Former U.S. Ambassador Melanne Verveer (SLL ’66, GRD ’69) received the Order of the Rising Sun, an honor bestowed by the Japanese government, for her leadership in advancing women’s empowerment Oct. 28.
Verveer, who serves as executive director of the Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), accepted the distinction at the Japanese ambassador’s residence. Ambassador Tamaki Tsukada, the deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Japan, conferred the award, a medal featuring gold rays.
The Order of the Rising Sun is one of the 2020 Spring Imperial Decorations, which recognize outstanding contributions to the nation or the public. The award represents a milestone in the work she continues to pursue in the field of women, peace and security, Verveer said.
“It was an extraordinary surprise,” Verveer said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “It was rewarding enough to be involved in all of these ways, and then to receive this award, this decoration, went far beyond anything I had ever expected.”
Over the past two decades, Verveer has worked in many capacities to strengthen U.S.-Japan cooperation on women’s issues. Verveer served as the assistant to the President and chief of staff to the First Lady during the Clinton administration. She was later nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve as the first U.S. ambassador at-large for Global Women’s Issues, a role she held from 2009 to 2013.
As ambassador, Verveer coordinated foreign policy issues relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women. During her tenure, Verveer said she developed a relationship with Japan because of the work she did on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an intergovernmental forum that promotes free trade throughout the region.
Verveer said she put women and economic participation on APEC’s agenda, which had implications for the larger Asia-Pacific region.
“I think probably the greatest impact was the work I did on APEC,” Verveer said. “That put greater prominence on the need for women’s economic participation, and everything that that involved, from child care to ensuring that there was greater diversity in the workplace.”
Verveer provided vital advice to the Japanese government on the issue of women in the economy, according to former Ambassador Kurt Tong, who served as the U.S. ambassador for APEC when the United States hosted the forum in 2011.
“She was essentially being recognized for the good work she did in providing thought leadership to the Japanese government and Japanese NGOs on how important it is to increase and improve the role of women in the economy, and what some of the policies might be for doing that,” Tong said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
After coming to Georgetown, Verveer helped launch the World Assembly of Women (WAW!), a conference hosted by the Japanese government to discuss topics such as peace and security, women and the economy and other relevant issues related to women’s empowerment.
Under Verveer, GIWPS partnered with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a development agency that promotes international cooperation. Through the partnership, Verveer contributed research and policy recommendations regarding women’s participation in economies.
“There was a lot of synergy in our research efforts at Georgetown with JICA,” Verveer said. “I anticipate that we will continue in some capacity to work with JICA, which also recognizes the evolving questions and important discussions that occur around women peace and security.”
Japan welcomes a continued relationship with Verveer and the United States on the issue of women’s empowerment in the future, according to Yoshikazu Suzuki, the first secretary of the Embassy of Japan.
“The strong relationship between Japan and the U.S. is increasingly important for overcoming the various confusions caused by the new coronavirus and for building a new economic structure for the post-corona era, including the area of women’s empowerment,” Suzuki wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Japanese people continue to look forward to her advice and support based on her wealth of experience and clear insight.”