Exchange Matters / March 4, 2021

Building the Next Generation of Female Leaders in Peace and Security

By Ambassador Catherine Ebert-Gray and Jamie Landers, Co-Chairs, 2021 WorldDenver International Women’s Day Celebration

Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, at the 2018 WorldDenver International Women’s Day Celebration. Photo credit: WorldDenver

International Women’s Day is a global opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating equality and gender equity. 

WorldDenver is proud to host one of the nation’s largest International Women’s Day celebrations. Our annual event gathers hundreds of community, business, and nonprofit leaders together to highlight women’s achievements in a specific theme and to inspire young women and girls to pursue leadership in careers that make an impact on the world.  

This year, we will recognize the accomplishments of women in national security – encompassing defense, diplomacy, cybersecurity, public health, climate, food security, and all the ways that women are working around the globe to keep us safe.  

We asked our 2021 International Women’s Day Event Chairs, Ambassador Catherine Ebert-Gray and Jamie Landers, two women who exemplify leadership and advancement in national security, to explain why female leadership is so vital to a safe and secure international community. Below are their thoughts on how international exchanges and citizen diplomats can play a role in building the next generation of female leaders in peace and security.   

Ambassador Catherine Ebert-Gray
Director of Global Education, University of Colorado Denver

The violence that women and girls experience in armed conflict around the world is a reflection of the violence and gender imbalances that exist in societies during peacetime. This sobering truth is why it is so imperative that we systematically include women in meaningful roles in our work to promote peace, security, and good governance in foreign policy. 

The women of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea are an inspiring example of the ability of women to overcome challenges to carve out a meaningful role in peace and security. I first served at the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby in the midst of Bougainville’s ten years of bloody unrest over succession and mining in the province. I returned years later as Ambassador to witness lasting peace and meet the women who played a critical role in helping to end the conflict, and serve as guardians of peace. 

Weary of war and the failures of governments to bring peace, women performed grassroots mobilization and inserted themselves in the peace process. I heard their stories of traveling to Australia to vividly portray the brutality, violence, and massive destruction of what was once the wealthiest province in Papua New Guinea. The women pressed to bring parties to negotiations, and proceeded to hold the province together in reconciliation and healing after the war. Many women now play a role in provincial governance, and will undoubtedly, raise daughters to be future leaders of Papua New Guinea.  

I have seen firsthand how women in Papua New Guinea and across the world have been inspired to rise into leadership positions following participation in the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP). WorldDenver prides itself on the role we and other Global Ties U.S. organizations play in sharing U.S. values, institutions, and gender issues as a frequent host of these emerging international leaders. These IVLP visits by young foreign leaders of both genders are as transformative to them as study abroad is for college students in the United States. There are few opportunities as influential as international exchange programs in building respect, empowering women, and creating lifelong citizen ambassadors of understanding. 


Jamie Landers
Director of Advanced Programs at Lockheed Martin Space

When I decided to pursue a career in aerospace engineering, it was for the love of exploration, science, and outer space. At the time, I didn’t dream that the work I’d be doing today helps protect our country.

After college, I was immersed in programs critical to the fortification of our national security such as technologies to provide advance warning of severe weather systems, navigation, identification of climate change, protected communication, and data analysis. Today, I love to talk about how satellites and spacecraft keep us safe here on Earth.

As a young girl interested in science, there were few celebrated female leaders, so I clung to my early heroes at NASA: Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, and Susan Helms. I understood these women forged the way for all to pursue a love of space exploration.

Early in my career, when I was often the only female in the analysis floor and the board room, it could be intimidating staring down a group of seasoned male professionals to add my expertise. There are still times when I am interrupted more often than my male counterparts or when my ideas are not validated until stated by someone else. However, we have made great strides in national security to mentor young women, offer training and job opportunities, and diversify our perspectives. Our safety as a population depends on these women taking on new roles to protect us from natural disasters, a changing climate, ever limiting resources and to keep peace across the globe.

Through international exchange programs, women in our field are able to model those advancements, as well as inspire and be inspired by our counterparts throughout the globe to create the change that we all know is critical to our peace and security.

The WorldDenver International Women’s Day celebration is taking place Monday, March 8 at 11:00 a.m. MT / 1:00 p.m. ET and will feature a broad and diverse line-up of women national security leaders, highlighted by a keynote conversation on Building the Next Generation of Women in Peace and Security between Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley and Lauren Bean Buitta, Founder and CEO of Girl Security. Register for free and watch the event live at: