Participants from Friday's event pictured above, from left, Ann Warner, Julie Katzman, Elizabeth Griffith, Sarah Degnan Kambou, Melanne Verveer, Renee Wittemyer, Lois Romano, and Dotti Hatcher. Photo by Nathan Mitchell/NPC.
Ambassador Melanne Verveer on Nov. 8 praised what she called the essential role of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in advancing the world’s women and girls, and on behalf of them, accepted ICRW’s Champions for Change Leadership Award during a luncheon and discussion in Washington, D.C.
“I really accept this in honor of all those women in so many places who are on the front lines of change, creating a better world for all of us,” said Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and former ambassador at large of the U.S. Office on Global Women’s Issues.
“If ICRW didn’t exist, we would truly have to create it,” she said. “It has been, as well as the women around the globe … on the front lines of change, leading the way for effective development with policies based on cutting-edge research, innovative partnerships and a deep commitment to advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality.”
The Champions of Change Leadership Award recognizes influential individuals who are committed to empowering women and girls around the world. Previous recipients include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former president of the Ford Foundation, Susan Berresford.
In introducing Verveer, ICRW Board of Directors Chairwoman Elizabeth Griffith called Veveer “a transformational leader” on women’s political, social and economic advancement globally. Indeed, Veveer has been instrumental in ensuring that women’s basic rights are recognized in policy and practice, and that women and girls everywhere have access to opportunities that not only better their lives, but also contribute to creating more secure, thriving communities.
More than 150 guests gathered for the event that honored Verveer and included a panel discussion on innovative strategies for advancing women’s livelihood – specifically, strategies that panelists stressed must start during adolescence and continue through adulthood. ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou also led a one-on-one conversation with Verveer to learn more about her career path and influences.
In accepting the Champions for Change honor, Verveer emphasized that although many women and girls suffer violence and poverty, they must not be looked at – nor do they want to be viewed – as victims. Rather, they are agents of change, she said. Making sure they have opportunities to progress is smart and strategic.
“And it is a case today built on a big mountain of evidence that grows everyday – a foundation of research and data that really speaks to those who may not be motivated by the promotion of women’s rights,” Verveer said, “but are certainly motivated by what is in their self interest in terms of the smart thing to do.”
“This is all about smart power.”
She called adolescent girls at once the most vulnerable of those on the front lines of change and “the keystone to progress.”
ICRW’s Senior Gender and Youth Specialist Ann Warner echoed that sentiment during the event’s panel discussion, saying that "if we’re serious about doing a good job in our development and human rights programming, we have to look at adolescent girls.”
Warner was joined by panelists Dotti Hatcher, executive director of Gap Inc.’s Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) Global Initiatives, Julie T. Katzman, executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and Renee Wittemyer, director of social impact in Intel Corporation’s corporate responsibility office. The discussion was moderated by Lois Romano, senior political writer for Politico.
Warner emphasized that in the last five to ten years, more attention in programming has been given to the adolescent years, which she called a pivotal period for the individual as well as families, communities and nations.
And increasingly, collaborations between governments, the private sector and civil society are having an impact on the lives of women and adolescent girls.
Gap’s P.A.C.E. program is such an example, an effort that provides female garment factory workers a comprehensive learning program that teaches communication skills, financial literacy, time and stress management, among other skills applicable in both the workplace and at home. Launched in 2007, P.A.C.E. operates in seven countries in Asia, and has reached more than 20,000 women.
Hatcher said that often women – who make up 80 percent of garment industry employees – come to the profession with low self-esteem, not knowing “if they can do.” “They have the same capacity to learn, to grow and to develop – but what they haven’t been given is the opportunity,” she said. “They haven’t been given the skills to advance in the workplace.”
But through the P.A.C.E. program, women’s self-esteem and self-efficacy – their belief in their ability to accomplish goals – has soared. An ICRW evaluation of the program also found that women became more productive and efficient and that there was less turnover at factories, among other outcomes.
“Women of P.A.C.E. tend to stay longer in the factories, so the vendors are seeing the bottom line impact,” Hatcher said. “The manufacturers see the benefit to their business,” too.
Two Intel Corp. technology education programs – Intel Learn and Intel Teach – also have seen the power of giving women and girls access to opportunities and new skills. Intel Learn teaches technology skills to young people, while Intel Teach instructs educators how to incorporate technologies in classroom lessons. But, as Intel’s Wittemeyer said, it also is shifting how teaching is approached.
In particular, an ICRW review of Intel Teach found that the power balance between teacher and student changed. “The teacher is no longer standing there lecturing to you; you are suddenly empowered,” she said. “Particularly for girls, we found they had an increased voice in the classroom.”
“It’s not the technology access itself,” that is empowering, Wittemyer said, “but it's what it can enable. It’s for political participation, economic empowerment, educational opportunities or even for just questioning the status quo.”
Like Verveer, panelist Julie T. Katzman of the IDB stressed that investing in women and adolescent girls is a smart strategy – not only for the growth of individuals and their families, but for the productivity and wealth of countries.
Katzman said that if women and girls – who comprise half the world’s population – had equal economic opportunities in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, they would see 5 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth. It would be the same for Japan, which has been in a deflationary cycle for a generation. And if Egyptian women had equal economic opportunities, Katzman said the country’s GDP would increase by 34 percent.
To get there requires, in part, enabling girls and women to “find their own voice,” Hatcher said. And for adolescents in particular, taking a holistic approach is critical, according to Warner.
“You can’t just tackle one aspect of a girl’s life,” she said. “We have to work with their parents, with their spouses, with their brothers – these are important gatekeepers in their lives.
“If they’re brought along, the opportunities for girls to do all they’re capable of will be much greater.”