From CNN: ‘Educate a woman, create a nation’

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Commentary: ‘Educate a woman, create a nation’

By Dina Habib Powell, on March 13, 2009

NEW YORK (CNN) — As we mark International Women’s Month in March, it is encouraging to see that the movement to recognize the vital role that women play in families, nations and economies has been building for more than a decade and that developments in the past few years have shown that real progress has begun to take hold.

On the heels of International Women’s Day, President Obama said Monday, “we will not sow the seeds for a brighter future or reap the benefits of the change we need without the full and active participation of women around the world.”

He also recently announced the creation of a new position, ambassador-at-large for global women’s Issues, at the State Department.

To fill this critical role, the president nominated Melanne Verveer, a widely respected women’s advocate and former top aide to then first lady Hillary Clinton.

Verveer was a founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization committed to empowering women and recently co-chaired by Secretary Clinton and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

There has also been very recent progress on Capitol Hill. Last month, the U.S. Senate created a Foreign Relations subcommittee that will focus on the global status of women, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California.

The efforts have been a bipartisan priority for our leaders. In 2008, then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice successfully led the effort in the U.N. Security Council to officially recognize rape as a weapon of war. And in 2001, Laura Bush used the first presidential radio address ever given by a first lady to focus international attention on the plight of women in Afghanistan and used her influence to protect and empower women around the world.

Critical strides are also being made globally. In Rwanda, a country devastated by genocide, women have become a key part of the nation’s rebirth. Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, more than half of the parliament is made up of women. In Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made history when she became the first female president on the African continent.

In the Middle East, Kuwait has emerged as a leader in women’s suffrage and political participation. And in the United Arab Emirates, women such as Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, minister of foreign trade, have been trailblazers for progress throughout the region.

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