Executive Director for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace Security Melanne Verveer (SFS ’66 and GRD ’69) celebrated her new book “Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose” while championing ways women can take on leadership roles in Riggs Library on Thursday.
The event was hosted by the Georgetown President’s office, GIWPS and the Georgetown Women’s Alliance. Verveer was interviewed on stage by Lois Romano, an editor at The Washington Post, and introduced by University President John J. DeGioia.
Verveer’s discussion signified the beginning of Global Gender Justice Week’s series of talks engaging with issues pertaining to gender equality and justice, organized by the Georgetown Women’s Alliance. Guests include United Nations Representative on Sexual Violence Zainab Bangura and a panel discussion on Women Leaders in Asia.
In DeGioia’s introduction for Verveer, he highlighted her work on global gender justice from her time as an ambassador to the publishing of her book “Fast Forward,” which contains interviews with female leaders, including their views on addressing gender equality. “The leaders profiled in this work share an uncommon commitment to service, to supporting the contributions of others and to affirming the importance of women’s participation as leaders in our society,” DeGioia said. “We are reminded through Ambassador Verveer’s work of the importance of these stories.”
Verveer began her talk by illustrating the importance of sharing personal stories and having these conversations about gender in the broader context of women’s rights. She praised the strides made in elevating women to positions of power that occurred following her own college education. “Twenty years ago, women’s rights weren’t human rights. In twenty years, so much has happened around the world,” Verveer said. “Whether it’s laws to combat violence against women or girls’ education, a whole range of progressive changes that have been made.”
Verveer said there is still more work to be done to combat women’s rights abuses. She said as women have proven to be indelible assets to organizations and industries they work in, there will continue to be less discrimination.
“The evidence-based case has moved this argument from the right thing to do to the smart and most strategic,” Verveer said. “Even if you’re not motivated by the rights principle, whatever you’re trying to do to advance your enterprise, including women is in your self interest.”
Verveer said modern women are a force to be reckoned with, both economically and politically, noting the large percentage of women-run businesses in theU.S.
“In the United States, women-run businesses are growing at 1.5 times the average, which is significant,” Verveer said. “If we were an economy, the amount women are contributing to the economy of the United States would be close to the economy of Germany.”
According to Verveer, despite improvements in the condition of gender equality, many women’s issues are still being overlooked, including child care, paid leave and the campaign for equal pay for equal work.
Verveer explained how, while collecting stories for “Fast Forward,” she found that women continued to be held back by a fear of failing, and this fear affects progress toward gender justice and female empowerment.
“Every woman we interviewed talked about two things: lack of confidence and the fear of failure,” Verveer said. “The fear of failure is very interesting because I think a lot of us are driven not to fail, but failure is a big part of knowing and moving to the next stage.”
Verveer argued that starting the conversation on how to improve women’s self-esteem is a small part of what needs to be done to further gender justice and female empowerment. She added that citizens and groups must focus on specific issues, such as the education of women.
“In so many places, women have been told, ‘You don’t count, you can be violated.’ The greatest investment that can be made anywhere is education. Education is a game changer,” Verveer said. “Never underestimate what will happen to some of your classmates and where they might end up someday.”
Vinitha Raj (SFS ’19), who attended the event, said she was inspired by Verveer’s comments on her time as a Georgetown student and also impressed by her willingness to work hard when there were not many opportunities available to her.
“I thought it was particularly interesting that she talked about her experience as a trailblazer in politics, and how she touched upon that when she was in school at Georgetown, it was so much more difficult, that there weren’t that many women there,” Raj said. “Some of us just take it for granted that we can think about careers in politics, a lot more easily than she did.
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