Working in Foreign Policy

Working in Foreign Policy

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Rachel B. Vogelstein, senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy program at CFR, discusses her foreign policy experience and offers students suggestions for preparing for careers in public service, global affairs, and policy research, as part of CFR's Academic Conference Call series.

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Rachel B. Vogelstein

Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the national program and outreach here at CFR.

Today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website,, if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates.

We’re delighted to have Rachel Vogelstein with us today to discuss working in foreign policy. Rachel Vogelstein is senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at CFR. She is also a professor of gender and U.S. foreign policy at Georgetown law school. From 2009 to 2012, Ms. Vogelstein was director of policy and senior adviser in the Office of Global Women’s Issues within the Office of the Secretary of State. She also represented the U.S. Department of State as a member of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Following her tenure there, she served as the director of women and girls program in the office of Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Clinton Foundation. And she also clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

She just launched a CFR blog, Women Around the World, which can be accessed on our website at And she tweets at @CFR_WFP. So I encourage you all to take a look at those two resources.

Rachel, thank you very much for being with us today. It would be great if you could talk a little bit about your career, your experience working in foreign policy; you know, offer the group some suggestions on preparing for careers in public service; and also talk about your work on gender equality and how important that is.

VOGELSTEIN: Wonderful. Well, first I want to begin, Irina, by thanking you for hosting the call and to everyone for joining this afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

I want to begin by talking a little bit about the focus of my work, which is on gender equality and U.S. foreign policy. And what I’d like to do is to discuss why I think gender equality is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic imperative that advances U.S. foreign policy interests both within and outside of the context of peace and security and prosperity.

So I’ll briefly touch upon the evidence as to why gender equality is critical to U.S. foreign policy. Then I’ll talk a little bit about some of the policy reforms that have been enacted in recent years to integrate gender equality into U.S. foreign policy. And then I’ll talk about some of the tools that we have at our disposal from a U.S. foreign policy perspective to address issues related to gender equality around the world.

I will also talk a little bit about not only the focus of my work but how I got to pursue many of the positions that I’ve been fortunate for—to pursue over my career.

So first a word about the evidence. And some of you may be familiar with this, but there’s a growing body of evidence that really demonstrates why promoting gender equality is not only the right thing to do, as I said, but also the smart thing to do, because empowering women is related to stability, to progress, to development, and to peace.

Consider, for example, the issue of economic development and growth, which is a significant priority to U.S. foreign policy actors. We know that when women participate in the economy, poverty decreases and GDP grows. It is estimated, in fact, that closing the gap in women’s labor force participation across OECD countries would lead to gains of 12 percent by 2030, including 20 percent in Japan and Korea, 22 percent in Italy; and also would lead to significant gains even here in the United States.

There’s also a report that the World Economic Forum puts out every year, which actually measures the gaps between women and men in a given country in terms of economic and political participation, in terms of access to education, factors like health survivability. And this report shows that the countries in which the gap is closest to being closed are in fact more economically prosperous.

We also have strong evidence that women who run small- and medium-sized businesses are proven drivers of GDP. And we know that investing in women has a multiplier effect because their resources are more often used to benefit their families and communities.

So economic growth is improved when we see women have access to economic participation and education.

And I’d like to then turn to education as another example of why gender equality is relevant to U.S. foreign policy. It is often said not only by advocates on behalf of women but by economists like Larry Summers, for example, that educating a girl is the single-best development investment that can be made. And even one extra year of schooling beyond the average can actually increase women’s wages by about 10 (percent) to 20 percent, according to the World Bank, which has also found that even a 1 percentage-point increase in the share of women with secondary education raises a country’s annual per-capita income growth.

We also know that educating women and girls improves health and education for entire families and communities. So for example, recent research has showed that an estimated 50 percent of the decline in infant mortality that has taken place over the past two decades can be attributed solely to increased educational attainment by women and girls. So a really strong link between educating girls and women and improving health outcomes and education outcomes for entire families and communities.

I’ll also highlight the importance of women’s participation in peace and security processes. At the country level, we see higher rates of female participation in government are actually associated with lower levels of corruption. And a growing body of research suggests that women offer unique contributions to making and keeping peace and raise issues in peace negotiations that help societies reconcile and rebuild and achieve a just and lasting peace that can be different from issues that men raise.

There are some interesting studies that the International Crisis Group has conducted in Sudan and the DRC, in Uganda that show that women participating in peace talks are more likely to raise issues like human rights, like security, justice, employment, education, and health care, issues that are really fundamental to reconciliation and rebuilding and therefore to a lasting and sustainable peace.

So there’s really strong evidence that investing in women and girls and promoting gender equality is not just the right thing to do but in fact is the smart thing to do and bolsters U.S. policy interests in the areas of economic growth, peace and security, health and education, and development and the like.

So that’s the evidence. There are also a number of policy reforms that have been enacted in recent years to integrate this concept into U.S. foreign policy and to ensure that gender issues are integrated across the work of, for example, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Some of these policies I had the opportunity to work on when I served in the State Department in Secretary Clinton’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. And some of these policy reforms predate my service, and some of them are continuing to unfold now.

But there are a number of historic and unprecedented policies that have been put into place, particularly in recent years. And we know that today the line between hard power, meaning sanctions and military force, and for example—soft power, for example, using diplomatic and development tools to promote democracy and governance, health and education, and human rights, we know that this line between hard and soft power has really blurred.

And many of today’s diplomats and policy experts promote what is called smart power, a combination of both of these strategies that recognizes the importance of each. And I think one emblem of this shift is the U.S. national security strategy, which today explicitly recognizes countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunities and that when those rights and opportunities are denied that countries lag behind.

So really this focus on gender equality in our U.S. foreign policy starts all the way at the top in our U.S. national security strategy.

There are also recent steps that were taken to create a new position, U.S. ambassador at-large for global women’s issues, which was created in 2009. And that official is responsible for integrating a focus on women and girls and on gender equality throughout the work of the State Department. There’s also a similar position at the U.S. Agency for International Development that focuses on gender issues. And those two officials work closely together.

Importantly, there is a presidential memorandum that was put into effect to ensure that this position would become permanent and report directly to the secretary of state. And we currently have our second-ever ambassador for global women’s issues, Ambassador Cathy Russell, serving now.

So you have a new U.S. national security strategy speaking to the importance of this issue. You have these new positions put in place, officials at a high level reporting directly to the secretary of state and to the USAID administrator charged with overseeing this work. And then there are a number of issue-specific policies that were then developed over the last several years in particular, some of which I had an opportunity to work on.

One of those policies was secretarial policy guidance that went out to every department at the State Department as well as every chief of mission at every one of our embassies in the field around the world. And this guidance made clear that focusing on gender equality is a strategic imperative and talked about four ways in which officials around the world need to integrate this.

And one is strategic and budget planning. Another is programming. Another is monitoring and evaluation and then finally management and training so that we ensure that all Foreign Service officers and our diplomatic corps that they are trained to understand the importance of these issues and some of the evidence that we talked about before.

There is a similar guidance document that was issued at USAID in recent years. And then there are issue-specific policies that were developed; for example, a U.S. national action plan on women, peace, and security that apply not only to the State Department but to the Department of Defense, to the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other agencies that made clear how the U.S. could implement a commitment to involving women in peace and security.

There was a strategy developed on preventing and ending gender-based violence that involved agencies from across the government, not only the ones already mentioned but also agencies focused on women’s health as well.

And there was a new health initiative developed to specifically recognize as a principle the importance of focusing on women and girls and gender equality in the provision of health services in the global health work we do around the world.

So that’s an overview of some of the policies that were put into place over the last several years, certainly decade or so if not more. And I’d be glad to talk about any of those in more detail.

So you have the evidence. You have a sense of how the policies have shifted over the last several years to ensure a focus on gender equality, given the importance to our foreign policy interest. And then I’ll just quickly provide an overview of some of the diplomatic tools at our disposal and then talk about how I had an opportunity to work on many of these issues at the State Department and beyond.

Tools that we have include classic traditional diplomatic tools like, for example, strategic dialogues. You may be aware that there are strategic dialogues between the U.S. and countries like India, like China, Pakistan. Making sure that issues related to gender equality are on the table in bilateral discussions like those is critical. And that’s something that has proven to be effective.

There’s also the opportunity to use naming-and-shaming strategies. And obvious example that comes to mind are the human rights reports that the U.S. State Department puts out every year. You know, in recent years, the State Department has actually worked to improve the reporting through its human rights reports to ensure that, for example, issues like child marriage are reported on in countries around the world and not just some but really all.

You can also work on the multilateral stage at the United Nations and elsewhere to put pressure on countries to address many of these issues. And I’d be glad to talk about some examples of that.

And there are also programmatic tools that we have at our disposal to put development resources into programs to promote women’s leadership, to address health and education, and economic training programs for women that give them the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

So that’s an overview of why these issues matter and how one can use diplomatic tools and development programs to advance gender equality through U.S. foreign policy. You have a sense, hopefully, from what we’ve talked about about why that’s so important to U.S. foreign policy interests.

And I’ll just say a quick word about how I came to this work. I’m actually a lawyer by training and through my career have had the opportunity to work with folks from a variety of backgrounds, you know, with Ph.D.s in international relations, with public health degrees, masters’ in public policy, certainly other law degrees as well, and the like. And what I will say is that in my view there is no one right path to work on these issues, whether you’re focused strictly on women’s issues and gender equality or whether you’re focused more broadly on international relations. I think there are a lot of opportunities and paths into that work. And I think my path shows that that is the case. I’ve pursued, I think, an atypical career for a lawyer. And yet I found that the training that I had in analyzing laws and policies has been incredibly instrumental as I’ve worked on U.S. foreign policy over the last several years.

I have always worked on the issue of gender equality. And initially in my career I worked on domestic women’s issues, largely women’s health, and have found that many of the same arguments and issues that dominate the conversation in the domestic sphere—that there are many commonalities in the discussion of international women’s issues globally.

And I certainly found differences in working on these issues domestically versus internationally, but I will say that there are many commonalities and that many of the folks that I know who have worked on these issues have also traveled between domestic and international contexts and have observed the commonalities as well.

And the last thing I’ll say is that if you have an opportunity to live abroad, to work abroad, that that’s something I highly recommend and think that there is really no substitute for that. You know, many of the people with whom I’ve had the privilege to work have served in the Peace Corps or have traveled on Fulbright scholarships or have actually worked at NGOs or for other governments. And I think that it’s really an unparalleled opportunity, particularly if you’re hoping to develop a regional specialization, to take advantage of those opportunities when you can.

So, Irina, why don’t I pause there so that I can answer any questions that folks on the phone have.

FASKIANOS: That sounds great. Thank you, Rachel. Let’s open it up to the students on the call.

OPERATOR: Excuse me, everyone. We now have all—at this time we will open the floor for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Q: Hello, this is Todd Barry (sp) from the University of Southern Mississippi. Do you think it would be better for women and everyone in general if ambassadors were professional diplomats rather than solely political appointees?

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you for that question. One response is that actually we do have many ambassadors who are trained and professional diplomats. You know, one of the three documents that was circulated, I believe, for background for the discussion today is by former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, William J. Burns, who is, I think, the kind of paradigmatic example of well-trained, truly professional expert diplomats, who contributed in countless ways over the course of his career as ambassador in more than one country and, as I mentioned, as a deputy secretary of state at the State Department with whom I have had the privilege to work when I was at the department.

And you know, I—in my experience working at the State Department have continually been impressed by the professionalism and the knowledge and the contributions that our diplomats make here in Washington and around the world. And in traveling to other countries and going to meet with chiefs of mission and members of our embassies around the world have found time and time again that many of our diplomatic corps, that they are really folks who have trained as foreign service officers and bring all of the experience that they’ve had to bear.

Certainly it is the case that not every ambassador is a Foreign Service officer or a career diplomat. I think that it can be useful to have perspectives from outside of government in addition to having folks who have trained to be professional diplomats. What I would point you to in particular, I think, is folks who have private sector experience that—I have found that working with folks with that different type of background have raised ideas and forged connections and partnerships that have advanced U.S. interests and served the public and deployed a different set of skills.

So certainly see the point that you’re raising. I think, you know, certainly there are examples of folks who have served, who you could raise particular questions about. But I think on the whole I remain incredibly impressed by our diplomats and those who have served as ambassadors around the world and think that it is healthy and useful to have some outside perspective as opposed to solely staffing by folks who are professional diplomats.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the College of New York.

Q: Hi. I just had a quick question about, like, specific power languages. I’m looking to get into a language and start my language program, and I’m wondering if you have, like, a general idea about which way to go with that. I’m a—I’m a—I’m a first year in the program, so I’m just trying to pick up as much as possible. Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: That’s a wonderful question, and I commend you for pursuing a foreign language. I think that that is something that will serve you really regardless of where you end up, if it’s working as a policymaker or whether you end up in the private sector. I think that particularly in this increasingly globalized world, having fluency or familiarity with other languages is incredibly useful.

Certainly thinking too that there are kind of six official U.N. languages is a great place to start. I think if you have a particular regional interest, that that will help dictate what language perhaps could be most useful to you in your career. And you know, I think that one can look at kind of rising superpowers, for example, the BRICs—the BRIC nations, you know, Brazil, China, et cetera—you could certainly think about using the notion of fluency in a language of one of those countries or one of many languages spoken in those countries to help further your career.

But I really would advise you to kind of go with your heart and not pick a language based on what you think might be most strategic but find a region of the world that motivates you and that you’re passionate about and go from there.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Notre Dame.

Q: Hi there. Thank you for taking my question. I’m a graduating senior at the University of Notre Dame, hoping to work in the government after living abroad for some time.

Other than looking at job listings or postings, what would you suggest is the best way to learn about professional positions available and feasible for a recent undergraduate—or for a recent graduate, rather, with some overseas experience to obtain? Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great—a great question. And I would recommend highly internships as a wonderful way to get your foot in the door. That’s something that you may have already done in the past. I have seen more than one time, for example, at the State Department someone who was part of the official State Department internship program, who really proved themselves and demonstrated their value, that they were able to convert that internship into a full-time position and stay at the State Department for many years.

I know that others have had that experience in other agencies. To the extent that getting your foot in the door with an internship is a possibility for you, I think that’s a wonderful way to begin.

There are also several organizations for young professionals here in Washington, for example, that can be very helpful in staying abreast of what job opportunities are out there and other opportunities exist. And you know, depending on your regional focus or your particular substantive focus, you could find one that is most strategic for you and join and make sure that you’re getting your name out there that way.

There are also many opportunities to engage with folks, whether it’s on Capitol Hill or in the executive branch or in think tanks by making sure that you participate in events that are open to the public and, you know, use those opportunities to seek out folks who have the career that you would—you think you would like to pursue. And you know, nothing works better in my experience than a little bit of flattery. So to the extent—the extent you have some role models that you think would be good examples for the path that you hope to take, you know, reach out to them. See if there’s a possibility for an informational interview. You never know when, you know, a 20-minute coffee with someone can turn into something more substantial.

So those are the pieces of advice that I would share and wish you all the best.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Pennsylvania.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. So my question is about the intersection of our foreign policy and domestic issues. So we kind of expect to be leaders on gender equality, but I think we still have very serious gender issues at home. For example, we’re one of the only countries in the entire world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave for mothers.

So I was just wondering what your position is on this and kind of how do we move forward and how much does—do our domestic policies really impact our ability to make change abroad and to promote gender equality abroad?

VOGELSTEIN: That’s a wonderful question, and I would begin by noting that no country in the world has achieved gender equality, full gender parity, including the United States. And I think proceeding with humility in doing this work internationally is critical. You know, one of the things that we heard the most in the time that I was at the State Department working on global women’s issues, when we traveled, one of the first questions that was always asked of us is, why has the United States not ratified CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which almost every country in the world has ratified and has served as a really powerful tool to lawyers and advocates working to advance women’s rights and opportunities in countries around the world.

So, you know, I think that the United States’ voice really does matter, but showing that we are working alongside other countries to advance gender equality not only in other countries but in our own and finding common cause with those countries is critical.


And you know, one of the issues that came up most frequently when traveling, in addition to CEDAW, was exactly the issue that you raised, that notion that the United States is one of nine countries in the world without any form of paid leave. And you know, I think that that’s an opportunity, as I said, to proceed with humility in raising these issues.

But the notion that we haven’t solved all of the problems here at home—that can’t be an excuse for failing to act to advance these issues around the world. You know, there is certainly need. And the experience of women in this country is not the same as the experience of women in many other countries. I think, you know, while we certainly have a lot of work to do and there are folks here in this country who are focused on doing that, there are also practices that exist around the world that imperil the rights and opportunities of girls and women in ways that are very different from, I think, the everyday experience of women and girls here in this country.

So certainly there’s common cause, and I think proceeding with humility is not only expected but warranted. On the other hand, there’s a lot of work to do. And the United States has important lessons to share. You know, the U.S. has made considerable strides in opportunities in the status of women and girls in this country if we think back even over the last 50 to 100 years. And we can take those lessons and share them and also use the considerable diplomatic power that we have, our voice, as well as our foreign assistance resources to aid those who are working on the ground to advance the cause of women and girls in nations around the world.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question comes from Amherst College.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much for talking to us today. I’m a sophomore at Amherst College currently, and I’m thinking about kind of, like, what I want to do post-graduation. And I’ve been looking into masters’ programs in international relations and either, like, law school and earning a J.D. And I wanted to see what your input would be as to the advantages and disadvantages in going, like, in either direction. Like, so I was wondering what your inputs are regarding, you know, what you could do after graduating college to get more in-depth knowledge about international relations.

VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great question. And harkening back to the comment that I made a little bit earlier in the call, I think there is not one right path. There’s really, I think, many different avenues to get to the same place. And I think back to many of the colleagues that I served with at the State Department and in other capacities and recognize that there are, you know, many different ways to get there. You know, there are certainly, I think, folks who are thinking about business school and how to use business training to advance, for example, economic policy or social developments in countries around the world in ways that I think are different than maybe folks who pursued business degrees 20, 25 years ago. I think, you know, there are folks I know who have parlayed journalism degrees into successful policy careers.

So I think, as I said, there’s not one avenue, although it can certainly be helpful to talk to folks to hear more about their path and how it’s useful.

For me personally, I—as I said, I’m a lawyer by training and have found that the set of skills that one obtains in law school, the way in which one learns to think about solving problems and adversarial challenges, the training in parsing words and contracts and laws and policies, that that has actually been incredibly helpful to me as I’ve worked on policy.

For much of my career, I’ve been based in Washington, D.C. And certainly having fluency in how laws are made and how they are implemented is incredibly instructive. I also had the opportunity to serve in the judicial branch as a clerk to an appellate judge and find that the familiarity I have with the ways in which the third branch of government works has been as useful to me as the experience I had working on Capitol Hill in the early part of my career and understanding certainly from my time at the State Department how the executive branch works.

So I think you really can’t go wrong with a law degree. I think there are, as I said, many advantages to pursuing other avenues as well. And with respect to public policy, which was the course that I thought a lot about when I was deciding where to attend graduate school, I think ask yourself kind of what you like to do all day. If parsing language in a policy document something that excites you, maybe think about a law degree. Do you like to analyze the kind of efficacy of a program and figure out how to refine it so that it’s most effective to serve the most people? Maybe think about public policy degree.

All of that said, the—original caveat really is the one I would highlight, which is you could really do all of that with a variety of different forms of training.

And so I would figure out, you know, what makes you most excited. Is it statistical analysis? Is it legal analysis? Is it something else entirely? And then pursue what you love, because then you’ll do it well and people will want to have the benefits of your talent.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Wisconsin.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. So earlier you mentioned that no country—and I agree with this—that no country has achieved gender parity. And I was wondering, how can we define gender parity and gender equality? What can we look for to see once we’ve gotten there?

VOGELSTEIN: Well, I think there’s kind of the traditional definition of gender equality, which is equality in economic, political, social, and cultural life. And there’s a document that I commend to all of you that came out of a conference on women that the United Nations organized in 1995. There were actually several world conferences that were organized over the course of several decades that culminated in this Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 20 years ago.

And what was agreed to at that conference was a document that was a declaration and a platform for action focused on the full participation of women and girls. And it’s really—in some sense is a bill of rights for women. It’s a comprehensive listing of what nations would need to do, together with certainly partners in the private sector and in civil society, to ensure full participation for women across a range of areas. There’s 12 chapters of the platform for action that focused on health, on education, on women’s involvement in peace and security decisions, on political participation; on women’s access to technology, which is increasingly important in the 21st century as we think about, for example, the importance of access to Internet and the 200 million fewer women online compared to men in the developing world and what that means for digital participation in politics and what it means for economic opportunity and what it means for mobile health and all of the things that flow from access to the Internet and to mobile phones.

It really is a very comprehensive document that I had the occasion to spend some time looking at again this year in the 20th anniversary of this conference and of the adoption of this platform for action that really, I think, is a benchmark and what could one hope to see if the promise of this declaration of platform for action were realized.

Let’s just take political participation as one obvious example. Right now, despite the commitments that countries around the world have made to parity for women in politics and decision-making, less than a quarter of women are—comprise parliamentary decision-makers around the world. So in parliaments, less than a quarter are populated by women.

You would think that, if we were at full participation, at full parity, that you would see a reflection in legislatures and in parliaments that reflect the numbers in our population. And that’s just one kind of easily monitorable example. There are—I think are many others, and women’s leadership is one piece.

But you know, we could also look to, for example, education as a significant gap at the secondary level. We’ve actually made a lot of progress in closing the gender gap at the primary level. And in fact at a global level we’ve achieved close to parity between boys and girls in just 20 years at the primary level. But at the secondary level, we see significant gaps, particularly in places like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. So you would imagine that full participation would mean that there is parity.

Take the area of peace and security. Right now kind of pick your conflict that is unfolding in the world, and think about who is around the table in peace negotiations. And you are significantly more likely to see either all men represented or almost all men than any other configuration. In fact, since the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution called 1325 that is focused on including women in peace and security processes, which came into effect in 2000—since that time, in 15 years there’s only been one woman who has ever led a country, a delegation, in a peace negotiation.

So what would it look like if we were to achieve full participation? It would look like—(inaudible)—than that. We’d have certainly more than one, and I would imagine that half would be the number that make folks feel that we finally achieved full participation for women and men alike.

So those are just some examples, but I do commend to you the Beijing platform for action and declaration, which I think is a—as good as a framework and outline 20 years after its enactment as you’re going to find.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Webster University.

Q: Hi. My name is James Seaver (sp).

My question is, is there a way to promote gender equality abroad without seeming to be trampling on culture? Example would be Saudi Arabia, a state that is wealthy, so they might not be concerned with the economic benefits that can be found.

VOGELSTEIN: That’s a wonderful question. And I get asked this question quite a bit. I’ve written about harmful traditional practices that undermine women and girls’ participation in all of the areas that we’ve just talked about and have heard many questions raised along those lines.

And I think that the first question that I would ask back is whose culture? Who gets to define that culture? If you take an issue, for example, like child marriage, which is a significant—a significant practice around the world—there’s about 5 million girls married under the age of 15 every year and there are about 70 million women who have been married since before the age of 18, who are—who are here today, so it’s a significant issue. And I would ask, who gets to determine whether culture is defined in a way that condones the practice of marrying, you know, 13-, 12-, 11-, 10-year-old girls?

There are indigenous organizations, women’s organizations, other NGOs in every single country in which child marriage is a problem that are working to end this practice. There are the stories that we know and hear from young girls who have endured, you know, sexual violence and other forms of oppression and who have been robbed of their education, who are more likely to have poor health outcomes and early childbearing because of this practice. Do their voices count in defining what a culture adopts?

And I think we have seen throughout human history that culture is not immutable, that there are certainly shifts. And I think if you take an issue like that that I—that we still need to do a lot of work on, that actually the trends are positive, that the practice of child marriage is actually declining around the world. And I think that shows you that cultures change and that in defining culture, that we need to include the voices of women and girls who experience many of these practices as well as not just government officials and government—official government policy but also NGOs and civil society in defining, you know, whose culture we’re really talking about.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Brigham Young University. Please go ahead with your question.

FASKIANOS: Maybe we should go to the next one, and then we can come back.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Connecticut.

Q: Hi. On the note of graduate education, which you were talking about a few questions ago, are there opportunities in—that the State Department provides for graduate education once you join the Foreign Service, or does it really all have to be done before you join the Foreign Service?

VOGELSTEIN: I’m so sorry, you went out just for a moment there. Could you repeat the question?

Q: I was saying that on the note of graduate education, which you were talking about a few questions ago, does the State Department provide opportunities for graduate education once you join the Foreign Service, or does it all have to be done before you join the Foreign Service?

VOGELSTEIN: I believe there are opportunities and certainly would refer you to the State Department’s website for the most up-to-date information, but I believe there are opportunities to pursue education while serving. But please do go to the website, because the opportunities at the State Department, whether it’s fellowships that would allow for continuing education or whether it’s internships or some of the other opportunities that the State Department offers, are really well documented on their website. And so just to make sure you have the most up-to-date information, I would encourage that.

I would also add that the U.S. Foreign Service Institute is a source of continuing education. Certainly the U.S. Foreign Service Institute trains all incoming Foreign Service officers. And so our diplomats all go through that institute. But there are also requirements for continuing education that really, I think, provide opportunities for diplomats not only to stay abreast of cutting-edge issues but also to learn about issues that they might not have had an opportunity to work on already in their career and then pursue different substantive areas of focus as well as to learn new languages. There are many folks who kind of come back from a posting overseas and then go to the Foreign Service Institute to pick up a new language so they’re then able to serve in another part of the world.

So please do check out the website for opportunities to pursue education outside of Foreign Service Institute. But I would recommend to all of you that—the great opportunity serving as a Foreign Service officer that allows for continuing education really through the course of your career.

And one of the things that I did at the State Department, together with colleagues, was work to ensure that the Foreign Service Institute training included a focus on gender equality so that all of our diplomats would be familiar with many of the arguments that we’ve talked about at the outset of the call about why this is so important to foreign policy interests but also so that folks who want to train in more depth about how to actually implement some of the policies that we talked about before would have an opportunity to do that.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Virginia.

Q: Hi. My name is Jenna Rosenbaum (sp). I’m a second-year at the University of Virginia.

And my question is, in your recent work as the director of women in foreign policy program, like, what projects or issues have you personally felt drawn to?

VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great question. And I have recently outlined a strategic vision for the program over the next three to five years. So I’d love to share some of the priorities that we have here at the program, which I think are particularly important for us to put on the agenda in the near term.

One of the issues is women’s economic participation. And there what we’re really hoping to do is to move beyond a focus on issues like women in microfinance and start to think about women and macroeconomic policy. There have been a host of recent studies that have come out of places like OECD, which we talked about before; the IMF, the World Bank; private sector companies like McKinsey, for example, and PricewaterhouseCoopers that have demonstrated a clear link between women’s economic participation and growth.

And in fact, we’re starting to see world leaders really take note of this. That is something that, for example, Prime Minister Abe in Japan has made a pillar of his economic policy, which is called colloquially Abenomics. One of the pillars that he has really pushed is increasing women’s labor force participation because of the growth potential.

And of course we’ve seen here in our own country the incredible dividends of more women over the last 35 years in terms of our GDP.

So I think that what we are starting to promote here is analyzing the ways in which involving women and the participation of women in economic—in economic activity relates to economic growth and therefore should instruct our economic policymaking on a macroeconomic level. That’s something that we’ll be writing a lot about here.

A second area that we’re focused on is peace and security. And you heard me mention before the kind of dearth of women who have served as negotiators in peace and security processes and who generally are not involved or actively excluded in some cases. What we’re hoping to do is, I think, make the case—and I think there’s a lot of skeptics. I think over the last two decades there have been many more folks who have recognized the link between gender equality and development outcomes like the health and education outcomes we’ve talked about or even gender equality and economic growth and the relationship between women’s labor force and GDP.

The recognition there really has grown. I think there’s still a lot of skepticism about why it is important to include women at the peace table. And there’s an increasing body of evidence that demonstrates that not only do women raise different issues that are critical to long-term peace but that there are instances where women were able to achieve outcomes that were critical to the—to the endgame. And there’s a wonderful report I commend to you called “Women Leading Peace” that just came out that examines the participation of women in peace processes in Northern Ireland, in Guatemala, in Kenya, and in the Philippines. I think that demonstrates pretty conclusively the particular and unique contributions that women make.

So what we’re hoping to do is make that case more widely known and certainly to think about what indicators we need to be tracking to ensure that we are increasing women’s participation in peace and security processes.

And then the last area I would flag is global education. You know, we talked a little bit before about the progress that’s been made at the primary level, that there are still significant gaps at the secondary level between boys and girls. And this is a really critical time in the lives of girls. I mean, there’s—I think a really conclusive set of studies that show that, you know, at this moment girls can either stay in school, they’re more likely to be healthy and educated, their children are more likely to be healthy and educated, they’re more likely to be able to economically provide for their families and all the benefits that flow from those outcomes versus girls are pulled out of school, they’re more likely to be married early; they’re more likely to have early childbearing, which has health risks not only to them but to their children; and they’re less likely to be healthy and educated, their children less likely as well. And you know, it creates an intergenerational cycle of poverty that becomes very difficult to break.

So making the case as to why secondary education is so important to many of the health and education and economic outcomes that we hope to see as well as addressing the crisis in quality that exists—you know, there are many parts of the world where folks are graduating either from school or from one level to the next without acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills. And we will not reap the benefits that we hope to from increased education if we are not ensuring a basic level of quality goes along with that.

So that’s the third area that we plan to focus on and think is worth highlighting in the next three to five years.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Norwich University.

Q: Hi. My name is Angela Possian (ph), and I’m an international relations master’s graduate. And my question is, what would be your next steps with your background and your experience? What would be your next steps to secure a position as a diplomat?

VOGELSTEIN: You—are you asking me personally?

Q: Yes. Yes, with your background and your experience, if you wanted to become a diplomat—


Q: —what steps would you take?

VOGELSTEIN: You know, I highly recommend going to the State Department for a kind of full explanation of what is required to serve as a Foreign Service officer. You know, that is one avenue. There is also the possibility of serving not as a—as a civil servant who is a professional diplomat, but there are obviously opportunities to serve in government in addition to that route. And you know, I think a lot of it depends on what type of a position you hope to seek and, you know, if you’re interested in serving in a particular part of the world as to which avenue is the best one for you.

For me personally, you know, I’m thrilled to be here at CFR and hope to have the opportunity to serve in government again one day but certainly don’t know what capacity that would be in.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. We don’t want you to leave quite yet, Rachel, so we just want you to continue on the important work you’re doing here.

Let’s go to the next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the City College of New York.

Q: Hello. My name is Kayla (sp). Thank you for the opportunity.

So I was—I read in the assigned reading that diplomats find themselves in a spiritual or moral roadblock either because they’re not (congruent ?) with policies, or they find political paralysis and partisanship in Washington with an inexplicable attention on national security and military proliferation while U.S. polls, questionnaires, and scholars do not always align themselves with these policies and written about how these foreign policies are not effective in establishing a positive influence of U.S. leadership.

So my question is, would you say the reductions in government funding is due to the fact that the Congressmen do not feel that they are developing diplomats that represent U.S. effectively or national interest or that these funds actually should match the degree of their influence? Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: And I think you’re raising a great question about resources. And certainly when I was serving in government, the budget situation was quite difficult. And that limited a lot of what I think folks would want to do or would be able to do in flusher times. And that is something that, you know, would affect not only U.S. foreign policy but, I think, work really across the government.

I do believe that there is incredible value in the Foreign Service work that our diplomats do around the world and that our development specialists do as well. And I think one of the themes that really emerged over the last several years with the philosophy of smart power that I talked about earlier is the importance of working hand-in-hand with defense and diplomacy and development, that you really can’t be successful with just one leg of that stool, that you really need all three for the stool to stand.

And so, you know, I do believe that there is a misconception—and there’s certainly polling to support this—in terms of understanding about the piece of the pie in the U.S. that has been on foreign assistance, for example. It’s incredibly small. And public polls show that people believe it is high, it is as high as, you know, a third or more. And it’s certainly—it’s a really incredibly small part of our budget.

And when one thinks about the kind of global reach not only of economic markets and how we’ve seen market difficulty in other parts of the world affect our own part of the world or when we consider security issues where we’ve seen instability, again, in other parts of the world affect U.S. citizens around the world and also right here on our own shores, I think that the case that we can and should be making about the importance of supporting U.S. diplomacy and development assistance, foreign assistance, is really critical, that, you know, there is incredible value and that we are really shortchanging our own interests if we don’t resource it appropriately.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Pennsylvania.

Q: Hi. My name is Olivia.

Thank you so much for taking our questions. What I’m interested in is particularly the U.S. attempting to compel foreign governments to address sexual violence, especially in conflict zones. So perhaps states where the U.S. does not have the most stable diplomatic relation and where sexual violence is not the primary concern, how can U.S. foreign policy address that? Primarily I’m thinking of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great question. And why don’t I go ahead and give you an actual example. So when I was at the State Department, pretty early on in 2009, then-Secretary Clinton took a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Goma, and witnessed really unspeakable—the stories of unspeakable brutality that she heard from women who had been raped really as a tool of war and subject to horrifying atrocities.

She went from that trip to chair a session of the U.N. Security Council, where she led the adoption of a resolution I worked on called 1888. And what that did was move beyond the rhetorical commitments to addressing this issue, which was previously expressed in Security Council Resolution 1880, to try and put some teeth and ensure that this issue was actually going to be addressed by the United Nations.

And so what was created through Resolution 1888 was a special representative to the secretary general on conflict-related sexual violence. And that position was imbued with certain powers and certainly reporting abilities that has really allowed the U.N. to focus on this issue in a new way. And you know, certainly there is a lot of work to be done, but I think that’s an example of how you can use U.S. influence and leadership on the multilateral stage—and certainly that was also true in the bilateral contacts—but since you’re raising this question of what do you do when you don’t have necessarily the bilateral relationship that’s going to result in the attention you want on ending a horrific practice like that, I think there is an opportunity still to exert U.S. leadership through multilateral platforms.

And we also talked about some of the naming-and-shaming strategies and the effect that that can have. You know, supporting training of peacekeepers and the like—there’s a lot that can and should be done. And I think that’s one example of a step that the—that the U.S. has taken and been an example of a step that the U.S. could take in the future to make real the rhetorical commitments ending that practice.

FASKIANOS: Well, unfortunately we’ve come to the end of our hour. And I apologize to those of you whose questions we could not get to, but we try to end on time.

So, Rachel, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us today and your substantive work here at the Council and your career advice and what you have done in your own trajectory. We appreciate it.

I hope you all will sign up for Rachel’s blog, Women Around the World. You can access it from the homepage of and also follow her on Twitter at @CFR_WFP, which stands for Women in Foreign Policy.

This will conclude our fall 2015 Academic Conference Call Series. Our next call will be in the winter/spring semester. We will be sending that lineup in the next couple of weeks. So enjoy the holidays. Please do follow us on Twitter at @CFR_Academic for information on new CFR resources and upcoming events as well.

So thank you, Rachel Vogelstein. Thank you all, and good luck with your exams, and have a wonderful winter break.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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