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Council on Foreign Relations Women and Foreign Policy - June 2014

The Rising Status of Women and Girls

Recognizing the Powerful Role of Women's Agency

Senior Fellow Isobel Coleman moderates a panel discussion featuring former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and World Bank director of gender and development Jeni Klugman as part of the launch event for a new report, Women's Voice, Agency and Participation. The report highlights the crucial role of women's agency in improving the lives of women, their households, and their communities. Watch the panel discussion »

Transforming the Middle East

Speaking at the TEDxMidAtlantic event, Coleman provides a compelling case for how women are transforming the Middle East, calling the shift "a change that can't be stopped." Spotlighting advancements for women in science and math, the greater number of women than men in many Middle Eastern universities, and the indispensable role of technology in empowering women, Coleman sheds positive light on the rising status of women in the region. "The struggle for women's rights in the Middle East today is not a sideshow," she says. "It is absolutely central. It is central to the struggle against extremism. It is central to the quest for greater rights and freedom. And it is absolutely critical to meet the aspiration of greater economic opportunities for everyone." Watch the TEDx talk »

Boko Haram and the Kidnapped Nigerian School Girls

Ending Religious Extremism and Radicalization

Coleman and Sigrid von Wendel, program assisant in the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy initiative, discuss why Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that abducted more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls last month, frequently targets schools in their terrorist tactics. Analyzing Nigeria's weak and vulnerable education system, Coleman and von Wendel call out the significant gender gaps in the country's north, Boko Haram's stronghold. In addition to investing in counterterrorism and addressing the severe inequality in Nigeria, the authors recommend that increased spending target educational attainment and tackle barriers to girls' education. Read the article on »

Understanding Boko Haram

Following last month's Boko Haram kidnappings, John Campbell, Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies, weighs in on the responses by the Nigerian government and military to the crisis, highlighting criticism from the country's civil society as well as other governments. Campbell also tracks the global reaction to the kidnapping, reviews other terrorist acts by Boko Haram, and calls this one an opportunity for Nigerian authorities and international allies to take serious action, especially on behalf of Nigerian women. Read the posts on Africa in Transition »

Violence and Discrimination Against Women

Choosing Sons over Daughters

Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon examines a recent World Bank study suggesting that cultural and traditional practices favoring sons over daughters could not only be skewing sex ratios in India, but may also drive high mortality rates among mothers whose first child is a girl. Lemmon argues that "son preference"—a practice based on age-old beliefs that male children are more valuable to families than female ones—could produce demographic distortions and lead to serious and lasting socioeconomic consequences in communities around the world. Read the blog post on the Development Channel »

Promising Progress for Girls and Women

"How terrible is it to be born a girl in the world today?" asks Coleman in a piece examining violence against girls and women in societies from California to Pakistan. She argues that although stories of violence and discrimination against women dominate headlines, this should not obscure the important gains that women have made in recent decades—"gains that point to a much brighter future." Read the article on »

Women and Mobile Technology

Closing the Mobile Market Gender Gap

Henriette Kolb, head of the Gender Secretariat at the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, and Olufemi Terry, communications specialist at the secretariat, note that delivering mobile technology to more women is both a pathway to increasing independence, improving education, and bettering community health and an unmissable market opportunity. The authors discuss recent research by Vodafone, which demonstrates that giving ninety million more women access to mobile technology could contribute billions of dollars in earnings and savings, and dramatically boost productivity and literacy rates. Read the blog post on the Development Channel »

Women and Conflict

Combatting Sexual Assault in Conflict

Citing research that discusses the wide spectrum of reasons why, where, and how sexual violence occurs, von Wendel assesses the challenges of curbing sexual violence at the local and international levels. She proposes that more rigorous research be undertaken in order to determine why sexual violence occurs in some situations and not others, to analyze how anti-assault strategies develop, and to encourage implementation of effective prevention policies by the U.S. government and other institutions. Read the blog post on the Development Channel »


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CFR's Women and Foreign Policy program works with leading scholars to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives and to bring the status of women into the mainstream foreign policy debate. Among its areas of focus are global health and education, the role of women in peacekeeping, and women’s economic participation.

Rachel Vogelstein
Director and Senior Fellow, Women and
Foreign Policy Program

Catherine Powell
Fellow, Women and
Foreign Policy Program

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Senior Fellow, Women and
Foreign Policy Program

Hannah Chartoff
Research Associate, Women and
Foreign Policy Program

Valerie Wirtschafter
Research Associate, Women and
Foreign Policy Program


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