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Women: Office of Global Women's Issues: September 2015 Newsletter


The news this summer has at times inspired gender equality champions around the world. Other times, it’s been downright discouraging.

We continue to learn disturbing things about ISIL’s mistreatment of women, from the young girls recruited to leave their families and travel to Syria, to the Yezidi women and girls reporting sexual enslavement and violence by ISIL terrorists.   These stories add urgency and clarity to international efforts to defeat and degrade ISIL and to hold perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict accountable for their actions. Women and girls must be included in this work, which is why we are collaborating with the Counter-ISIL Coalition to ensure women are part of our stabilization efforts in Iraq.   But there have also been powerful, encouraging moments for gender equality. Kenyans and gender champions around the world cheered when President Obama made women and girls a focus of his trip to Africa in July.   A young Kenyan summed up the potential impact of the President’s focus: “For a long time people have said that women could not be successful in business and in government because of their traditional roles,” she said. “Now I know that even though I am a girl, I can also be the best pediatrician. Actually, I knew that already, but after Obama’s speech, now everyone in Kenya knows that too.”   This is why our work matters. When girls and women are empowered, their communities and countries benefit as well. The coming months offer moments for the international community to take this message to heart and act for gender equality.   The UN General Assembly, the anniversaries of the 1995 landmark UN World Conference on Women and the 2000 UN Security Council Resolution 1325, and the anticipated adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are all opportunities for reflection and resolution. We can do better and do more to empower women and girls.   But it won’t be enough to have high-level, international action, although that is certainly critical. We need individual leadership in government, the private sector, and civil society to make 2015 a year that inspires—not discourages—progress for gender equality.   Here’s to moving forward,  

Cathy Russell

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues

P.S. I’m excited to share that from now on this newsletter will highlight gender champions working at the State Department to empower women and girls. Scroll down to see who the inaugural State Department Gender Champions are. 



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President Obama delivers remarks at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya on July 25, 2015.

This is what a male champion looks like.  President Obama delivered a clear message to the world during his trip to Kenya and Ethiopia: countries won’t get ahead unless they include and empower women and girls. He called out harmful traditions like early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting that may date back centuries but “have no place in the twenty-first century.” And he announced millions of dollars in new commitments to support women entrepreneurs, along with a new effort in Tanzania and Malawi to empower women and girls.  President Obama also raised gender issues during his engagement with the Mandela Washington Fellows. At the YALI Presidential Summit Town Hall last month, he asked men to step up and make sure women have the same opportunities as men. “If you see a friend of yours, a classmate, one of your buddies abusing a woman, you have to say something,” he told the group.  “You have to ostracize them and say that’s not acceptable.”


Ambassador Russell waves alongside U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Erica Barks-Ruggles, campers, and staff at the opening ceremony of the WiSci STEAM camp for girls at the Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda on July 26, 2015. [State Department Image] 

Global Girls Gaining STEAM.  Three weeks, nine countries, and 120 girls. That’s the number breakdown of the Women in Science (WiSci) camp held in Rwanda earlier this summer to give adolescent girls valuable skills in science, technology, engineering, art and design, and mathematics (STEAM). As part of the Let Girls Learn initiative, the camp also included leadership building, skills-based workshops, and opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and mentorship.  












A submission to the multimedia competition to elevate the importance of the artisan sector depicts the power of artisan craft to preserve cultural heritage and provide economic livelihood for communities in South Sudan.

Advancing Artisans Globally:  A $32 Billion Business.  The artisan industry generates $32 billion a year and employs hundreds of thousands of women in the developing world. Yet the sector’s potential is often overlooked, which is why the State Department, in partnership with the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, will host an international conference on how governments, the private sector, and consumers can support and promote artisans. The conference will be held in Washington, D.C. on September 10. Because women make up the majority of artisans worldwide, support for artisans is a critical part of advancing women’s economic empowerment.   














Dr. Jill Biden sips tea with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell, and Valerie Biden Owens, during a visit to the Jinkwansa Temple, in Seoul, Republic of Korea, July 18, 2015. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

On the Road with Ambassador Russell.   In July Ambassador Russell joined Dr. Jill Biden, the second lady of the United States, for a trip to the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, and Laos. In each country, the delegation met with everyday women as well as leaders in government and civil society to better understand the challenges facing women and girls and how to address them. Get the full read-out from their Asia tour here

The trip with Dr. Biden followed Ambassador Russell’s travel to Burma in May. As the country continues to transition to democracy, it faces both challenges and opportunities. Ambassador Russell spoke with government leaders, members of civil society, and others about how women’s issues can’t wait. Instead, women must be included in the peace process, the political process and the upcoming elections, and the economy.

And in case you missed it, check out these published conversations between Ambassador Russell and women she met during her summer travel.






















Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, addresses the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL in Quebec City, Canada. (UN Photo by Paulina Kubiak)


On ISIL.  The Small Group of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL met in Quebec City in July to review Coalition operations and progress along the various lines of efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. The group discussed how the situation presents a range of issues impacting women and girls, including the effects of displacement and ISIL’s ongoing use of sexual violence. Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefed the Coalition on ISIL’s use of sexual violence and called on the international community to take bold steps to support survivors and champion women in efforts to counter terrorism.

And earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry and UK Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond penned a moving piece on the need to end sexual violence in conflict.


Date: 06/11/2014 Description: Close-up photo of a woman taken by Gustave Deghilage © Flickr

Photo by Gustave Deghilage 


A Status Update on Global Human Rights.  The 2014 State Department’s annual human rights reports show how far we have to go before the human rights of women and girls everywhere are fully respected. They highlight disturbing global trends, from early and forced marriage to sexual violence in conflict that occurs with impunity. In addition to cataloguing many abuses, the reports are an important tool in our pursuit of justice and equality. They help governments, civil society, the media, and human rights defenders make the case for change. The reports also show that when governments, civil society, and citizens come together to advance respect for human rights, good things happen—a refreshing reminder that with action, progress is possible.


Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong gives closing remarks at the U.S.-China Women’s Leadership Exchange and Dialogue at the State Department on June 23, 2015. (State Department Image)

Women's economic empowerment must include human rights.  The tie between women’s rights and their economic opportunity was on clear display during the U.S.-China Women’s Leadership Exchange and Dialogue hosted at the State Department in June, when experts from both China and the United States shared challenges and potential solutions to empower women in the economy. Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom announced three exciting commitments between the United States and China to tackle domestic violence, encourage women’s entrepreneurship, and promote clean cookstoves. She also stressed governments’ obligation to ensure everyone is able to exercise their rights “without discrimination, without exploitation, without abuse, and without violence.”

Ambassador Russell and Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski echoed that message at the US-China Human Rights Dialogue in August. They called for the full release of the Beijing 5 and also raised the importance of civil society as a partner to advance women’s rights and human rights broadly.


Date: 07/01/2015 Description: After the Global Entrepreneurship Summit ended, S/GWI staff stopped by the David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary in Nairobi, Kenya. - State Dept Image













After the Global Entrepreneurship Summit ended, S/GWI staff stopped by the David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary in Nairobi, Kenya. (State Department Image/July 2015)

Where in the world is Team S/GWI?  India, Kenya, Mauritania, and Japan are on the office map with staff travel. In June Radhika Prabhu traveled to India to explore opportunities for U.S.-India cooperation on women’s economic empowerment. In July Mala Adiga, Stephenie Foster, Greta Schettler, and Jonny Dach joined Ambassador Russell in Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which included a full day dedicated to women and youth. In August Julia Santucci joined the U.S. Delegation to the West Africa CVE Summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, where she was inspired by the amazing efforts of West African women working in and out of government to counter violent extremism. Then in late August Stephenie, Claire Kaneshiro, and Mirna Vlasic-Feketija traveled to Japan for the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo: WAW! 2015. 


Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne and Undersecretary Sergio Alcocer join together for the #HeForShe campaign against gender-based violence. (Embassy Mexico City Photo)

At the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference earlier this year, Ambassador Russell announced a new effort to recognize the many ways the entire Department includes women and girls in our work to advance global peace and prosperity.   Here are the inaugural State Department Gender Champions:

Mexico Mission Brings Women to the Table   The Washington think tank community has been taken to task for hosting hundreds of panels with very little representation of women. Perhaps it should take a note from the U.S. Mission in Mexico, which has a rule about inviting women to embassy events. At least 30 percent of the guest list must be women.     That’s just one of many examples of the Mission’s commitment to amplifying women’s issues and voices. Our diplomats raise gender issues like women’s entrepreneurship at high-level dialogues with Mexico. The Mission also works with the Government of Mexico to train public officials and members of civil society on gender issues, among other important activities. Mission Mexico coordinates all efforts through an interagency gender working group.   For amplifying women’s voices at every opportunity, we’re proud to recognize the U.S. Mission to Mexico, the Embassy and 9 consulates, as State Department Gender Champions.  

Embassy Freetown’s Investment in Women Pays Off in Ebola Crisis


The benefits that come from diversity in leadership are no big secret. But no one expected investments in women leaders to pay off the way they did during the Ebola crisis.


In Sierra Leone, local women leaders supported by the United States used their convening power to bring together health care providers and the local community to stem the Ebola outbreak. These were the same women the Embassy trained as leaders to empower other women in local government. The lessons learned from women’s roles in the Ebola response were ultimately adopted nationally by the Government of Sierra Leone as standard operating procedures.


For their commitment to engaging the full population and their creativity in using traditional women’s leadership in the Ebola crisis, we’re proud to recognize Ambassador John Hoover and his team at Embassy Freetown as State Department Gender Champions.

   Embassy Port Moresby Leads on Ending Gender-Based Violence

Nearly two-thirds of women in Papua New Guinea face gender-based violence, a pandemic that holds back not only women and girls but also the entire country. That’s why, under the direction of Economic Officer Susan May and with the support of Ambassador Walter North, Embassy Port Moresby has made gender-based violence a top priority, making the most of very limited resources and inspiring others to pick up the torch.  


Every year the Embassy brings together leaders in government, civil society, the donor community, and the private sector at the PNG Women’s Forum. The Forum, which will be coming up on its third year this March, is the first event of its kind to convene such a broad range of leaders to address issues like gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment in Papua New Guinea.

     Date: 03/09/2015 Description: ''Stronger Together: Partnering for Equality for Women'' Papua New Guinea's Women's Forum: March 9-11, 2015, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Port Moresby © Embassy Port Morseby     

The Embassy also developed a public-private partnership with ExxonMobil PNG called “Smart Economics,” which provides survivors of gender-based violence with basic business training and resources they can use to launch a small business as soon as the training ends.  Following feedback from the program’s pilot phase, “Smart Economics” now also includes a mini-business plan competition. Winners receive seed money and mentoring to start or grow their businesses.

These are just two of the many high-impact programs the Embassy has put in place to empower women and ultimately advance gender equality, peace, and prosperity in Papua New Guinea. For its mission-wide leadership and dedication to gender equality, we’re proud to recognize Embassy Port Moresby as State Department Gender Champions.


UNGA turns 70. The 70th Regular Session of the UN General Assembly is scheduled to open at UN Headquarters on September 15. Celebrate the UN’s 70th birthday with this video of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. She reflects on the history of the UN and what the international institution has meant for gender equality.

  2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Last month the global community came together around an outcome document for adoption at this year’s UNGA. The outcome document recognizes that the contributions of women and girls and the advancement of gender equality are vital to making progress across all proposed goals and targets. It commits all of us to addressing the many barriers women and girls continue to face, from gender-based violence to a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.    Muslim women tell their stories. Muslim women and girls have strong voices and compelling stories, but they have often been marginalized in public discourse. This year, the State Department joined Muslims across the world in celebration of the Eid al-Fitr by highlighting the important contributions of Muslim women storytellers. Government officials, religious leaders, and civil society leaders had the opportunity to hear from several women authors and filmmakers at a State Department event focused on “The Importance of Storytelling: Highlighting the Voices of Muslim Women.” Deputy Secretary Blinken reaffirmed their important role during his remarks at the Secretary’s Eid celebration later that evening. Congratulations to U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities Shaarik H. Zafar on a successful (and important) event.   Guinea tackles FGM/C. Government officials and community leaders in Guinea joined U.S. diplomats for a national radio campaign against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) earlier this summer. The multilingual ads featured U.S. Ambassador Alexander Laskaris, Guinean First Lady Madame Djene Conde, Guinean ministers, Miss Guinea 2014, young men and women, and the founder of an NGO working to end gender-based violence. The radio ads are part of a broader effort by U.S. Embassy Conakry to end FGM/C.     New centers empower women entrepreneurs in Africa. The first of three women’s business centers opened in sub-Saharan Africa this summer, with Lusaka, Zambia becoming the new home of a women’s entrepreneurship center. The second and third centers will open soon in Kenya and Mali. The centers will provide African women entrepreneurs with mentoring, financial services, startup and small business loans, networking opportunities, and access to technology. 




"Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women is doomed to fall behind in a global economy."

- President Obama in Kenya, July 26, 2015



  • On September 10 the State Department will host a conference celebrating artisan enterprise.

  • The 70th Regular Session of the UN General Assembly kicks off September 15, which is also the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

  • The APEC Women and Economy Forum takes place from September 15 – 18 in the Philippines.

    October 11 marks the International Day of the Girl.

  • The UN Security Council (UNSC) will mark 15 years since UNSC resolution 1325 first outlined women’s unique contributions to promoting international peace and security on October 22.  

  • Keep your eyes peeled for the forthcoming Executive Summary of the evaluation of three years of implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence



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