Thanks to Melanne Verveer’s article  in Foreign Policy magazine, I’m going to be listening for what the presidential candidates say tonight about women in this foreign policy focused debate. Verveer has served since 2009 as the United States ambassador at large for global women’s issues. She is the first to ever serve in this particular position.
Ambassador Verveer is a leading expert in mobilizing support for women’s rights globally, and as a woman of faith, I am paying attention. I believe that women’s rights are human rights and that the advancement and empowerment of women is a central strategy for economic growth and promoting peace and stability around the world. Praise the Lord that this logic is now increasingly understood by government officials and international development organizations and pragmatic good sense. More importantly, as a Christian I believe that Jesus’ liberating word declares that men and women are equal in the eyes of God.
Actions, however, are lagging behind what is now becoming more mainstream thinking.
As Ambassador Verveer points out:
“Yet many women still lack access to capital, credit, and training. Laws prevent them from inheriting or owning land. Cultural traditions inhibit women's participation in the formal economy. In the agriculture industry, to take one example, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that if women farmers were provided the same access to seeds, fertilizer, and technology as men, they could improve their yields by 20 to 30 percent and reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100 million to 150 million.”
Additionally, women continue to be left out of peace negotiation processes.
“Women, meanwhile, endure much of the residual violence and poverty caused by armed conflicts, and they bear much of the burden of rebuilding families and communities. They are often excluded, however, from both the negotiating table and the governments charged with sustaining peace. Less than 8 percent of the hundreds of peace treaties signed in the last 20 years were negotiated by delegations that included women, and according to the World Economic Forum, women hold less than 20 percent of all national decision-making positions.”
We cannot afford to leave out half of our population worldwide as we plan to move our economies forward and attempt to create more peaceful just societies. And as Christians, we cannot afford to leave out half of our world population as we attempt to embody the example of Christ.
And so tonight, I will be listening for a question from the moderator and for an answer from the candidates on women as a foreign policy issue—how as president, the candidates will work to fully include women as equal partners in leadership and decision-making positions, peace negotiations, global economic growth, and ending violence.
Larisa Friesen Hall is director of major gifts at Sojourners.