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Reflections on 2010, Resolutions for 2011: Strengthening Gains for Women and Girls

About the Author: Melanne Verveer serves as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

As we bid farewell to 2010 and usher in 2011 with a renewed sense of purpose, I’m proud of all the hard work that has been done by the Office of Global Women’s Issues, our State Department colleagues in Washington and around the world to advance progress for women and girls across the globe. Just a year ago, Secretary Clinton announced that the United States was taking steps to put women and girls front and center in our development work. So it was most fitting that she closed 2010 with the release of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) which integrates the rights and empowerment of women and girls into the heart of U.S. foreign policy. Women’s issues are not marginal or tangential — they are critical to tackling the range of foreign policy challenges in the areas of security, the environment, the economy, ending conflict and so much more. It’s about creating a better life for everyone: women and men, girls and boys.

During the past 12 months, we made solid strides and charted new territory for the advancement of women and girls. I witnessed much of this progress first-hand in meeting with, and listening to, women leaders and politicians, human rights activists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other civil society representatives during my travel overseas — from Afghanistan to China, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Russia, from India to Malaysia. All over the world we find women on the frontlines working to better their lives and those of their families, and we have been engaged in doing all we can to help them. In Afghanistan, twenty-three percent of the participants in the consultative peace jirga were women who made positive contributions to the deliberations, as they must continue to do if the potential for peace is not to be subverted. If women are marginalized, the prospects for peace will be jeopardized. In the DRC, women continue to be brutally raped as a deliberate strategy of armed combatants to destroy communities. These women are struggling to heal their lives and become actively engaged in charting a new course for themselves, their families and their communities.

With colleagues in government we have been working to more effectively to implement UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. In October, at the United Nations Security Council, Secretary Clinton announced that the United States would adopt a National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 and committed nearly $44 million to a set of initiatives to empower women, including civil society groups focused on Afghan women and clean water projects in conflict zones. In consultation with non-governmental organizations and civil society, we also have begun work on a National Action Plan to ensure that women are treated as agents of peace and reconciliation rather than merely as victims of war and violence. In 2011, we will consolidate our endeavors to address this global imperative.

We have also significantly focused on expanding women’s economic empowerment initiatives and removing some of the barriers women entrepreneurs face in establishing and scaling up their businesses. We know that women-run small and medium size businesses, for example, are powerful accelerators of economic growth. These efforts have spanned the globe, from the African Women Entrepreneurs Program launched last summer in conjunction with the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Forum, to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit in Gifu, Japan, which was the first-ever APEC high level policy and public-private partnership to recognize the important role women play in driving economic growth and to develop a growth strategy for the region. And one of the first orders of business in this new year is our commitment to invest in women in the Southern and Eastern European and Eurasian regions, starting with a regional conference for women entrepreneurs in Istanbul at the end of January.

2010 was a year of new partnerships as well. As promised, we launched the Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls, a privately-funded initiative dedicated to providing rapid, targeted, and high-impact grants to NGOs working to meet the critical needs of women and girls around the world. Under the Fund, for example, the Avon Foundation committed a half million dollars in 2010 for locally-based projects to address gender-based violence in select countries. In this new year we will see the results of these investments and join with additional partners to support NGOs doing important work on behalf of women and girls around the world.

We have made key links between women’s empowerment and tackling global challenges such as climate change, health, and food security. It is well known that women face severe personal security risks while carrying out the task of foraging for fuel, especially in refugee camps and conflict zones, but there are also major health risks associated with exposure to traditional cookstoves and open fires, with women and young children the most affected. To address this often overlooked problem, we entered into a partnership with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in September, which includes a $50 million U.S. government commitment to the collective effort to combat toxic indoor pollution. On health, we are working to ensure that implementation of the Global Health Initiative will focus on the unique needs and contributions of women and girls.

We also leveraged connections between women’s progress and the field of innovation and technology, particularly the use of mobile technology to transform the lives of women in developing countries. In October, together with the Cherie Blair Foundation and GSMA, an association of mobile communications operators, we kicked off the mWomen Initiative, which aims to cut in half the gender gap in women’s access to mobile phones — a gap estimated at 300 million women marginalized from this technology — within three years. Along the lines of women in science and technology, we will be unveiling new activities in conjunction with the upcoming meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which this year will focus on promoting women’s and girls’ access to education, training, science, and technology.

The Office of Global Women’s Issues covered much ground in 2010 and we look forward the new challenges and opportunities on the road ahead.