Bryn Mawr Now guest blogger Sarah Theobald ’12 is attending the inaugural Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) Summer Institute. She sent back this report on the opening remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On June 11th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the forty-nine delegates to the first annual Women in Public Service Project Summer Institute in the packed Alumnae Hall. She spoke of her time at Wellesley as the moment when she first felt the imperative to get off the sidelines, and how the education she worked for gave her the skills to speak up and be heard. Her work today is proof that “the education of women doesn’t stop at the edge of campus or the borders of a country”.
The WPSP came about, she said, because women still face obstacles to participating in public service. They do not have sufficient mentors and role models, and there is “too much constraint on all aspects of our lives.” Because women have felt that they are not well equipped to deal with politics in their countries, they are self-eliminating from the political process. The aim of the Institute is to give young leaders the skills and support to make change and serve as examples to women in their countries.
The Secretary also announced a grant from the WPSP to the University of Albany’s Center for Women in Government and Civil Society to study the political process and policies in Uganda. This partnership is the beginning of an effort to gather data on the effect the Project can have on society, said Clinton.
“Keep faith in the system you are building,” urged the Secretary, speaking of the difficulty faced by those moving from protest to politics. The “yearning for human rights is truly universal,” but the logistics of running for office and holding a government accountable sometimes holds that yearning back. In her 1969 commencement address at Wellesley (the first time a student addressed the graduates), Clinton urged her classmates to practice politics “by making what seems to be impossible, possible.” Those words now shape the Summer Institute.
Computer manufacturer Dell is partnering in this endeavor of possibility by providing laptops, software, and training in social media to all of the delegates. A foundation has also be established to sustain and coordinate future programs and institutes of the WPSP. Upcoming gatherings include a fall institute in France to look at public health, and a conference of young Latina American leaders at Scripps, Mount St. Mary’s, and Mills Colleges in California.
“The United States will stand with you as your partner and your supporter in your efforts as you return home,” promised Clinton. “I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say.”
The Secretary’s prepared remarks were eloquent and effective, but it was in answering questions from the delegates and other audience members that her passions and poise shone.
A Wellesley senior from Jamaica asked about projects being undertaken to advance women in countries where there is no obvious conflict. Secretary Clinton spoke of the technical support she offered to the newly elected Prime Minister of Jamaica, and the projects of conditional cash transfers in several countries, which have been shown to work to reverse generational poverty. Continuing education as a pathway out of poverty is also vital, said the Secretary. “We are working in countries not in the headlines as much as we can to provide support.”
In response to another question about the place of WPSP in American politics, Clinton said that while this Institute and WPSP efforts generally are aimed at “a gap we feel we can address through the intensive outreach we can do starting today and going forward,” women in the United States have a “particularly difficult set of obstacles to run through,” including the challenge of raising campaign funds. “I hope to live long enough to see a woman elected president of the United States,” and to get there, “we have to keep pushing at that glass ceiling.”
Asked by a Yemeni delegate about her own influence as the third female Secretary of State, Clinton emphasized that, “women’s issues have to be central to U.S. foreign policy rather than a side show. We know that where women aren’t educated, where their health isn’t cared for, those places are less stable.” Having lots of women in office ensures that women’s issues are on the table.
Secretary Clinton concluded the question and answer session by reminding delegates that, “there are many ways to serve. You don’t have to be in elected office to make decisions. Believe in what you’re doing. Your contributions may be different than your neighbor’s. Your contributions may change over time. Be open to opportunities.”
The Institute will expose delegates to those opportunities through themed discussions and group sessions over the next ten days, with powerful panelists and speakers from all over the globe. The attendees of the Institute will also be paired with a mentor, who will work with them over the long term to support their endeavors.
The power of networks (women’s groups and politicians) were vital in Dr. Esfandiari’s release from Iranian prison. #WPSP Institute
— Sarah Theobald (@sarah_rigg) June 12, 2012