FILE PHOTO: LAUREN SEIBEL/THE HOYA
Former Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, promoted a new index measuring women’s well-being worldwide.

Iceland is the best country for women’s well-being, according to a new Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security index that measures women’s well-being around the globe.

The United States ranks 22nd overall, after Iceland the remaining countries in the top 10 are: Norway, Switzerland, Slovenia, Spain, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Netherlands and Singapore.

Launched at the United Nations on Oct. 26, the eve of the annual Security Council debate on women, peace and security, the Women Peace and Security Index draws on recognized international data sources such as representation in parliament and workforce participation to rank
153 countries on the condition of women and their empowerment in homes, communities and societies more broadly.

The United States’ score is depressed by high rates of intimate partner violence, more than 10 percent higher than the average for developed countries.

Founded in 2011, GIWPS examines and highlights the roles and experiences of women in peace and security worldwide through cutting-edge research. The index is a collaboration with the government of Norway and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo.

The Hoya sat down with Melanne Verveer (SLL’ 66, GRD’ 69), executive director of GIWPS to discuss the recent launch of the global index. Verveer served as the first ever ambassador of global women’s issues under former President Barack Obama. Dedicating her public service career to women’s rights and advocacy, Verveer said that the launch of this global index will radically change how women’s well-being around the world is calculated.

What was it like serving as ambassador under both the Obama and Clinton administrations?

I have been privileged to engage in public service in significant positions, as Chief of Staff to Hillary Clinton when she was first lady and later as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Both positions provided an opportunity to advance the United States commitment to progress for women and girls around the world. [My White House position] was a life-changing post in terms of propelling me to be more deeply engaged on women’s rights.

As the inaugural U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, my charge was to integrate a gender perspective and women’s participation into all aspects of U.S. foreign policy, recognizing that no country could get ahead if it left half its people behind. We cannot make progress on some of the most challenging global issues—from growing economies to sustaining peace, addressing climate change and supporting democratic governance—if women are constrained from full participation.

As a Georgetown alumna, what is something you learned from your time as a student that you carried with you in your career in public service?

My days as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Georgetown were a time to develop my interest in public service. I was excited, as were many of my generation, by the call of President Kennedy at the time, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I wanted to be in Washington, where there was so much interest in government and in how we could contribute. Georgetown was a magnet for many leaders coming to campus to discuss the big issues of our time, and Georgetown’s ethos of “women and men for others” enhanced this interest and commitment.

What was the vision behind the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s creation, and what are its main goals today?

The call for women’s engagement in peace and security was recognized by the U.N. Security Council more than 15 years ago, but progress has been less than robust. When I was Ambassador, we formulated a U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Many other countries had already done so, including the EU and NATO. Out of the experience of implementing the NAP, we recognized that far more needed to be done to illustrate the evidence based case for women’s engagement in peace and security through rigorous research, global leadership and developing the next generation of leaders.

GIWPS recently launched a new index that measures women’s well-being globally. What sets this new index apart from other comparable indexes out there?

The index captures a more comprehensive picture of the women’s well-being. Gender indices are typically limited to indicators as whether women complete secondary education or are in paid work. These aspects of inclusion are undoubtedly important but they are incomplete in the absence of justice and security. For example, if girls are enrolled in school but not safe in their homes or in school, we get an incomplete picture of well being. Similarly traditional measures of security include an array of conflict indicators but ignore systematic bias and discrimination against women. This index brings together the dimensions of inclusion, justice and security into a single number and ranking. It therefore represents a major innovation in how we think about and measure women’s well-being bringing achievements in; for example, schooling and access to cell phones, together with data on violence against women.

Would you explain how the index takes the various factors into account when calculating the condition of women in a specific country?

The index captures three dimensions—inclusion, justice, and security—that are measured using publicly available data. Inclusion is measured by women’s achievements in education, employment and parliamentary representation, as well as access to cell phones and financial services. Justice is captured in both formal and informal aspects—extent of discrimination in the legal system, alongside a bias in favor of sons and exposure to discriminatory norms. Security is measured by intimate partner violence, perception of community safety and organized violence (number of battle deaths.)

What do you believe is the most pressing issue globally that women face today?

Women continue to make progress globally but the progress is uneven. Violence against women is a pervasive scourge. We focused on the three dimensions because they best capture the well being of women. As one can see from the index, there is much work that remains to be done for women to have their rights protected and for them to participate fully in all aspects of their societies. Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls for gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is important in its own right and central to the achievement of the other goals. Clearly there is still a long road to go to achieve gender equality.

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