“The more involved women are on social issues the better and more peaceful our communities will be. Empowering women is a positive contribution towards empowering society,” said Ayanda Ntosbi from South Africa during her visit to the United States for an initiative titled “Women Leaders: Promoting Peace and Security.” The initiative supports the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2011), which calls for the empowerment of women as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.
As one of many International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP) sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this initiative brought 87 participants to tour multiple U.S. cities and meet with political and academic officials, journalists, and activists to discuss peace and security challenges in the world. Through this exploration of women, peace and security, the participants took away strategies for directing positive political, social and economic change in a democratic society. Phyllis Meuma of Kenya plans to use this knowledge to “develop, advocate, [and] network with others to lobby for adoption of [her] country's National Action Plan for women in peace and security.”
As part of the Washington, D.C. leg of the tour, the participants visited the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP), which operates in the world’s most challenging conflict zones and serves as an important convener for world leaders to present their vision for peace. It brings together bipartisan leaders to address difficult issues like genocide prevention and fosters dialogue and collaboration among U.S. government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. This set the tone for a successful program that further included an overview of federalism, leadership workshops, school visits, volunteer activities, and discussions on best practices for reaching underserved communities and assisting women in crisis.
By the conclusion of the program, the participants were motivated by the many services, organizations, laws and initiatives that exist to empower women in the United States. “Americans are focused on the issues of women. [This program] corrected the idea I had before that it was ‘decorum’ as part of the democratic picture,” said Abeer Soliman of Egypt, “When I go back, I will engage in a campaign to advocate for legislation on behalf of women.”