AMBASSADOR VERVEER: As the first-ever U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, my most important obligation is really to integrate issues affecting women and girls across the U.S. State Department in our far-flung missions around the world and in all of the work that we do in Washington from economics to regional issues to human rights. Secondly, I would say, to really be there for women around the world, standing up for not just women’s rights, which are so critical, but tapping the talents of women in every sector of society and being able to do that with the voice of the United States to lift up those voices that are everywhere.
QUESTION: What do you think is the biggest misperception about being in a position such as yourself for women today who see often more challenges than opportunities to be a change-maker?
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: If you look at the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report for example, you will see the metrics that they use – health, education, economic and political participation – that political empowerment of women is the area in which the least progress is being made in terms of closing the gender gap between men and women in a given country. But I also think that women lack confidence. They lack confidence everywhere; and I have been in this business now for a few years and what I see more often than not is the fact that women, I think, are so accustomed to being marginalized or not being at the table that they’re almost afraid they can’t do well when they get to the table.
So it keeps them. It holds them back somehow. And really one of the strongest contributions that can be made is to enable women to develop their self-esteem and their confidence.
QUESTION: Did you lack confidence? And how did you develop that sense of self and sense of opportunities for you to contribute?
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: As I was growing up, I think my parents – and particularly my father – always said to me, “You can do whatever you set yourself to doing.” And in school, even as a child, I was plucked out to greet the officials who came to the school or to make the speeches at assemblies, and I think that nurtured in me a sense that you can do these things. And it wasn’t alien, and it wasn’t something that was out of the norm. And I think, going back to that, how important it for us to be able to nurture, particularly in girls – it all starts with the girl in terms of how she’s going to progress – that sense that they can prevail. They can – they have enormous talents, they can make a difference.
QUESTION: You have a very unique relationship with Hillary Clinton, given all the work that you’ve done. How have you been a mentor, do you think, to her, and how has she mentored you?
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: People say to me all over the world, “Oh, you sound like Hillary Clinton,” or “You look like Hillary Clinton,” which is hardly the case.
But I think what happens is you begin, when you spend a lot of time with someone, and you really enter into their strong commitment and become a part of it, in many ways you are learning yourself and changing yourself. And having had the privilege over almost 20 years now to work closely with her, starting in her time as First Lady, particularly as she grew in becoming such a leader for women around the globe, has certainly had an impact on me and probably changed me, touched me, affected me, stimulated me, inspired me in ways that I couldn’t even articulate. But it’s there, and it’s powerful.
QUESTION: You mentioned that people say that you sometimes sound like her. How does she sound like you, given that close collaboration?
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Oh, I don’t know that I’ve taught her anything, frankly. But it is – it has been a very rich experience, and I think part of what I’ve been able to do, particularly now when she is so busy in so many different ways, is to keep those avenues open for her. Just this morning, we’re here on this day in late September, I got an email from an extraordinary woman in Tunisia who told me that her country had just moved to establish equality for women in the constitution. This is a huge, huge happening for them, and I immediately shot it off to the Secretary because I knew she would be so pleased because this is a struggle that really matters.
QUESTION: If you were to look at yourself 30 years ago and write a letter to yourself 30 years ago, what advice would you give yourself to that – in that point of time?
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Don’t lose your ideals. Always stay focused on the things that you cherish in your heart, but be as good as you can be, learn as much as you can learn. Never for a second think you know it all, but factor all of that in constantly. Life is a learning process, but it’s an extraordinary journey, and I think if we use our heads and use our hearts, we will wind up being able to do the kinds of things that we want to be doing, and we’ll look back on – as really having been important to do.