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Look at Us as Leaders: International Women’s Day Symposium

March 30, 2015 —

Twenty years after the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 — hailed as a milestone for gender equality — the record of women’s rights worldwide “is a record of progress.” But there is still a long way to go, according to Ambassador Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

Verveer, who served as the first U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues from 2009 to 2013, spoke March 24 at the International Women’s Day Symposium organized by the fellows of the Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program (WLPPFP). 

“An Afghan woman said to me one night in Kabul, ‘stop looking at us as victims and look at us as the leaders that we are.’ And I thought to myself, ‘She’s absolutely right,’” Verveer said. “If we just look at a woman … solely in [terms of victimization], we miss the agency, the voice, the capability, the leadership — and yes the power — that she has. … We are missing a huge part of the picture.”

Jessy Tolkan of Tolkan & Co. interviewed Verveer in the half-hour discussion regarding the hopes and challenges of women worldwide. Earlier in the day, moderators including Professor Susan Deller Ross of the Law Center’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic and Visiting Professor Rachel Camp of the Domestic Violence Clinic led panels on barriers to education for girls, ensuring the advancement of women in post-conflict regions and international perspectives on sexual violence. 

The yearly symposium showcases the work of the Leadership & Advocacy for Women in Africa (LAWA) fellows on some of the most pertinent issues affecting women today. LAWA Fellow Lillian Andama (LL.M.'15), for example, explored how a 1990 change in Uganda’s laws imposing the death penalty for rape has negatively affected reporting and prosecutions for the crime. “The death penalty is not the answer,” Andama said. 

Other fellows and speakers addressed access to education and women’s role in development. The event was co-sponsored by Advocates Against Sexual Violence, Human Rights Action/Amnesty International and the Human Rights Institute.

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