MENA/ UNITED STATES: Women and the Arab Spring, Joint Hearing

Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Department of State
North America
United States of America
Western Asia

Senator BOXER [presiding]. The hearing will come to order. I want to say good afternoon to everyone, and I want to welcome all the participants in today's hearing on women and the Arab Spring.

This is a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues and the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.

In particular, I wanted to thank Senator Casey, who I understand will be joining us shortly, for agreeing to hold this hearing with me and our ranking members, Senators DeMint and Risch. All of these members have been very helpful in getting this organized.

I want to express a warm welcome to all of our distinguished witnesses and I will introduce our first panel: Ambassador Melanne Verveer and Dr. Tamara Wittes. I will give them their due of a good introduction in a moment.

But I want to talk a little bit about why we thought this was a very timely and important hearing, and from the attendance here, I think we were right.

In December 2010, the world turned its attention to Tunisia after a young street vendor set himself on fire to protest the government's unjust treatment of the Tunisian people. His actions and his subsequent death sparked widespread protests, and within weeks that government fell. Since then, we have seen dictators toppled in Egypt and Libya and antigovernment protests erupt from Syria to Yemen. And in each of these countries, we have seen women fighting for change, whether it was the young female students marching in Tahrir Square or the women in Yemen who took to the streets to burn their veils in a sign of defiance.

These women have much at risk. And their courage has inspired women around the world. In a powerful statement of international support, a young Yemeni woman and mother of three was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to advance democracy and human rights, including rights for women, in her country.

In announcing the award, the Nobel Committee said, ‘‘we cannot achieve democracy and standing peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.'' I could not agree more. And historians on the liberal and the conservative side here in America agree with that as well. As we watch the Arab Spring unfold, it is clear we are witnessing profound change. But what is not yet clear is what this change will mean for the women of the Middle East and North Africa.

Will women be afforded the opportunity to play significant, meaningful roles in the futures of their respective countries? Or will they be marginalized or silenced? How can the United States provide meaningful support to help ensure that women have a seat at the table? How can international tools be used to encourage governments to afford women full and equal rights? Exploring these questions is the purpose of our hearing today. Our first witness is the United States Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer. As many of you know Ambassador Verveer is a tireless champion for women around the globe.

For more than 17 years in both governmental and nongovernmental roles, she has traveled to dozens of countries, first as an assistant to President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton, where she worked to make women's issues an integral part of American foreign policy and helped to create the President's Interagency Council on Women. I know Ambassador Verveer cares very deeply about women in the Middle East and North Africa, having traveled to the region several times this year alone.

Our second witness is Dr. Tamara Wittes, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and the Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions. In her current role, she is responsible for coordinating Middle East human rights and democracy programming at the State Department, as well as running the Middle East Partnership Initiative, better known as MEPI. So I want to thank you both for being here today.

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Women in the Arab Spring- US joint Hearing