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Institute Launch Offers Firsthand Reports by Women in War-Torn Countries

February 21, 2013 – As its first executive director, Melanne Verveer (I’66, G'69) launched the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) yesterday by giving women from three countries where violence is particularly prevalent the chance to speak.

“You are about to hear from panelists who are on the frontlines of change – in Burma, in Afghanistan and in Guatemala – countries coping with conflicts and still dealing with the consequences of conflict,” said Verveer, who previously served as President Obama’s first ever ambassador-at-large and director of the State Department’s office for Global Women’s Issues.

“It is women like these who are an important part of the news stories that we read about and hear about every day,” added the longtime advisor to Hillary Clinton. “But we often don’t read about and hear about the fact that they are an important part of the solution to many of the challenges their countries confront.”

No Better Institution

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the formation of GIWPS when she unveiled the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security during an address at Georgetown in December 2011.

“There couldn’t be a better institution to lead the way in the academic work that is necessary around these issues,” Clinton said at Georgetown in 2011.

“Melanne is most famous for the unwavering passion she brings to her causes,” Clinton said when Verveer was sworn in at the State Department in 2009. “And for the last 15 years, that cause has been women and girls – their rights, their opportunities, their central importance to the future of our world’s progress and prosperity.”

Burma, Guatemala, Afghanistan

Newsweek/The Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown moderated the launch event, for which hundreds gathered Wednesday.

GIWPS, which resides within the university’s School of Foreign Service (SFS), is designed to look at the impact of women's participation in resolving conflict, mitigating state failure and humanitarian disasters and shaping major political transitions.

The three women on the panel were Burmese activist Zin Mar Aung; Claudia Paz y Paz, attorney general of Guatemala; and Nargis Nehan, founder, Equality for Peace and Democracy in Afghanistan. The panel also included Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Existing Threats

Brown asked Nehan what the greatest threat to security and peace is in Afghanistan and what changes she has noticed since the new constitution there mandated that women make up 30 percent of the parliament.

Nehan said her greatest concern is that when American troops leave, women could lose what they have gained so far – women in government, a violence prevention council and women working in the private sector.

“What is [feared] … is that an exclusive political settlement will happen that will actually … challenge all the achievements we have had with the support of the international community, especially the United States of America,” Nehan said.” So that’s the threat we see for ourselves.”

Nehan added that she hoped women in Afghanistan would stop being thought of as victims.

“We have demonstrated our leadership capacity,” she explained.

Women’s Needs

Aung, who spent 11 years in prison for handing out political pamphlets when she was a student, said she hoped more women would be involved in the Burmese government and peace process.

“In our [peace process], there [are] no women at the table and women’s roles are just advocacy roles,” she said. “Women know women’s needs. [Having only] men [in power] is not enough.”

Paz y Paz called the advancement of women’s status and roles “a process,” especially in her country, where violence against women is still a significant threat.

“Five years ago [in Guatemala], violence against women in the home was not considered a crime,” she said through a translator.

Leading the Charge

During the launch, Brown said, “Georgetown is so lucky I think to have Ambassador Verveer leading the charge on this really cutting-edge initiative.”

Verveer thanked Georgetown President John J. DeGioia for his “leadership, your extraordinary commitment and your support for this enterprise that I am confident will make the kind of difference we all want to see it make.”

“There is no one on this planet better suited to [the executive director] role than Melanne,” said SFS Dean Carol Lancaster, in introducing Verveer. “We hope that this institute will become a hub for knowledge and innovation, a place to hear the voices and experiences of women in peacemaking, and to conduct and sponsor evidence-based policy relevant research to better understand the roles and experiences of women. ...”

Living in Solidarity

DeGioia said the formation and launch of GIWPS is true to the spirit and mission of Georgetown.

“We strive to live in solidarity with so many across our world who live in the margins, whose work is unrecognized – especially the women who lead despite the obstacles of their societies,” he said.

The day's activities concluded with a dinner during which SFS presented Paz y Paz with its Dean’s Award for achievement in advancing women in peace and security.

Courage Inspiring

Paz y Paz is the first female top prosecutor of a nation still recovering from years of devastating civil war.

Paz y Paz accepted "in the name of... the survivors, who come forward to seek justice.”

"Your courage inspires us," Lancaster told Paz y Paz.