On the record with former ambassador Melanne Verveer


On Wednesday, the newly established Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security was officially launched in a series of remarks by President DeGioia, Dean Lancaster, and the executive director of GIWPS and former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer. A panel discussion featuring many prominent women’s rights activists and government officials followed.

GIWPS was first announced in 2011 when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed her U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security during a speech at Georgetown. Ambassador Verveer is a long-standing promoter of women’s rights and a close friend of Clinton, having served as Clinton’s chief of staff when Clinton was first lady and as chair and co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international women’s rights nonprofit, prior to her appointment to the State Department. Verveer is also a proud Georgetown Hoya, graduating from the Georgetown School of Languages and Linguistics (which merged with the College in the year 1994) in 1966 before attaining a graduate degree in Russian in 1969. She met both her husband, Philip Verveer (COL ’66), and Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) during her undergraduate years.

The Voice sat down for an exclusive interview with the ambassador after the panel.

What makes Georgetown a unique place for this women’s institute? Why specifically Georgetown?

I think this is an important time for Georgetown. It is an academic institution of international renown. Every place I have traveled, both in my White House years and in my State Department years, I have met countless Georgetown graduates, many of them in our diplomatic corps around the globe. To now have this be a significant part of what Georgetown can contribute to, I think, makes a lot of sense.

Women are often written out of history, yet they have played a very significant role in many of these efforts, and we want to be able to have a center for research and a center for scholarship. We can begin to create that record in a very significant way and bring in top researchers and contribute to the scholarship and exchange that with parties all over the globe; I think it will be a major contribution from Georgetown.

I think, beyond that, we can be a place to spotlight discussions like we’ve had this afternoon on a range of topics, from the role that women play in combating terrorism to specific regional challenges. We can also be a place for international collaboration.

What research questions are you looking to answer? What areas of focus are key?

This frankly is an area in which there is not the kind of record that you have, let’s say, in economics. Women’s economic participation today is buttressed by countless studies, data, and research of all kinds from myriad sources. We don’t have that kind of record in terms of women’s contribution to preventing conflict, to peace building, to post-conflict reconstruction. We have a lot of work we need to do.

What happened in a given country where women were at the peace table, what difference did they make, what could have happened that didn’t happen? There are reams and reams of questions that need to be asked.

Do you think Georgetown had an influence on your career choices, your ideals that you’ve kept with you?

Well, there’s no doubt about it. I was here at Georgetown when we didn’t even have any women in the College, so Georgetown has mirrored the kind of progress that women have made, that you have women in the School of Foreign Service in the same kinds of numbers as guys, that women are in the Law School in very significant numbers.

But there’s no doubt, this institution has had an enormous influence on me, both in terms of the academic foundation it provided me but also that sense of constantly working for others, that sense of service that this place is imbued with sense of internationalism that you don’t find on so many campuses. So, it’s a chance for me to give back now to everything that Georgetown has given to me.

Contraception has been a controversial subject at Georgetown for a long time. Do you think this is something that conflicts with the idea of women’s rights?

Well, there should be nothing controversial about the role of women in peace and security. If anyone wants to drum up controversy, I think they would be completely out of line, so hopefully we can go forward and make a contribution, and we can really make a difference for so many around the globe. We’re hoping for that.

You were and are very good friends with Hillary and Bill Clinton. If you had three words to describe Hillary Clinton, what three words would they be?

Committed, principled, brilliant.

Do you have any advice for Georgetown students who want to get involved in women’s rights?

We want to get as many students as possible involved in this. One of the things I’d like to know is what more could be done for the women students at Georgetown, what kinds of discussions, projects, what would make a difference, and particularly in respect to the institute, to really have a great deal of student participation in myriad ways.

This is, after all, a university, and that means educating students who come here. That has got to be one of our priorities as well.

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Claire Zeng

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