Pragmatic Leadership and the WPSP

Pragmatism was the word of the day on Monday, May 26 at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Women in Public Service Project summer institute.

“We are here because we care deeply about the future of women and girls on our planet,” said Mt. Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella, who has teamed with her counterparts at Smith and Simmons Colleges to host the two-week long forum.

When she kicked off International Women’s Day on March 8, 2014, Hillary Clinton called the battle for women’s and girl’s equality, “the great unfinished business of the 21st century.”

In 2011, fed up with the lack of women’s representation in governments across the globe, with the help of the Seven Sisters Colleges and the U.S. State Department, Secretary Clinton co-founded the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). Now housed in the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the WPSP’s motto is, “build a generation of women leaders who will invest in their countries and communities, provide leadership in their governments, and change the way global solutions are forged.”

While past WPSP institutes have focused on peace building and development, global health, and conflict resolution through economic development; the 2014 summer institute, Reconstructing Societies in the Wake of Conflict: Transitional Justice and Economic Development, will help teach women how to become leaders in post conflict societies.

Speakers at this year’s opening remarks included Mona Sutphen a partner at Macro Advisory Partners; Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues; NYU School of Law Professor and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy; and Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the Director of the WPSP.

“Women have always been very successful at leveraging the international community,” said Dr. Coomaraswamy. The women’s movement began advocating peace in the 1920s, in the wake of the first World War. When the movement flourished again in the 1990s, the fact that women had originally advocated for peace over peaceful reconciliation post-conflict was forgotten.

In closing, Dr. de Alwis remarked on the progress women have made over the past century, “It is a time when we look back at how far we’ve come and see how far we have to go to finish.”

Today, 20 percent of lawmakers are women and 70 percent of illiterate people are women. At this rate, Dr. de Alwis said, it will take women 150 years to be equally represented in governments. Which is why the WPSP is promoting 50 by 50: 50 percent of all government representation will be women by 2050.

Post conflict societies, any society for that matter, cannot thrive and develop as a leading nation without including all of its people in the building process. Women must be embraced as valid lawmakers, idealists, and representatives of their societies in order for humanity to work towards peace.

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