by Swanee Hunt
Change never travels in a straight line, so when Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government asked me to create a center for women and public policy, I was at once surprised and not surprised. As a teenager I’d been denied Radcliffe/Harvard by a father convinced the institution was run by communists, and ever since, Cambridge had remained for me an unfulfilled goal. Now I was arriving on terms unimaginable 30 years ago: as a woman experienced in the almost exclusively male world of diplomacy (former American Ambassador to Austria), co-creator of a women’s foundation (in my adopted state of Colorado), and mother of three whose husband had moved to follow my career (an exercise of devotion that his profession as a symphony orchestra conductor allowed, though at considerable sacrifice).
Since its launch in late fall of 1997, the new Women and Public Policy Program, WAPPP, has grown seamlessly. Many of the issues – intranational and international strife, environmental challenges, ethnic tensions, the gulf between rich and poor, the exploration and development of cyberspace – have women right at their center.
Inscribing “real life” on Harvard blackboards more often covered with statistical macro-economic formulae is a challenge – but the difficulty is not a surprise. Harvard’s well-known orientation toward a male world view mirrors cultural and institutional barriers for women all over the world. Those barriers are daunting, as demonstrated by United Nations reports showing that, while women constitute half the world’s population, and labor nearly two-thirds of its work hours, they receive one-tenth of the world’s income and own less than one-tenth of the world’s property. If that irony is “real life,” then our ultimate task at the WAPPP must be not simply to sharpen the rhetoric, but to reshape reality.
It was to this end that, in the spring of 1997, while I was still serving as ambassador, the Kennedy School’s Dean Joe Nye invited me to participate in the creation of a program that would advance the role of women in the global public policy arena. Essentially, he is calling for nothing less than a cultural shift in an institution in which 90 percent of the cases currently used for classroom instruction have male protagonists and the overwhelming majority of the instructors are also men.
To inspire female students, role models and mentors are essential. Several executive programs, such as the Institute of Politics, the National Hispana Institute, and the new Council of Women World Leaders, bring women leaders to campus. The council, which collects the wisdom of former heads of government and heads of state, held its first summit at the Kennedy School this past April, bringing together eight female current or former premiers, presidents, and prime ministers to explore the challenges of global leadership.
WAPPP is directing its earliest funding to researching public policies that have special significance for women (such as pay equity, childcare, women’s health); women’s perspectives on public policies in general; and the experiences of women shaping public policy. The program is based on the premise that, as we help women examine the challenges and opportunities they will face in the public forum, we are equipping the global leaders who will shape the next millennium. Strengthening the advocacy power of women at the grassroots and advancing women as leaders will affect the course of Swanee Hunt foreign and domestic policies in the 21st century.
There are also upcoming WAPPP-sponsored conferences, courses, seminars, and publications dealing with such issues as women, religion, and public policy; women and the revolution in information technology; and the global trafficking in women. The latter has spurred a WAPPP effort to create an international framework for legislation to protect women and children from commercial sexual exploitation. [See our article on page 28.] A program on women’s international experience in conflict resolution will bring to the Kennedy School delegations of women who are doing this work on the ground, in locations such as the Balkans, the Middle East, Ireland, Latin America, and the inner cities of the U.S. Other programs will examine women in international development, including the economic effects of the private sector; public policy in popular women’s magazines; and women’s experience in U.S. foreign policy.
The power of the WAPPP program becomes clearer when we consider that women by the hundreds of millions are fueling the economies of the developing world through largely unreported home-based industry; that unlike the industrial revolution, which left women in the dust, today’s high-tech economy gives them the opportunity to be at the forefront of change, and that the U.S. State Department is asking for the development and institution of concrete practices that will help American embassies advance the status of women worldwide.
Through the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School, hundreds of women every year will be directing their energies to fashioning economies and molding governments, and growing into their full capacity to shape the world.
Swanee Hunt is director of the WAPPP at Harvard. As U.S. ambassador to Austria from 1993 to 1997, she was an important advocate in improving the status of women throughout post-Communist Europe, particularly in Bosnia.