Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Quest to Empower Women in Mauritania


This March, the United States celebrates Women’s History Month, honoring the progress women have made in their strides to achieve equality, recognizing the continuing challenges faced by girls and young women, and highlighting the need for them to be fully integrated into all aspects of today’s world. This year’s theme, “women who advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion,” underscores the importance of including women from diverse backgrounds in the economy, governing institutions, and other key areas of society. Empowering girls and young women throughout the world is a priority for the United States.  As Secretary Blinken has remarked, supporting women and girls is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart and necessary thing to do.

The good news is that young women are emerging as leaders in diverse spheres – communities, classrooms, and clubs – and we must continue to support and encourage them in this effort. Countries like Mauritania are taking significant steps to ensure that half of their population can achieve their full potential. As a close partner, our U.S. Embassy is committed to helping Mauritania achieve the goal of empowering women and girls. Last year, we inaugurated the first Women’s Economic Forum at the U.S. Embassy, promoting trade and developing Mauritanian small businesswomen’s talents.  This year, we’ve continued this event, hosting our second annual forum on March 7 hosting women from business, civil society, students and U.S. government program alumni. We’ve also launched digital literacy programs that provide access to computers and the internet and ensure girls and young women acquire skills relevant to the modern job market.  In many regions of Mauritania, the United States has funded campaigns advocating for girls’ education, encouraging parents and communities to support girls in school, and combatting negative phenomena such as childhood and forced marriage.  We even supported a program to send girl soccer players to the United States to interact with their American counterparts and exchange experiences.  In 2024, we plan to do the same for a group of young women basketball players, knowing that this will empower them to come back to their own country with a strong network for action within their communities.

Overwhelming data from the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and the United Nations indicate that when women are gainfully and fully employed, societies are more stable and prosperous. UN Women estimates that companies with three or more women in senior management positions score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance. Additionally, closing the gender gap in the economy could boost the global economy by $28 trillion, according to a 2023 McKinsey Global Institute report. I myself have seen that Mauritanian communities are stronger when women own and run businesses and contribute to their country’s sustainable economic growth. Remarkable women leaders like doctor Jemila Bouka, a military surgeon who also founded a private hospital to serve the needs of the public, and Berdis Muhammed, a rural entrepreneur who started from nothing to become an international success selling rice, stand as shining examples of the extraordinary accomplishments of Mauritanian women. I am convinced that when all women are fully integrated into business and government, all of society will reap the benefits.

Women’s History Month carries deep personal meaning as I honor my mother, Dr. Marcia Kierscht, a university president who faced a variety of challenges in the United States as the first women in her generation to occupy many of the positions she held.  As a role model, she taught me independence, diligence, the importance of fair play, and perhaps most importantly, that I should have no limits based on social expectations as to what I can achieve. Her wisdom continues to inspire my commitment to advancing equality and women’s education. I have seen it myself as I built my own career with the encouragement and mentorship of strong women leaders to become the United States Ambassador to Mauritania.  I strive to pay back this service through my own mentorship of rising generations of women and encourage all women who occupy positions of power to do the same.

Investing in girls and young women is not only a moral imperative but a strategic decision. Empowering them not only creates a more egalitarian society but also fosters economic prosperity and civil peace. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us consider how far we have come in our quest to empower women, and how much more we still need to do, working together, to create a more diverse, equal, and inclusive society for all.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of U.S. Embassy in Mauritania.

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