Melanne Verveer brought the West Wing experience to Reynolds Performance Hall last Tuesday night as she discussed former First Lady Hillary Clinton?s effect on U.S. foreign policy during her time in the White House.
Verveer was the assistant to the president and chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton during the Clinton administration. Dr. Gary Wekkin, a professor in the Department of Political Science, arranged to bring Verveer to UCA as part of what he hopes will be a series of political speakers.
?The title of Mrs. Clinton’s book published last summer is ?Living History?. Mrs. Verveer lived that history right alongside her, all eight years. This was a very good opportunity for students to find out about Hillary’s foreign policy role, which is not well publicized but very prominent,? Wekkin said.
Students, professors, professionals from the community and ladies from the local ?Hillary Clinton fan club? turned out to hear Verveer?s discussion of the effect Hillary Clinton?s foreign policy has had on women?s rights. She began her speech saying, ?I will focus on Hillary Clinton?s role in advancing the role of women in all societies.?
According to Verveer, after the Clinton Health Plan failed, Hillary changed her focus to foreign policy. Addressing the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, Hillary said, ?What we are learning around the world is that, if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish.?
She concluded, ?If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights…. And women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.?
Verveer said, ?There was an unprecedented response to her speech with delegates rising to their feet and applauding. She changed the definition of diplomacy after the Beijing speech. When she spoke, people listened, inspiring millions of people to contemplate their role in society and change it. ?
During her time in office, the United State?s media gave only limited coverage to Clinton?s intensive efforts to advance the status of women although it was a major part of what she did while serving as first lady. Instead, they chose to focus more on her efforts within the nation.
Verveer said, ?Clinton has traveled to over 80 countries in order to highlight the importance of investing in people. She became a symbol of America?s human voice to the world and put a spotlight on solutions to pressing problems.?
Verveer pointed out that first ladies do not always realize the power of the symbol of their position and the influence it can have. ?Clinton was only first lady at that time to have her own agenda for foreign affairs. She gave voice to fundamental values and principles of our country,? she said.
?Embassies and state departments were not accustomed to see a first lady who went and did the things she did. They developed tremendous respect for the work she was doing,? Verveer said.
Verveer also discussed her own and Clinton?s involvement in Vital Voices, a global partnership that supports women’s progress in building democracies, strong economies and peace. The organization also focuses on preventing the sex trafficking of women and children across international boundaries. ?Sex trafficking is second only to drug and arms trafficking. Over 30,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States every year and we are working to bring end it,? Verveer said.
Clinton and Verveer went on behalf of Vital Voices to Siberia to discuss the political situation occurring there with residents. ?The organization worked to help them understand they were now citizens empowered to create their own future in their country,? Verveer said.
Verveer also discussed Clinton?s involvement in microcredit, which is the practice of financing small loans to individual poor people and families. ?Clinton worked with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to provide these loans to people across the world,? Verveer said.
She also noted that microcredit has the potential to stimulate economic growth not only in developing countries, but also in poor regions of the United States.
?During her time in the White House, Hillary Clinton earned more respect abroad than she was accorded at home. In her efforts with foreign policy and women?s rights, she embodied and personified power as serving a higher purpose,? Verveer said.