A longtime Arlington County Board member shakes up Virginia politics by announcing plans to step away. Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland's treasured public school systems. And the field of candidates narrows in D.C.'s special elections looming in the spring.
With an unprecedented focus on women’s issues around the world, the Obama administration created an office of Global Women’s Issues at the State Department. We speak to Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer about her recent trip to India and initiatives around the world that aim to promote the political, social and economic advancement of women.
- Melanne Verveer Ambassador-At-Large, Global Women's Issues
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The rights of women have been described as the moral imperative of the 21st century. When President Obama came into office, he made women's issues a foreign policy priority creating the first Office of Global Women's Issues.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAddressing the problems of women around the world is an enormous task. More than 60 percent of the children who don't get an education are girls. Millions of women live in extreme poverty and violence against women and girls is a staggering problem, including human trafficking, rape and so-called honor-killings.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOn the other hand, women lead nations in unprecedented numbers, including in developing countries in Central Asia, South America and Africa and initiatives to empower women economically are taking root around the world. Joining us to discuss how the U.S. is coordinating foreign policy to help address some of these issues is the woman leading the new office. She is Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues with the State Department. Ambassador Verveer, thank you so much for joining us.
AMBASSADOR MELANNE VERVEERThank you, Kojo, it's a real pleasure.
NNAMDIThe pleasure is having you. And it would be a pleasure if you'd join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What do you think the U.S. role should be in promoting women's rights around the globe? Call us at 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Send an e-mail to email@example.com or a tweet at kojoshow.
NNAMDIPresident Obama created the Office of Global Women's Issues back in 2009. Why, in your view, was that significant?
VERVEERWell, it was significant because the president, the secretary of state and so many others recognized that we can't possibly solve the global challenges that we confront around the world unless women are fully participating in all aspects of decision-making, whether it has to do with governance, it has to do with the environment, security issues, economic issues. Women's participation is absolutely essential.
VERVEERWe also know that where there are investments in women being made, those investments have among the highest yield dividends that are paid in terms of economic development, democracy building, civil society formation and so much more that is in the interests of our country, but certainly in the interests of creating a better world for everybody.
NNAMDII notice that you have mentioned in the past that as recently as the 1990s women's issues were not even mentioned in diplomatic cables. It wasn't even on the radar screen.
VERVEERThat's certainly right, Kojo. I was the chief-of-staff to then the First Lady, Hillary Clinton. And as you may remember, she did some significant work overseas representing the United States. And it was very clear in those days that as we were trying to get information to prepare for her travels that there was little that was available in terms of information on the status of girls' education in the country or on women's political and economic participation.
VERVEERYou name it, the kind of information that you would think would be readily available was not. And in those days, one of the significant changes that were made by then Secretary Madeleine Albright was to basically ask, urge, mandate that our posts around the world would provide this kind of information because it was absolutely essential to the conduct of our foreign policy.
VERVEERBut you're so right that wasn't so long ago and yet that was a major step.
NNAMDIYours is a relatively new position so I think our audience would be interested in how do you see your role in shaping policy now?
VERVEERWell that's a very good question because essentially my role is about integrating these issues into the overall work of our State Department. These issues are a cornerstone of our foreign policy as it's been articulated. And in order to do that, it is not so much essential to have special projects or initiatives as good, as important as those can be, but to really integrate mainstream these issues in all of the work that our State Department does, whether it has to do with the regional bureaus from Africa to the Western hemisphere or whether it has to do with economic issues or human rights.
VERVEERThese need to be of a consistent application. So as we're dealing with the aftermath of the Arab Spring or we're dealing with development initiatives coming out of USAID, it is essential that in order for us to get the single best outcomes, we need to really look and see and ensure that this gender lens, if you will, is applied in a way that can enhance the kind of outcomes we want to see for the betterment of our work, our mission and our goals around the globe.
NNAMDIWell, the U.N. does a lot of work for women's rights around the world and through its various agencies. How do you coordinate U.S. policy with the work of, on the one hand, the U.N. and on the other, local organizations?
VERVEERWell, the United Nations, certainly we are a participating country. We have a mission in New York that is very active. We have a department in the State Department, the International Organizations Department and we very much work at addressing some of the global challenges that we confront through that apparatus and through that most important institution.
VERVEERThe United Nations recently created UN Women, which is a new agency that builds on previously lesser offices at the United Nations focused on women's issues. For the first time ever, there's an undersecretary-general at the right hand or at the left hand as the case may be, of the secretary-general specifically responsible for these issues and that's the former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet.
VERVEERSo we work closely on issues of mutual interest because I think coordination is all-important. There aren't enough resources today or competencies frankly, or everything else that's needed to do a big job all around the world. So we have to engage in coordination. As easy as it is to say that word, it is not always very easy to execute that. So that is certainly an arena in which we play significantly and hopefully in a way that enhances the overall common cause, common agenda that we share.
VERVEERAt the local level there are extraordinary numbers, certainly here in the United States and around the world, but particularly in the United States, so many non-governmental organizations, so many voluntary groups. And they are of all kinds who are deeply committed to what woman's progress represents both home and around the world. And certainly those that are engaged globally have an open door in my office. I think everybody would tell you that they get a fair shake at presenting their case or petitioning for whatever issues that they are promoting at any given time.
VERVEERAnd that also holds true today for the private sector because business is much more significantly engaged on global issues.
NNAMDIIndeed I'd like to talk to you more specifically about what you see the role of the private sector in looking at women's issues around the world. In case you're just joining us, our guest is Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues with the State Department. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. And the ambassador just mentioned issues coming through her door. What do you think are the most important issues for women around the world? Call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question there.
NNAMDIMadam Ambassador, we are in a middle of an acrimonious debate at the center of which is cutting spending and international development aid is on the chopping block here and in other major donor countries. How might cutbacks affect not only, A, your office, but, B, and maybe even more importantly, women around the world especially in developing countries?
VERVEERWell, it's always a very serious concern. And as Secretary Clinton said in her testimony on the Hill, the State Department budget is, and that includes all of our diplomatic affairs as well as our development programs and comprises actually less than 1 percent of the overall federal budget.
VERVEERNow, this is very important work that is being done on behalf of our country and it involves issues of national security as well as the issuing of passports and the kinds of things that the American people come to depend on just in the course of their own everyday family or professional activities. So depending how all of this turns out, it could take a tremendous toll.
VERVEERBut I think there's another important way to look at this and that is that these are investments and they are investments for a very small price comparatively. As outgoing Secretary of Defense Gates said, we don't have a military operation to go to every country that flares up with problems. But if development investments are made well, we can create conditions that will ward off the worst from happening and those worse things from happening often seriously affect our own security.
VERVEERSo these are preventive measures, if you will, and I think often pay off with high yield dividends in ways that serve us in the long term. So I hope we're not penny wise and pound foolish in the process of going through the appropriations, but that we really do appreciate what this represents in terms of the overall concerns of our country and certainly the mission of our foreign policy apparatus.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Isaac in Fairfax, Va. Isaac you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ISAACHi, Madam Ambassador, I would like to find out how can I work for you.
NNAMDIYou're looking for a job, Isaac?
ISAACThat's how bad it is.
NNAMDINo, but I think you also had a question about the Peace Corps, did you not?
ISAACYes, I did. Actually, I'm interested in finding out how her office relates to the Peace Corps because the Peace Corps works with lots of women in developing countries.
VERVEERThat's a very good question, Isaac, and we, of course, do work across the government in many ways because we have shared responsibilities. For example, violence against women is an epidemic, if you will, around the world and the Peace Corps has had some extraordinary programs that it is doing that go to the heart of really addressing some of those issues.
VERVEERI was recently overseas and did an event at one of our embassies with some of the Peace Corps volunteers who were working with girls who were particularly vulnerable, to help them grow their skills, their self esteem, their confidence so that they would stay in school and understand why it was important to stay in school and in a way, ward off some of the worst things that might happen to them. So there is a lot of common interests and working together between our agencies and the Peace Corps is among America's best representatives around the globe and certainly has a strong presence in many places around the world.
VERVEERThis event that I mentioned took place in Lusaka, in Zambia. And I was so amazed as the young girls, they were actually young teens, told me what a difference this program had made in their lives and it was an add-on program that Peace Corp volunteers were doing, in addition to everything else they were doing. So there's a lot of good work going on and we try to support it as best we can.
NNAMDIIsaac, thank you very much for your call. We got an e-mail from Beth in Alexandria, as I was about to go to specific countries, Beth writes, "Please, ask Ambassador Verveer to comment on the situation in the Congo and the plight of women and human rights there and what the U.S. is doing about it. Full Disclosure," Beth says, "I worked with Melanne many years ago and I send fond regards." But, please, go ahead, Madame Ambassador.
VERVEERWell, that's a really important question about a place that is extremely challenging these days. For all too many years now, there has been a raging civil war going on in Congo. And sexual gender based violence is one that is taking its toll and continues to do so. There were just reports a few weeks ago about another terrible incident in a remote part of Eastern Congo that -- where massive violence against women took place. And rape is being used there as a tool of the armed conflict every day.
VERVEERAnd the United States has been responding in many different ways, on many different levels because there is not one response to this. Certainly, at one level, the political level, working with leadership and doing so regionally is something that is extremely important to try to get at the root of the problem. Conflict minerals is another issue that plays on all of this and the Congress recently passed a legislation that is in the process of implementation that goes to the heart of, you know, the source of minerals, particularly, those that are imported to the United States and whether any of them are tainted by all of this.
VERVEEROn the issue of the women and sexual gender base violence, that has to be addressed in so many different ways, from dealing with the immediate trauma and the health considerations. And often times, just horrific physical damage that occurs to the women as well as trying to help them rehabilitate so that they can move from pain, even to power into getting some kind of control over their situation. Justice is another big piece in this place...
NNAMDII was about to say that because one issue is that violence against women, particularly in areas of conflict, is rarely punished.
VERVEERYou're so right, Kojo. And there is a very nascent justice system, at best, in the DRC. And we have been working with the government there to create a mix chamber system that certainly could go at the heart of some of the biggest perpetrators of the crimes. And also, we are supporting programs that the ABA and others are engaged in at the local level, to bring some of the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. But like everything else there, it is a very huge undertaking.
VERVEERAnd then the whole issue of beyond the impunity, which is a big part of the problem. And as you said, there is no punishment or rare punishment for these crimes. There is the whole issue of the security sector reform and these forces that are supposed to represent the government, yet wind up being engaged in some of the pillaging and raping themselves. So the United States has been engaged in a very significant across-the-board way, all of these elements have to be addressed.
VERVEERThe Congress has been engaged on both sides of the aisle. We have been engaged internationally. Secretary Clinton made a trip to Goma, a summer a year ago and after that went to the security council of the United Nations to try to get a resolution adopted to create a special representative of the Secretary Generals to deal with sexual gender base violence. And Margo Walstrom has been in that job now and is making a real effort to bring about some change.
VERVEERBut from your caller's point of view, it is a very, very big issue. It's a serious issue and it is being worked on across the board. There's also an election, soon to take place at the end of the year in DRC and so we are engaged in kind of a get-out-the-voter awareness education programs.
VERVEERAnd beyond that, and I think very importantly from my perspective, an effort to help the women who are pleading to -- and able to bring them together in ways that like in Liberia or South Africa or Rwanda, they can begin to have an impact on the conditions there in a positive way through their own organization and through their own efforts. So it's multifaceted and I'm sorry I took so long in answering it.
NNAMDIWell, it's a complex issue. And we're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation with Melanne Verveer. She is the ambassador-at-large for the Global Women's Issues at the State Department and take your calls or questions. Do you have any questions for Ambassador Verveer? What do you think are the most important issues for women around the world? 800-433-8850, send us a tweet @kojoshow, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or just go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation with Melanne Verveer. She is the ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues with the State Department and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. If you have already called, stay on the line, we'll try to get to your calls as quickly as possible. If the lines are filled, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, to ask your question there. Just wanted to get to a few specific areas of the world first. In Afghanistan, the Taliban regimes most repressive laws have been dismantled over the past decade.
NNAMDIGirls can now go to school. Women have won seats in parliament. But right now, the government in Afghanistan is trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. Is that, in your view, the only way forward at this point?
VERVEERWell, Kojo, certainly as the president said in his recent speech on Afghanistan, we are in a situation where we've got a projected effort to begin to draw down our troops over a period of time. That will still leave troops as well as our commitment to development. But for any conflict to come to an end, there's got to be a diplomatic road, a diplomatic avenue that is seized. And in terms of Afghan women, they have made enormous progress. And I think that is one of the reasons there is so much and certainly rightful focus on their situation.
NNAMDIThey are part of the negotiation process. That is women are, although a lot of them don't seem to be confident that the Taliban is negotiating in good faith. Are women right to fear that the gains that they made in the past 10 years may disappear?
VERVEERWell, it's not clear how much negotiating there's going on right now, to begin with. And in the terms that are being used, reintegration, reintegrating those -- reintegrating those who are ready to renounce al-Qaida, renounce violence and uphold the Afghan constitution, which includes women's right, includes their right to participate economically and go to school, et cetera. That's with whom we would conceivably reintegrate and there has to be reconciliation, certainly, at the local level.
VERVEERSo women are critical. Whether at the national level, the provincial level or the local level, in terms of the future sustainability of any peace otherwise, I believe, it will be subverted. Or in terms of also the stabilization of that society. And much of the United States effort has also been in terms of, as you stated, development and ensuring that the capacity of women to participate economically and participate politically is there so that they can be full partners in the stabilization and eventual peace that comes out of this.
VERVEERWhether or not this all materializes, obviously, remains to be seen. It is a commitment of the U.S. government. We have been very, very strong about the need to engage women's participation, not as a favor to the women, but as essential to the ultimate outcome in that country. So it is in the interest of everybody who wants to see an end to the conflict and nobody wants to see an end to the conflict more than the women. They have suffered so much.
VERVEERBut what they tell me again and again is they want to be part of the process. They don't want to be sold out and they want to be able to be partners in moving their country forward. So...
NNAMDIA lot of callers want to talk to you, but before I get to them, since you mentioned you're doing this and it's not being done as a favor to women, you put a big emphasis on women getting involved in all aspects of governing as they are in Afghanistan, not just as you say, as beneficiaries of aid or government programs, but as participants. So, I guess, in the ongoing debate, you have answered this question a lot, but I'll put it to you again. What in your view can involving women bring to government and diplomacy?
VERVEERWell, actually a great deal. Because we know in terms of economic participation, for example, women are absolutely essential in terms of growing GDP. Women who run small and medium size businesses are great accelerators to growth. We know from the work of the World Economic Forum, for example, which is not a women's organization, that in, as it looks at countries, the disparity between men and women in terms of access to education, health care, economic and political participation, those countries where the gap between men and women is closest to being closed, those countries are far more prosperous and economically competitive.
VERVEERIn terms of the linkages between women, peace and security, their roll is also proven to be essential whether one looks at, you know, Northern Ireland or South Africa. When women are at the peace table, when they bring the experience of what has been happening on the ground to the people and the experience that will have to be tapped in terms of going forward in reconstructing and building a society, it is not going to happen without the essential role that they need to play.
VERVEERAnd far too often, they aren't part of the process at all. And why do we see so many recurrent conflicts over many, many years? In fact, the great majority are recurrent. Well, in many respects, I think it's been because half the population isn't part of what happens in sustaining a peace and moving forward and ensuring that the issues that are put on the peace table are the real issues that often need to be addressed in addition to those that are on the table.
VERVEERWe also know that in terms of investing in women in development terms, that the greatest positive consequences for high yield development, like for example, educating a girl which has among the best results. Both for the kinds of practices that girl will adopt in terms of raising her own future family, her own employability. They are enormous for the future of that country. So to discount half the population, to not factor it in, you know, any country that leaves half of its people behind is not going to prosper.
NNAMDIHere is Tesfa (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Tesfa, your turn.
TESFAYeah, my question is, there was a political prisoner in Ethiopia, a woman called (word?) . She had a two-year-old daughter, she was separated from her daughter and was in prison for two years. The State Department didn't do anything, let alone this office. And the issues of women are the issues of humanity -- it's about human rights. And now (unintelligible) protecting women in Ethiopia or the rest of the world, the State Department is forcing censorship on the voice of America.
TESFAI was at a rally yesterday protesting the policy of censoring the voice of America that gets transmitted to Ethiopia. This is the State Department that tells us, it's time to protect women all over the world. This is the (word?) let alone protecting women in the rest of the world. It's forcing censorship on its voice. The Voice of America. I was...
TESFA...there at the (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDI...Tesfa, allow me to have the Ambassador respond to your, obviously, very emotional question.
VERVEERWell, sir, I don't disagree with the outrage that you feel, but I don't know anything about the so-called censorship of the VOA. Obviously, it plays a very critical role in many places around the world. I -- in fact, I'm going to be talking to the VOA later this afternoon. I will look into this. I don't know what specifically you're referring to. But I will definitely look into it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here now is Marla in Woodbridge, Va. Marla, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARLAGood afternoon, Kojo. I'm a gynecologist. I'm calling from Woodbridge and I was calling about -- with a sister as a diplomat abroad, I'm very interested in this conversation and I was concerned about contraception for women in developing countries. I was wondering if the Ambassador could comment on resistance that she has encountered in trying to provide contraception for women in developing countries and maybe some success stories that she has as well. And I'll take my comment off the air. Thank you.
NNAMDIOkay, Marla. Thank you very much for your call.
VERVEERWell, family planning and contraception are certainly among the most significant public health tools that are available. And I don't think one can travel anywhere in the developing world and not see how essential voluntary access is for women who desperately want to be able to space the number of their children and ensure that they've got the physical capacity to go on from day to day.
VERVEERThe administration has a very significant global health initiative that is women focused that in many ways includes significant new investments that hopefully will continue to be funded to meet the family planning needs around the world, as well as create a better integrated health care systems, as well as ensure that attention continues to be paid to some of the significant diseases like HIV/AIDS. So this is very much a part of our development tool kit, if you will, and a very essential part of it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We've been getting this issue addressed a lot so I'll simply just go to it. It's a -- I'll start with the question from Andrea in Washington, D.C. Andrea, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREAHi, good afternoon.
ANDREAOne of my friends was telling me about CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. The U.S. is one of only seven countries that have not ratified CEDAW and I was wondering if the ambassador could give some input into why we haven't.
NNAMDIHere is an e-mail we got from Kristen. "Ambassador Verveer, I know that you've spoken out recently, including in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last November, about the need for the United States to ratify the United Nations Women's Rights Treaty, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women or CEDAW. I understand that the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that has not joined this treaty. Can you speak about whether you still think it is important for the U.S. to become a party to the International Women's Rights Treaty and why?"
VERVEERI do and I not only get this question here, Kojo, but I get it everywhere in the world I go. Why hasn't the United States ratified...
NNAMDIThat was just a sampling of the e-mails and calls we've been getting on it.
VERVEERWhy hasn't the United States ratified what is really the Women's Human Rights Treaty? And the answer is one for the Senate to respond to and it's obviously the way that the rules have been adopted for international treaties, which requires a super majority to get this through the Senate. There have been attempts in the past. It got out of a Senate judiciary committee -- I'm sorry, Senate Foreign Affairs Committee a few years ago, but it has not had a floor vote and mostly because the floor vote hasn't been scheduled because the votes haven't been there.
VERVEERI think it is a very difficult situation for the United States to be not on the moral high ground when it comes to this issue and the perception of the world. We are, in our own country, largely consistent with everything this convention requires, in terms of ending discrimination against women and yet precluded from aligning ourselves with those who use CEDAW to champion women's rights in their countries because we haven't adopted it ourselves. I find it rather disconcerting that we are in league with, as one of the callers said, with just a few countries, many of them among the biggest abusers of human rights, Somalia, Iran and Sudan, to name three of the more significant.
VERVEERSo I hope the day will come and I hope it will come soon. The President has fully endorsed this, as has the secretary...
NNAMDIAnd I assume it's been supported by many presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, a number of powerful legislatures including Orrin Hatch, Strom Thurmond, John McCain, John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, but opponents feel that it would affect the law here at home.
NNAMDIThat specific language that talks about a country taking all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of its citizens when these are based on stereotype rules for men and women could mean government oversight, government intrusion into private behaviors, such as how housework is divided. How would you respond to that?
VERVEERWell, it's just -- it's simply not true. And however this is ratified, the Senate is fully empowered to put whatever provisions it wants to on that ratification. So there is no way that any ratification is going to force the United States to do something that is inimical to our laws, inimical to what we think is proper for us.
NNAMDIWhat would the U.S. being a part of that International Women's Treaty mean for your work?
VERVEERWell, I'll tell you, Kojo, you know, oftentimes detractors will say, so what difference does it make? Some of, you know, the countries that have been the least fair to women have ratified this convention. But I can tell you that it is utilized by the women who are struggling for their rights in those very countries because they say to their government, you have ratified this convention and that means whether it's X, Y or Z that desperately is needed to happen for women's rights here or is contrary to upholding women's rights, it is a very important part of the tool that they have to bring about change in their societies.
VERVEERAnd in those situations, we certainly, you know, whatever the specific facts are, would champion women who are struggling for their rights to be able to make the progress that they are justifiably due. But to do that as a country that has not itself ratified CEDAW in the name of making CEDAW ratification mean something in that country, makes it a little bit difficult for us.
NNAMDIKristen in New York City, does that answer your question?
KRISTENAbsolutely. Thank you very much, Ambassador.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation with the ambassador. Melanne Verveer is the ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues with the State Department. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or a tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Melanne Verveer. She is the ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues with the State Department. We got an email from Jan. "My question, Ambassador Verveer has stressed women's economic participation in her work. Could she tell us a little more about her work to support women entrepreneurs and their access to credit? How important is women's access to credit in the development, especially of developing countries, and what kind of barriers do women face in starting or running a business in many of those countries?"
VERVEERWell, thank you for that question. I think it is a really important one. Women have a critical role to play in terms of the economies of their countries, certainly to be able to take care of themselves and their families, but also their contributions go well beyond. We see that even the poorest of the poor today, many of them have been lifted up, millions of them, by small amounts of credit, which is known as micro-credit. And I have seen in so many parts of the world where this access to credit to get a milk cow or a sewing machine or something that can really transform the life of the woman and her family is all that is needed.
VERVEERAnd women pay back these very small loans at rates of 99 percent that would be the envy of any commercial lending institution. So they have been an extraordinary good news story. I remember a woman in South America once saying that she desperately wanted a high-powered sewing machine because she knew how many more pieces of clothing she could make and sell and what that would mean for the income for her family, but had no way of accessing it because poor people don't have collateral and it's very hard to get a conventional loan without collateral. But she was able to get this loan and she got her high-powered machine and today she's an incredible economic success story. But she said, I felt like a bird released from its cage.
VERVEERAnd beyond micro-credit, we also know that women who run small and medium sized businesses are among the great accelerators of GDP. They are, in fact, comprised in many ways the missing middle because small and medium sized businesses are one of those great engines for job creation. But, as you pointed out, women confront barriers and among the biggest barriers they confront in starting a business or growing a business is access to finance.
VERVEERAnd so we have been working in this area very significantly to enable women to grow their skill set, to have access to the other tools that they need from technology to helping them work on advocacy efforts to get rid of discriminatory and other kinds of regulations and laws, as well as working with international lending institutions and regional banks, development banks that would provide greater opportunities for access to finance because it is one of the most significant barriers.
NNAMDIHere is Tamuskin (sp?) in Washington D.C. Tamuskin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Tamuskin dropped off. We'll move to Susanne in Washington D.C. Susanne, your turn.
SUSANNEThank you for taking my call, Kojo. I have a question about reproduction rights at the very beginning of life. I've read that in some African countries the expectant mother has to provide a sterile kit to tie off the umbilical cord and to cut it and although these kits cost only $5 or $6, this can be a woman's entire monthly wage.
SUSANNEDoes the State Department do anything to support efforts like this? And also I'm curious as to whether or not the formula companies, namely Nestle, are still encouraging women in the developing world to use formulas. They give them free supplies at the beginning and then, of course, once your milk -- your breast milk has dried up, you can't afford to buy the formula and your baby suffers.
VERVEERYes, those are very good points. And these safe birthing kits, they are as elementary in many ways or as basic as they can be, but they often are what enables the poorest woman giving birth to a child. She has a clean piece of cloth, she's got, you know, the twine, the soap, very basic things that will potentially enable her to have a safe delivery where without it, she might not.
VERVEERObviously, we've got to get beyond that, but we have been supporting efforts, along with Save the Children, UNICEF and so many others, to provide this kind of essential kit. But obviously, what we are also working towards is the kind of integrated healthcare systems that will ensure that mothers who are giving birth have a better opportunity than exists in so much of the world today.
VERVEERYou know, maternal mortality is still a very big problem. It is one of the key elements of the millennium development goals, the one, in fact, along with child morality, that has had the child survivability, which has had the least success rates. Although that is not to say there hasn't been some progress.
VERVEERAnd we know from the Lancet Report that we are on the right track and part of what the president's Global Health Initiative is really focused on is to bring down those rates of maternal morality and ensure greater child survivability. So this is a very, very important area and one that we all need to be focused on and we've got to make greater progress.
NNAMDISusanne, thank you very much for your call. A couple of other issues raised by emailers, this one from Cathy. "There's a new book called, 'Unnatural Selection' that documents the impact of the practice of gender selectivity in China and other parts of the world, specifically the author says that the practice of ending pregnancies when the fetus is female is having an alarming effect on gender balance in countries where it is becoming popular. What is the view of the Department of State on this practice and what efforts are under way to understand its extent and long-term impacts on women's welfare and global economic development?"
VERVEERVery important question. And I'm also familiar with the book and girl feticide and infanticide are very serious problems, certainly in India, in China, some parts of Central Asia. And it is having obviously -- much of it has to do with the lack of value of a girl, the son preference. And it's not always geared to the poorest people. In some parts of India, for example, the wealthier populations are those who use ultrasound to make decisions based on what the sex is of the child because there's such a strong son preference.
VERVEEROne of the ways that countries have been responding is, in India, for example, they have passed laws against this, but it's very hard to implement. And there are great efforts being made at the grass roots level, certainly in countries where this a lack of appreciation for the value of a girl, working within those countries, to stress the importance of the girl child. There is a wonderful program in India, for example, where for every girl that is born a tree is planted, which becomes both a symbol and a source of prosperity.
VERVEERThere are programs in China where showers are being put in place to benefit the family of the girl, whatever can be made to happen to move that mindset, move that view that a girl has no value, is certainly not preferential. And these are serious issues, obviously, in terms of the people involved. But they're also potentially very destabilizing for the countries. And what we're seeing in some places is, you know, ratios of 100 women to 130 men. These are potentially destabilizing ratios in terms of the demographics and as a result there is enhanced trafficking of women. There are children being married off at the age three or four so that a future family...
NNAMDIBecause our final e-mail from Jeff was, "Please ask your guest to address the work of Dr. Kin and others at State who are dedicated to preventing and stopping the world trade in girls sold for sex." And we have only less than a minute left.
VERVEERWell, it's a very big problem and we are working bilaterally with many countries and working with NGOs to really try to stem this kind of exploitation where it's happening and as it's happening.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Melanne Verveer is the ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues with the State Department. Thank you so much for joining us, but obviously there's still so much left to be said. You've got to promise to visit with us again.
VERVEERWell, I'll look forward to that, Kojo, thanks so much.
NNAMDIThank you very much for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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