN Briefing Details New Effort to Combat Human Trafficking
Posted: July 7, 2016 | Adrienne Ross, Communications Consultant
The Women’s Foreign Policy Group headed north to New York City Wednesday, June 29th, 2016 to hear from Simone Monasebian who works fervently in her post as Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to monitor and combat some of the world’s most heinous offenses including human trafficking; an issue that has taken some time to gain the UN’s full attention.
“We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years at the UN on this issue, but unfortunately in the past two or three years this had gone down a bit lower on the priority of the UN for a variety of reasons,” Monasebian explained. But today she outlined a series of events that reshaped the UN’s fight against trafficking and revitalized her hope that the problem was effectively being addressed. Monasebian said it was key that UN Security Council was pressed to focus on human trafficking last winter, under the leadership of the United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and the President of the United States.
“[On] December 16th, a landmark UN Security Council meeting was held on human trafficking, where for the first time, a survivor of human trafficking addressed the council…”, said Monasebian. It was also the first time she said she saw members applaud a survivor and shed tears during testimony. The young woman whose story inspired the council that day belonged to a 19-year-old Iraqi Yazidi named Nadia Murad Basee Taha. In 2014, Nadia was captured by Daesh and held for several months after the fighters came to her village in Mosul. According to some reports, the terrorists killed more than three hundred Yazidi men in one hour including Nadia’s brothers and step-brothers.
Monasebian moved the guests with the story of Nadia’s testimony. “I tell you, having been a prosecutor of war crimes, and having thought I saw everything,” she said. “Nadia reopened my heart listening to her testimony. It was quite extraordinary.” She had come to the UN to ask for liberty for other survivors, accountability for the perpetrators, protection for those who are vulnerable to trafficking, as well as dedicated funding and support for the victims to rebuild their lives. But it was her personal story Monasebian found especially gut-wrenching.
“She described being taken from one town to another. Sold from one man to another, and pleading. This is the most power that she could have during her time in captivity; that she asked to be raped by a smaller man; she was a very small girl, [and] the first man who was going to take her as a wife was huge. And that was her wish. Could I just be raped by a man who is not as offensive as this man who will destroy me physically?”
Nadia will soon be appointed as the first UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Victims of Human Trafficking, in the presence of US Ambassador and human rights attorney Amal Clooney. Nadia will also be engaged in the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants. Nadia now lives in Germany where she has been given asylum as a refugee. Monasebian said she believes it was Nadia’s testimony, together with the UN Security Council’s redirected agenda, that has revived the issue and reinvigorated political will.
Finally, Monasebian said, at that momentous UN Security Council meeting last December a very important presidential statement was passed, which requires the UN Secretary General to submit a continuous review on trafficking to the council. “[T]he UN Office on Drugs and Crime is also drafting that report now and it should probably come before the council again in December, one year after the initial Security Council meeting.”
“Trafficking is an industry that involves billions of dollars and millions of people and we know that every country is involved,” Monasebian said. “So in one respect it is problematic that every country is involved, but in another respect, it’s hopeful because there’s a lack of politicization on this issue. . . Only one out of 100 are ever rescued from being a trafficking victim. We owe it to those few who are rescued to help them rebuild and restore their lives.”
“It starts with us,” said an attorney in the audience as she spoke up to share the national hotline number. Call 1-888- 373-7888 to report a suspected human trafficking incident or to get assistance. More information can also be found online at www.traffickingresourcecenter.org.
Celebrating Women Leaders: Honoring Women Assistant Secretaries
Posted: June 27, 2016 | Adrienne Ross, Communications Consultant
On Monday, June 20th the Women's Foreign Policy Group held its annual benefit “Celebrating Women Leaders” at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. The event, carried live on C-Span, included more than 150 attendees who joined the WFPG to honor three United States Assistant Secretaries of State including Anne Patterson of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the Bureau of African Affairs; Anne Richard of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and to hear them discuss the United States’ policies on combating terrorism and the challenges in the Middle East and Africa, especially with concern to the global refugee crisis.
WFPG President Patricia Ellis took to the stage to welcome moderator Karen DeYoung, the Washington Post’s Associate Editor and Senior National Security Correspondent. DeYoung, who has served as a moderator for previous WFPG events, commented on the outstanding turnout and the wide-breadth of the topic at hand, before saying how impressive she finds the number of women leading the Department of State, “I am always struck when I walk past the assistant secretaries’ offices; most of them are women.” After settling in with introductions, DeYoung turned her attention to the Islamic State and Assistant Secretary Patterson.
“You know there will not be easy answers in this part of the world,” Patterson warned as she began talking. She cited a lack of legitimacy, sectarian conflict, and a dearth of institutional structures as main contributors to the region’s instability. Patterson also touched on significant economic issues especially for females, “There are more women in school than men and they perform better, but their opportunities continue to be limited.”
But Patterson cautioned that the news was not all “bleak” and that she felt encouraged by some achievements, “There has been considerable progress against ISIL and Syria and Iraq and now Libya.”
Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield said she too was optimistic about Africa. She described the United States’ role on the world’s second largest continent as a “partner”, promoting “peace and prosperity.”
“If we are successful, issues of terrorism conflict and migration will be less of a concern,” Thomas-Greenfield explained. Despite significant challenges, in which she includes Boko Haram’s “devastating impact on Nigeria and its neighbors”, as well as economic and educational challenges, a lack of human rights and fair elections, limited freedom of speech, not to mention healthcare and climate issues, Thomas-Greenfield firmly believes that, “…we are making progress that will allow for the continent to prosper and take its rightful place as a leader.”
Assistant Secretary Richard pointed out that this discussion was taking place on the UN’s World Refugee Day. “It is a moment to stop and think of the refugees and their plight and salute those who are survivors …“ She also added her three important “take home” points for the day: “One is that this [refugee problem] is a global phenomenon. . . .The second is that refugees are not the same as terrorists. They are the victims of terrorism,” she said to a roomful of applause, and finally, she wanted others to know that the US is a leader on the global refugee crisis.
“Right now, we [the US] have over 40% of the Syrian refugees and we will see larger numbers in the coming days.” But Richard said leading on such a controversial effort can be tough.
“I get criticized from the right and the left on this one. Friends in one direction say that is not enough and friends on the other side say we are worried you would let terrorists sneak inside the program,” she explained. But according to Richard, the US refugee program is the most heavily vetted of any traveler program in the United States.
DeYoung, incorporating an audience member’s comments, said that “divisive political rhetoric” and “disturbing levels of xenophobia” are shutting down borders, and asked the assistant secretaries if they found these circumstances to be a “perfect storm” driving the number of refugees, as well as nations’ reluctance to shelter them.
Richard reacted, saying, “Part of the answer, Karen, is that we are not able to bring peace to parts of the world because the leaders do not seem intent on peace. They seem to be wedded to continuing a bloodthirsty continuation of fighting.”
DeYoung asked Thomas-Greenfield how she would prioritize the allocation of resources in Africa. “If I had control, I would put more in democracy and government . . . . The key to me is having a stable country that takes care of its people. If you have that, you do not have people fleeing for economic or will reasons,” she said.
“I think the whole conversation about refugees leads us directly to the Middle East,” DeYoung said, reminding the group that 400,000 people have already died in Syria, and that half the nation’s population is currently displaced. Can we expect a policy shift?
“Let me assure you that the issues are grappled with at the very highest level of the administration, every single night,” Assistant Secretary Patterson answered. She pointed to Secretary Kerry’s success assembling an international coalition that enabled 700,000 to leave the country.
“There are not really any good answers in Syria,” Patterson continued. “It is not just to go bomb. It is, within the complex legal issues; in the US military deployment. There are a range of complications that result from this. “
With just three minutes left in the program, Richard confirmed that the Obama Administration would, in fact, reach its commitment to shelter 10,000 refugees in the US by September.
The entire conversation and transcript is available online at www.cspan.org.
The World Humanitarian Summit: Protracted Crises Need New Humanitarian Approaches
Posted: June 12, 2016 | Anjelica Jarrett, Mount Holyoke College, WFPG Intern
On June 8, 2016, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Assistant Administrator, Crisis Response Unit, Izumi Nakamitsu briefed WFPG members and guests on the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and held in Istanbul May 23-24. Nakamitsu emphasized that the nature of global crises has become “protracted,” as the average duration of displacement for victims is 17 years. The slogan for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN in 2015 was “Leave No One Behind.” However, victims of humanitarian crises are the most likely to be overlooked, and with a reduction in global peace from previous years it is critical that the nature of humanitarian response becomes further oriented towards investment in risk prevention. Prolonged conflicts must be resolved and world governments must strive to address problems occurring outside its immediate borders to more effectively help victims and reduce future need for humanitarian aid.
Nakamitsu also addressed various commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit with special attention given to UNDP’s role in humanitarian assistance. UNDP is already engaged in providing livelihood opportunities for humanitarian victims, such as by creating emergency employment opportunities when crises arise. UNDP creates “hundreds of thousands” of these opportunities, which prevent a reliance on “handouts” from humanitarian agencies by allowing people directly affected by crises to earn an income and rebuild the community.
In Nakamitsu’s view, the World Humanitarian Summit was successful in bringing a variety of important world actors together, who pledged to coordinate efforts individually as well as collectively. However, a key challenge rests in the real-world realization of these pledges. The actual influence of the World Humanitarian Summit cannot be immediately evaluated. It will take time—at least a year—for its true impact on crisis response to be made evident.
The EU and the US: A Crucial Partnership
Posted: June 10, 2016 | Ellee Watson, George Washington University, Former WFPG Intern
Ambassador David O'Sullivan of the European Union to the United States emphasized the importance of the relationship between Europe and the United States in maintaining peace and prosperity in his remarks at the WFPG event The Future of the EU and the Importance of Transatlantic Relations on June 7th at his residence.
Speaking a day after the 71st anniversary of D-Day, O'Sullivan said he was proud that the sacrifices those soldiers made have not been in vain.
"There are two conclusions of that momentous moment in military history," O'Sullivan said. "They are our commitment as Europeans to build a better Europe and the fact that that the transatlantic alliance would be an absolutely vital part of doing that."
The partnership between the United States and Europe has created the institutions - the United Nations, NATO, IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization - that have been the "cornerstones of an unprecedented period of prosperity," according to O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan said that in his time as Ambassador since 2014, he has seen Europe and the United States succeed at creating a better world at several moments including preventing Russia's further involvement in Ukraine, the Iran Nuclear Deal, cooperation in the Middle East, climate change, and, most crucially, trade.
O'Sullivan praised the successes, but he also said that Europe is facing challenges including the refugee crisis and growing Euroskepticism.
The Ambassador stated he was not going to talk about the British referendum that will take place June 23rd saying, "this is a moment of sovereignty for the British people; they have to decide how they want to go forward."
CELEBRATING WOMEN DIPLOMATS: The Importance of Mentoring
Posted: June 03, 2016 | Diana Kelley, Bryn Mawr College, WFPG Intern
CRISIS IN BRAZIL: Challenges for the Future
On the evening of June 1, Ambassador Kristi Kauppi of Finland hosted the WFPG’s annual Celebration of Women Diplomats at her residence in Washington DC. The event honored women ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission for their leadership in foreign policy. The guests mingled and celebrated their colleagues’ distinguished careers while sampling traditional Finnish fare.
The celebration focused on the importance of mentoring, the impact mentoring has had on the diplomats’ careers, and their commitment to guiding and supporting the next generation. Speakers included Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi of Finland, Ambassador Claudia Fritsche of Liechtenstein, Ambassador Hassana Alidou of Niger, Ambassador Thelma Philip-Browne of Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Ambassador Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo.
Ambassador Kauppi spoke about the importance of making the voices of women in foreign policy heard and cited an impressive statistics that in Finland, 50% of the ambassadors are women. She shared that early in her career, when the Finnish foreign service was largely male dominated, many of her best mentors were men who encouraged her and gave her the self-confidence to pursue a career in foreign policy. She articulated the need for women diplomats to ensure that their female colleagues are seen, listened to, heard, and understood.
Ambassador Fritsche’s remarks touched on the reciprocal nature of the mentor-mentee relationship and the notion that the relationship can be tailored to individual needs and unique experiences. She mentioned how mentoring has frequently moved from mentoring to sponsorship. She spoke of her experience as a mentor to young female interns through her embassy’s internship program and endearingly referred to them as the “daughters she never had.”
Ambassador Alidou followed by emphasizing the importance of choosing a mentor that displays positive values and serves as a role model to mentees. She spoke of her position as a professor and the ways in which women faculty promoted and supported her and other young women through mentorship. In addition, Ambassador Alidou stressed the obligation women have in sharing knowledge with other women and developing strong, constructive, and supportive mentor-mentee relationships.
Ambassador Philip-Browne provided personal anecdotes relating to her early experiences in St. Kitts and Nevis as she learned the importance of mentors who invested in young women and taught them how to be resilient, stay true to their faith, and remain strong in the face of adversity. She spoke of choices women had and of mentoring as a way to nurture and grow future women leaders.
Ambassador Çitaku shared her experience with inspirational mentors. She spoke of the gender inequality she experienced while growing up in Albania and the strong women she looked up to, especially her mother. While serving as a minister in the newly established Republic of Kosovo she had photos of inspiring role models posted in her office which served as a constant source of inspiration. Ambassador Çitaku called upon women diplomats to help eradicate obstacles for gender inequality in international relations.
Posted: May 31, 2016 | Hannah Salem, Boston University, WFPG Intern
ART AND ACTIVISM:
The WFPG event on May 19 highlighted the political and economic underpinnings of the current crisis in Brazil, as well as their possible implications for the future. In a conversation moderated by Diana Villiers Negroponte, the event featured Johanna Mendelson Forman of American University and the Stimson Center and Kellie Meiman Hock of McLarty Associates, both agreed that a leading challenge going forward would be to unite a country divided, with one of the key challenges being how to create such a “national unity movement” in the absence of a credible political leader to build the necessary bridges between the various alienated players. At the same time, if managed correctly, the upcoming Rio Olympics does have the potential to serve as a motivator to put the country’s best foot forward.
The discussion explored the decline of Brazil’s economic and political power, from its “boom days” to its current economic recession and political crisis. According to Meiman Hock, Brazil’s thriving economy in the years following the global economic crisis was sustained by aggressive public spending on infrastructure and low-cost financing through public banks, enhanced by traditional state-led industrial policy. Unfortunately, counter-cyclical economic policy always must come to an end given the spending levels involved, and Brazil’s political and business class failed to support terminating such policies at that appropriate time. She explained that the current crisis goes beyond poor management of the economy in the short term or the slowdown in China reducing demand for basic inputs such as agricultural products or iron ore. Instead, Brazil needs to focus on the key structural reforms that will make the country competitive in the medium to long term, such as labor, tax and pension reform.
Currently, the interim government and congress are under pressure to resolve the impeachment trial before the Olympics, although whether this goal is achieved is unclear. The speakers referred to Acting President Michel Temer as a “serious political operator,” but one who faces his own challenges of legitimacy. Temer’s main policy goals are expected to include pension reform, tax simplification, and reduced spending.
At the same time, many members of the interim government are being investigated by the “Lava Jato” prosecutorial team headed by Judge Sergio Moro, fixated on tackling corruption in Brazil in a significant break with past practice in the country. The fact that this investigation is ongoing, plus additional investigations regarding the financing of the Rousseff/Temer campaign are ongoing, makes the future of the Temer interim government unpredictable. Confidence in the Brazilian judiciary has skyrocketed, as ambitious and ethical young prosecutors have sought to create the “Brazil of the Future” they seek by utilizing the country’s laws and institutions. Mendelson Forman described Brazil’s current political standing as a crisis of legitimacy, because all branches of government, apart from the judiciary, have been tainted by scandal. Both speakers agreed that as they pursue reform the interim government should seek to preserve the middle class, or risk facing even more challenging social pressures.
In terms of foreign policy, Brazil has historically been non-interventionist. While this tendency is not likely to change, the country’s potential, expressed through its size and geographic location cannot be ignored. Although it has achieved its potential as a regional leader, there is little doubt that Brazil can emerge as a regional and global leader once the current political turmoil dies down.
As for the United States’ role, Mendelson Forman applauded the government’s decision to distance itself from the conflict, insisting that “we have no useful role to play.” The US should avoid direct political involvement but can offer objective, pragmatic suggestions for improvement.
Speaking out on Sexual Violence during the War in Kosovo
Posted: April 11, 2016 | Ellee Watson, George Washington University, WFPG Intern
President Atifete Jahjaga of the Republic of Kosovo spoke to the WFPG prior to a screening of the documentary The Making of #MendojPërTy/#Thinkingofyou to discuss her efforts to help the 20,000 victims of sexual violence during the Kosovo War of 1998-1999.
The documentary The Making of #MendojPërTy/#Thinkingofyou details the creation of the art installation Thinking of You that displayed thousands of dresses donated by survivors, activists, and other women in the soccer stadium of Pristina, Kosovo. Jahjaga sponsored the installation to honor the survivors, break the silence, and shed light on these brutal crimes, largely ignored since the war. Not one criminal has been punished in association with these acts of violence.
"The victims have been stigmatized," Jahjaga said, "They have been pushed from the society - from their own families and the society in general. It has been a taboo topic in our society."
Since Jahjaga took office in 2011, she has been working to provide an institutional solution for the victims who feel they don't belong in Kosovo.
Jahjaga met with a group of survivors during her first week as president who were ready to talk to her about their experiences, and they inspired her to seek a solution for this group as well as the majority of survivors who had not shared their stories because they felt trapped and embarrassed by the horrors they experienced.
Artist Alketa Xhafa Mripa came up with the idea for the installation and brought it to Jahjaga's attention. At the time, Jahjaga's government was in the middle of a campaign to raise awareness about these crimes and to advance reintegration and recivilization of the victims, and she believed the art installation aligned with these goals.
The art installation brought attention to the sexual crimes committed in Kosovo; its opening inspired 44 headlines internationally. The producer of the documentary Anni Di Lellio, during the discussion with WFPG President Patricia Ellis and Jahjaga, said that the installation inspired support for the victims among women and men, and this encouraged survivors to tell their stories.
Before the screening of the documentary, Ambassador Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo introduced Jahjaga, praising her for the gains she has made for women in Kosovo, "I am proud that you have given a voice and dignity to those who need it most - the survivors of the sexual violence in Kosovo."
Although Jahjaga has promoted the reintegration of the victims into society, she stresses that there is more work to be done. She wants to advance the economic empowerment of single mothers whose husbands were killed, fight stigma, and encourage the power to speak.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN OF COURAGE
Posted: March 30, 2016 | Tara Sonenshine, WFPG Board of Directors
The International Women of Courage, selected by the U.S. State Department each year, for their trail blazing activities, give hope and inspiration to all of us. This year’s recipients hail from countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Belize, Malaysia and Mauritania. Over a dozen women are in the United States to receive the award and then travel to American cities with stories of their work to improve life in their countries. I had the opportunity this week to meet with the 2016 international women of courage and to work with them on preparing for interviews and public diplomacy.
Just a few of their stories: From Iraq, Yezidi activist and gynecologist Dr. Nagham Nawzat Hasan has dedicated her career to promoting equality for women, combating gender-based violence, and providing psychological support to survivors. Since the 2014 takeover of the city of Sinjar by ISIS, resulting in the massacre of thousands of Yezidi men and the enslavement of Yezidi women, Dr. Hasan has focused her efforts on rescuing and assisting Yezidi girls Responding to the humanitarian crisis, Dr. Hasan was one of the first physicians to provide psychological counseling and health screenings to freed and escaped girls. Sara Hossain is a human rights lawyer who has fought on behalf of Bangladesh’s most disadvantaged and marginalized citizens, particularly women and girls, in her country’s highest courts of law. A barrister in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and the Honorary Executive Director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Ms. Hossain played a key role in drafting her country’s first comprehensive legislation on violence against women, which became law in 2010. Ms. Hossain has brought landmark cases challenging practices such as forced veiling, the use of fatwas to impose degrading punishments on women and girls, and the use of non-medical procedures to judge a woman’s virginity in rape and sexual assault cases.
Each of the women has similar stories of courage, passion, and integrity. It is humbling to meet them and celebrate their work.
GENDER AND DEVELOPMENT:
Closing Key Gaps For Women by 2030 and Translating Global Goals into National Goals
Posted: March 23, 2016 | Tara Sonenshine, WFPG Board of Directors
“When women are more than 30% of any body, there are real effects on everything from budgets to what services get provided” says Caren Grown on the role of leadership.
A timely and important WFPG program took place at The World Bank on March 22nd, on the gender dimensions of the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda and its goals for women and girls—ambitious targets for the inclusion of women. The discussion, led by WFPG President Pat Ellis, featured Caren Grown, World Bank senior director for gender, and Mahmoud Mohieldin, senior vice president for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations relations, and partnerships. Both explained the importance of the World Bank gender strategy in reaching these new UN aspirational goals.
The highlights of the program included the startling reality that although things have improved for women and girls on the global level during the past 15 years since the Millennial Development Goals of 2005, things have not improved when you get to specific country results regarding the inclusion of women today. Great progress has been made in closing gaps in girls’ education and health—expanding reproductive health, lengthening life expectancy, lowering infant mortality but progress has been sticky, in the economic domain and there are data gaps that have to be closed so that information is available.
Caren Grown discussed “occupational segregation” which relate to the economic gaps in work and finance. There is a lack of female owners of small enterprises, control of land, housing, etc., underscoring that financial inclusion of women is a top priority.
There are major challenges for women’s access to finance, the availability of hard data and facts, the coordination of government agencies within countries when it comes to women, and the surprising lack of documentation—literal documentation of the identity of women. Conditions of work in countries also varies and there is also a lack of care services for young and old, especially in low income countries. Gender-based violence remains a problem. Digital gaps between men and women mean that women don’t have the mobile technology to succeed. Politically, more women hold more seats in Parliament in countries like Rwanda, but there are still gaps in participation.
In the end, the key question of sustainable development goals comes back to women’s leadership, creating partnerships, building up the civil society (for accountability and monitoring), working with the private sector on data, technology and changing policies within countries to achieve gender parity and empowerment.
BEHIND THE HEADLINES: POST-ELECTION IRAN AND THE NUCLEAR DEAL
Posted: March 18, 2016 | Gebe Martinez, WFPG Board of Directors
Elections of reformers, including more women, to Iran’s parliament, the nation’s diversifying economy, and its recent nuclear deal with the international community including the US, lend new hope for Iran’s “hedged democracy,” said Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, during a talk hosted by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group (WFPG).
Slavin, who also reports on the Middle East for the news website Al-Monitor.com, recently discussed Iran’s political, economic, and societal post-election outlook as part of WFPG’s “Beyond the Headlines” series.
“When I look at Iran now, I still see a glass half full,” Slavin said. “The Iranian society has already progressed so far, despite propaganda and repression, that no faction, no Supreme Leader, can force it back into an Islamic straight jacket.”
Iran’s head of state, clerical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, selects the 12-man Guardian Council, which decides the candidates for the Parliament, President, and the important Assembly of Experts, which could decide Khamenei’s successor.
The recent Iranian elections for members of Parliament and the Assembly of Experts -- run-offs for some seats will be held in April -- were seen as a vote of confidence in the policies of President Hassan Rouhani, including the nuclear deal with the West and his proposed economic reforms.
A reform movement video, sent through a cell phone application not blocked by the government, spurred voter turnout, Slavin said. “They eliminated from parliament some of the real hard liners who had opposed the nuclear deal,” said the Middle East analyst. “It is going to be an easier for Rouhani to choose people for sensitive ministries, like the economy, and easier for him to make economic reforms which are really crucial if Iran is going to attract investment in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.”
Slavin said another positive development is the election of at least 22 young, well-educated women, who will be replacing a much smaller group of women who favored anti-feminist legislation. Measures that would restrict access to birth control, reduce women’s work hours in order to keep them home, and others are likely doomed now, Slavin added.
While ongoing turmoil in the Middle East could upset Iran’s delicate moves to become more integrated in the international community, the foreign policy analyst said she is more concerned about political developments in the US, including irrational threats by conservative presidential candidates to “tear up” the nuclear agreement that has been codified by a United Nations Security Council resolution.
“So far, Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, and it’s my view that the US should do so as well and not give the Islamic Republic an excuse to walk away,” Slavin said. Slavin also addressed the tense relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia, explaining there is blame on both sides, but also noting that the Saudi's view, with nervousness, Iran’s influence in the region.
“This doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to speak out against other activities by Iran that we oppose, the missile tests for example, the human rights record,” Slavin added. “But I think it would be would be crazy to tear up the nuclear deal because of these other aspects. We have dealt with many countries, negotiated with other countries, that have human rights records and foreign policies that are as bad or worse than Iran’s.”