Exchange Matters / March 31, 2016

Recognizing IVLP Alums: Women’s History Month 2016

To celebrate this year’s Women’s History Month, Global Ties U.S. recognized five female International Leadership Program (IVLP) alumns for their dedication to promoting peace and strengthening their communities. These women are just a few out of many who model strength, wisdom and tenacity, and whose legacies will inspire many future generations and continue to shape the modern world. Fittingly, the theme of the 2016 Women’s History Month, as declared by the National Women’s History Project, is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government”. This talented group of women undoubtedly exemplify this theme through their commitment to creating positive change with political contributions and activism.


Recognized by the New York Times as “Zimbabwe’s top human rights lawyer”, Beatrice Mtetwa has had an impressive career defending activists and challenging unjust government policies. Mtetwa received her undergraduate degree in law from the University of Botswana and Swaziland in 1981 before returning to Zimbabwe, her home country, to enter private practice, specializing primarily in human rights law. She gained international attention following her highly publicized case against Zimbabwe’s Private Voluntary Organizations Act, a legislative policy that enabled government ministers to appoint of dismiss board members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). She also was a major proponent for journalist’s rights and freedom of press: in 2003 she successfully prevented the deportation of Andrew Meldrun, a reporter for The Guardian, and in 2008 Mtetwa won an acquittal for New York Times reporter Barry Bearak who was being detained. Mtetwa was honored with the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists for her work in 2005 as well as the 2010 International Human Rights award of the American Bar Association. In 2013, Mtetwa and her defendants were featured in a documentary Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law to acknowledge her achievements and highlight key issues in the justice system of Zimbabwe. She was the recipient of the 2014 International Women of Courage Award by the U.S. State Department and was subsequently invited to participate in the IVLP program. Photo courtesy of the United States Institute of Peace.


An activist, journalist, politician and Nobel Laureate, Tawakkol Karman has an impressive list of credentials to her name. Her father being a prominent member of the Yemeni government during a tumultuous political era, Karman was inclined to activism and viewing the unhappy state of her country and maltreatment of its people. In 2005, she co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains to advocate for the rights of investigative journalists and to report on human rights violations, and in the same year she participated in the IVLP program. Two years following, Karman began organizing weekly protests in the capital city of Sana’a that demanded change for the corruption, repression and other injustices occurring in the leadership during Yemen’s own Jasmine Revolution from 2011 through 2012. For her contributions, Karman was regarded as the “iron woman”. She lobbied the United Nations Security Council as well as the United States in an effort to bring to light the discontentment of the Yemeni people and hold the current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, accountable for his wrongdoings. The first Arab woman and second-youngest person nominated to win, Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her practice of nonviolent activism and protest and promotion of women’s rights. Hear Karman talk about Yemen in the United States Institute of Peace here.


With an extensive career in foreign policy, Helen Clark is an incredibly influential person involved in world affairs today. Ranked as the 23rd most powerful woman by Forbes in 2014, Clark previously served as Prime Minister to New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, and currently holds the position of Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which is the third highest position within the United Nations. Since a teenager, Clark has been very active within the New Zealand Labour Party, and after earning her degree from the University of Auckland, she made her political debut in Parliament. In 1998, Clark, hosted by Meridian International Center, participated in the IVLP program and traveled to the United States. By this time, she had become an influential member of her party, and was later appointed Prime Minister in 1999 following a previous unsuccessful attempt. During her tenure, Clark implemented many economic initiatives and introduced a number of policies aimed at educational reform and environmental conservation. She advocated for many free trade agreements as well as the advancement of anti-militarism, which caused New Zealand to become much more influential in world affairs. After serving three terms as Prime Minister, she began her career at the United Nations as Administrator of the UNDP and Chair of the United Nations Development Group in 2009. Visit this link to learn more about Helen Clark.


Britain’s first elected Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher has become a figurehead of conservative ideology and earned the title the “Iron Lady” for her unyielding politics. Thatcher attended Oxford University and graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1947, although she always had political ambitions. Unsuccessful in her first attempts to win a seat in Parliament, she studied and practiced law until 1959, when she became a member of the House of Commons. In 1967, Thatcher was invited by the Department of State to visit the United States through the IVLP program. “…I traveled the length and breadth of the United States. The excitement which I felt has never really subsided. At each stopover I was met and accommodated by friendly, open, generous people who took me into their homes and lives and showed me their cities and townships with evident pride.” Thatcher, over an extended period of time, became very influential in the Conservative Party, and was appointed Prime Minister in 1979. Caught in a time of financial downfall, Thatcher implemented many aggressive initiatives aimed at strengthening the economy through industry privatization and welfare reduction. Although her policies were not always popular, she was praised for her uncompromising resolution and fierce determination. Thatcher served three terms as Prime Minister before her resignation, and she passed away in 2013 due to health related reasons. However, her policies left an undeniable impression on Britain as well as internationally, illustrating her immense influence in the political world. To learn more about Margaret Thatcher, visit this link.


Daughter of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi was the first and only female Indian Prime Minister to date, as well as the longest holder of this position. Often described as stubborn yet highly talented, Gandhi attended several schools in Switzerland and England before returning to India to assist her father in political affairs. Later, she served on the India National Congress and was subsequently elected as Congress President in 1960. The next year, Gandhi participated in the State Department’s IVLP program, which was facilitated by the Meridian International Center. Following the death of her father’s successor, Gandhi was appointed Prime Minister and immediately took imitative to alleviating some of India’s most troubling problems. One of her more important political contributions was assisting in the Pakistani war of independence and following creation of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, in which she was greatly commended. Additionally, she led the Green Revolution by increasing crop diversification and exports to support the struggling agriculture industry. A major leader in world affairs and diplomacy, Gandhi took many risks in an effort to bring India into a more globalized world. She was later assassinated following her controversial actions to suppress a separatist movement led by Sikhs. To learn more about Indira Gandhi and her legacy, visit this link for a quick biography.


By Erin Hensley, Communications Intern, Global Ties U.S.