What’s going to happen to America’s global women’s and girls initiatives without Hillary Clinton?
Clinton was a champion for women and children around the world in a way no other Secretary of State before her. She’s brought money, attention and the political gravitas and power of the United States to a spectrum of issues and programs to better the lives of women and girls around the globe, like The Equal Futures Partnership designed to get more women into government positions of power globally, The 100 Women Initiative which is working to find ways to economically empower women and girls around the globe, and the Global Sports Mentoring Program, just to name a few.
Finding and creating ways to put the female half of the globe on more even footing with men has been a mission that Hillary’s held close to her heart for pretty much her whole life. Just read a few pages of any of her biographies and that’s evident. And Clinton reminded us shortly before the 2012 presidential election, knowing she wouldn’t be signing on for a second tour of duty at the State Department, that making women around the world equal partners in their fates was “one of the great pieces of unfinished business of the 21st century.”
Now that Hillary is out of the State Department, and is hopefully having a little “me” time, what happens to that “great piece of unfinished business?” Former U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry has quipped that, following Clinton and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice into the State Department, he has “big heels to fill.” To fill those sensible pumps or seriously kick-ass boots, depending on which predecessor he’s referring to, Kerry needs a continued focus on the subset of human rights that specifically addresses the lives of women and girls around the world.
Kerry remarked recently that he will focus on “mak[ing] a difference in the lives of other people,” citing priorities of the USAID such as education, global health and HIV prevention programs, ending extreme poverty, and gender equality. But is that enough? Or if Hillary Clinton’s efforts are to be continued, does there have to be a separate commitment? And must that effort be headed by a woman?
Hillary had a lot of help in championing the cause of bettering the lives of women and girls around the world from someone I will call her partner in crime (and I mean that in the most complimentary way) Melanne Verveer, the first ever U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.
Just a few weeks ago, President Obama did issue a statement reiterating his support and commitment in coordinating America’s policies and programs to “promote equality and empower women and girls globally.” How that goal is implemented totally depends on any particular Secretary of State’s agenda.
So where does Kerry stand? On domestic women’s issues, he’s received a 100 percent rating from the American Association of University Women and as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he supported the International Violence Against Women Act. Those are good signs of things to come. But let’s see how he incorporates that into his style of running foreign policy. I hate to say it, but I’m not sure a male Secretary of State can carry the flag of global women’s issues as effectively as another woman.