Arab Women Making
Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues
Interview with NILE TV
June 8, 2004
Q: Charlotte Ponticelli, Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues
at the State Department, we thank you very much for taking some of your time to
talk to us.
Ms. Ponticelli: Thank you.
Q: Thank you so much. You spoke today, addressed the International Arab Women
Forum that was held at the Arab League, and you gave a wonderful speech in which
you outlined several issues pertinent to women affairs in America, in the Arab
world, and at the international level. You have also been to the Middle East
several times. You've come across a lot of women here in the Arab world. What is
your "take" on the progress that women have so far achieved in the Arab world?
Ms. Ponticelli: I think women in the Arab world have made tremendous progress
and really are an inspiration to women in other regions of the world.
We've been very impressed with the involvement of women in the Alexandria
Library, for example -- that project -- women in many countries throughout
the region... I hesitate to single any out because I would leave out a
success story -- the fact that you have woman running for president in Lebanon,
I think, is a huge milestone.
Q: There is the Alexandria document, the one that you have mentioned. There is
also the final communiqué of the Arab Summit in Tunis last month, and they all
centered -- sort of -- on empowering women, the need to empower women, for women
to be more involved in the political decision-making process in development
projects in the respective countries.
And there is also the initiative for reform or the Greater Middle East
Initiative that is coming from the U.S. How would you relate what is in that
document, the Alexandria document, the communiqué of the Arab League, and what
has been mentioned in the Greater Middle East project?
Ms. Ponticelli: I think that's an excellent question, Nihal.
I would really look at it as a continuum of effort. These things are not thought
up overnight. Discussions take, sometimes, a long time to evolve.
I think that there was a very interesting discussion that started a few weeks
ago in Tunis. I think that women there...I understand that women there played a
tremendous role in forging that statement of intent. I think that that statement
of intent, particularly the way it mentioned the need for an integrated
strategy, for example, the role of women in the political sphere, in the
economic life of their country, in the
educational, social, and cultural sphere... Women's issues, neither here
nor in the United States, -- they're no longer a separate thing you can put in a
little box and put on a shelf. They're part of the broader efforts for reform,
for democratic change, for economic prosperity, and for peace and stability.
It's my expectation, I would hope, insha'Allah, that the leaders at the G-8
Summit will have a chance to build on that discussion. I think it's a very
positive evolution of the discussion.
Q: Right. You're speaking about the G-8 Summit and, again, the Greater Middle
East Initiative. Initiatives for reform for the Middle East is going to be high
on the agenda of these leaders when they discuss this.
Now part of the speech -- in your speech -- you said that we cannot impose
reform -- that any attempt to do that is going to be doomed to failure. That was
part of the criticism that was directed to the Greater Middle East Initiative
because it did not consult with Arab leaders, or it did not consult with Arab
governments, and it was sort of imposed instead being negotiated with them.
Ms. Ponticelli: I know that Secretary Powell and Dr. Condoleeza Rice have
already -- I know -- addressed this question a lot better than I ever could.
I will tell you as someone who works on women's issues at the State Department
-- and when so much of our effort, of course, involves this region of the world
and our efforts to form partnerships -- that it's very much a two-way street. We
know we can't impose reform -- you're absolutely right -- that was a key point
in my speech. We know that reform has to come from within, and just as we would
like to express support and willingness to help the process of change here in
the Middle East, we know that we can learn from suggestions that come from this
region to us, and, again, a need to listen to Arab voices. I think that our
officials have made it clear that that's going to be a key motivation for the
G-8 Summit -- to listen to these other voices.
Q: Our First Lady, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, addressed the forum, and Mrs. Suzanne
Mubarak has championed a movement, the Suzanne Mubarak International Peace
Movement, or Women for Peace Movement, and that has been gaining a lot of
international support. I don't know if you have had a chance to talk about that
with Egyptian women here, or with other women in the region.
Ms. Ponticelli: Oh, I have. Yes.
Q: What is your "take" about it?
Ms. Ponticelli: My "take" is that it is fabulous, and that Mrs. Mubarak is a
champion for the universal values that we all share: peace, cooperation,
positive democratic change, and making sure that women have a place at the table
working on those issues. So we very much support the thrust of her initiative.
She made some excellent remarks, very stirring remarks, at the opening of the
conference yesterday, which, I think, set the pace and set the good tone for the
discussions. And I think that her message of working together for peace and
cooperation in order to forge, as she said, "true partnerships" -- we very much
applaud her leadership on these issues. She's fabulous.
Q: Your department, the international women issues, is affiliated with the State
Department. What is the pro-women foreign policy agenda in the State Department?
How is it positioned in the State Department, which, I am sure, has so many
things to deal with?
Ms. Ponticelli: That's an excellent question, and one that I deal with. I mean,
we all of us have work that we do, and, as you know, one of the key things
involved in your work is convincing others why the issues you work on are
important, and how you might find ways and widen the net of support and work
with others, and also to come out with a coordinated approach.
If everybody's going off in different directions, you often can cancel each
other out, or work against each other. So we are a coordinating office.
We report directly to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, who has a
number of very big portfolios including democracy and human rights, population
and migration, the Office of Environment and Science and Technology, the Science
Adviser's Office, and I have probably left out a couple. She also does Tibet.
She's the Special Coordinator for Tibet. So our approach towards women's issues
is very integrated into everything else.
Secretary Powell made a remarkable statement to the State Department just a year
ago in which he made clear that women's issues are integral to U.S. foreign
policy. Why? Because you'll never achieve true democracy -- you will never
achieve freedom, prosperity, opportunities, peace, and stability -- if you
exclude one half of your population.
Women are, I think, sometimes portrayed as the victims of the world, and true,
they often suffer in a horrendous way from war and from conflict and from
poverty and deprivation, but what you find working with women is they are
tremendous resources for change.
Q: And particularly, that's truly correct when it comes to places of conflict
like Palestine or like in Iraq. You've been to Afghanistan. You mentioned,
before we started taping this interview, about the initiatives for women in Iraq
and about the initiatives also for Palestinian women. Could you elaborate on
these two initiatives?
Ms. Ponticelli: Yes, I will. I will try to briefly.
We very much support the efforts of the Palestinian women to deal with the
problems in their society, to deal with the tremendous challenges that they're
facing and so, again -- our integrated strategy. The U.S. is, I believe, the
largest contributor to programs, humanitarian programs, hospitals, clinics,
schools, but also in terms of exchange programs, which can be a great bridge for
peace and cooperation that Mrs. Mubarak spoke of. So we have very much an
integrated approach to help Palestinian women with the tremendous challenges
With respect to Iraq, again, we try very much to be -- not impose -- but be
responsive to the needs that Iraqi women have told us are priority for them. For
them right now? They say, look, we've been through a lot, but we're very
capable. We just need a little help, and that means training. So we have a new
initiative. It's a ten million dollar Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative that
focuses on helping women with leadership skills and concrete capacity building
endeavors. Whether it's political participation, entrepreneurship, economic --
how do you start and run your own business, for example, how do you write a
business plan -- also, women journalists, the role of women with the media -- so
that there's some training programs underway for that. So we're very excited.
I'm going to be reviewing those proposals when I go home. The proposals have
come in and the deadline has closed for proposals. We have over thirty.
Q: And what is the timeframe for....
Ms. Ponticelli: We hope within the next couple of weeks to announce the
proposals that have been selected under this ten million dollar initiative.
We've already used some money from the initiative to fund a group of Iraqi
women, a delegation, who recently attended - actually it was just last week -
the Global Summit of Women this year which was held in Korea.
There's another delegation of Iraqi women coming over soon -- in July -- that
want to talk about political skills that they feel they need in preparation for
their elections, which, insha'Allah, will be January of next year. So again,
skills, but a very integrated approach.
We also have, finally, a new initiative called the U.S.-Iraq Democracy...
U.S.- Iraq Women's Network, forgive me. It is for democracy, but it's also the
economic empowerment. We're very excited about that. It's a public-private
partnership - realizing that governments alone can't do it all. We need the
private sector. We have people in the corporate world who want to help.
Q: And the civil society.
Ms. Ponticelli: And civil society, and NGOs. I have over --- we have had over a
hundred groups, organizations, NGOs, individuals, who have signed up, who say,
"We want to help be a part of this." From the Society of Women Engineers in the
United States to human rights organizations and NGOs, who want to help with
training. And this is loosely built on our U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, which
also endeavors to have that integrated approach.
Q: Charlotte Ponticelli, the Senior Coordinator of International Women's Issues
at the State Department, we thank you very much for taking some of your time.
Ponticelli: Thank you, Nihal. I appreciate it.