|Figure of the Month: Melanne Verveer, World Mobilizer for Women|
A third generation Ukrainian American, Ambassador Melanne Verveer has not forgotten the struggles faced by those across the globe and those nearer to home in the U.S. She has exercised her numerous leadership positions to steadfastly advocate for those whose voices have been neglected and often violently silenced. For over 20 years Verveer has promoted human rights and humanitarian causes, playing an integral role in furthering the realization of these values around the world.
Verveer earned both her B.S. in languages and M.A. in Russian studies at Georgetown University, where she was a University Fellow. She worked as a Field Manager for Common Cause, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to U.S. government accountability and transparency, and was a Coordinator for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs for the U.S. Catholic Conference. Later she became Executive Vice President of People for the American Way, a civil rights and constitutional liberties organization which played an important role in passing several civil rights bills. She also served on the Board of Directors of the Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund, which has provided among other things additional ambulances, cardiac monitors, respirators and other medical equipment to hospitals in Ukraine. In addition she has served on the boards of the Advocacy Institute, the Center for Policy Alternatives, Counterpart International, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Public Allies, and more.
During President Bill Clinton's Administration, she was an Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. Her responsibilities included organizing Hillary Clinton's travel to over 80 countries, implementing a focused campaign to advance women's rights, encourage micro-financing for women, increase education for women and girls, and build democracies. Verveer was also instrumental in the administration's creation of the Interagency Council on Women.
In June 2000 Verveer co-founded the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to empowering women around the word by providing training and networking to enhance leadership skills and improve access to the resources necessary for success. Vital Voices is grounded in a comprehensive approach that addresses the political, economic and social arenas in which women face additional challenges to realizing their potential. The work of Vital Voices in the Middle East has included creating corporate-community partnerships to reduce family violence and improve breast cancer awareness, establishing the Middle East and North Africa Business Women's Network, and teaming up women from Northern Ireland with women in Israel and Palestine to hold intensive workshops on peace-building.
In June 2006, under the auspices of Queen Rania, Verveer co-convened with a number of other distinguished women leaders the "Mobilizing of Action" conference held at the Dead Sea in Jordan, launching the Global Women’s Action Network for Children. This initiative is designed to draw upon the expertise, power, and prominence of influential women around the world to mobilize global action on behalf of women's and children's rights, health care, and education.
Her experiences and expertise have served to make Verveer an ideal spokesperson for women's issues on an international scale. In April of last year she became the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Womens' Issues, a new post created by the Obama Administration. In this position Verveer is charged with integrating women's rights and issues into the totality of U.S. foreign policy. Verveer has provided testimony to Congress on violence against women on a global scale and in Afghanistan, Sudan and the Congo in particular, child marriage, honor killings, denial of education and human trafficking. She has spoken at universities across the U.S., from Pennsyvlania to Georgia and Colorado, informing and inspiring another generation of leaders to be agents of change for human rights and development.
In June 2009 Verveer spoke at the "Women for Poland, Poland for Women: 20 Years of Transformation 1989-2009" conference held in Warsaw and met with women leaders, activist groups, and government representatives to discuss how to make further progress in reducing violence against women in Poland. In June she also visited Afghanistan to deliver a strong message to Hamid Karzai and other officials that justice must be served for Afghan women and girls who are victims of violence. In November 2009 she visited India to speak with senior Indian government officials on several bilateral women's development issues, as well as visited Bangladesh to speak with members of the Bangladesh Alliance for Women Leadership. In December 2009 she spoke out against the human rights abuses of the military junta in Burma, demanding that perpetrators be held accountable.
Verveer has received numerous awards for her tireless efforts to improve the lives of women and children throughout the world, such as the American Association of University Women’s “Woman of Distinction”Award, the Basilian Humanitarian Award, the Ukraine's State Award, and the Meridian Award from Meridian International Center.
This whirlwind selection of highlights from Verveer's lifelong career promoting the well-being of women nowhere near exhausts the list of her efforts. What this brief tour of Verveer's activities does demonstrate is that her work is anchored in a theme she frequently emphasizes in her advocacy: "no country can get ahead if half its population is left behind."