Swanee Hunt lectures Public Policy at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. A former US Ambassador to Australia, she is the founder of Women and Public Policy Program, a research center concerned with domestic and foreign policy.
Hunt has taught a wide range of courses such as The Choreography of Social Movements, Peace Building and Inclusive Security which explores how women are systematically excluded from peace processes, the impact, and the policy steps needed to rectify the problem.
She recently visited Rwanda to grace the second graduation ceremony of Akilah Institute for Women from where The New Times’ Sarah Kwihangana talked to her on matters related to Akilah’s path to women empowerment.
Who is Swanee Hunt and what brings her to Rwanda?
I was a diplomat in the United States and I have worked in 60 countries around the world—working with women leaders. When I met President Paul Kagame in 2000, he said to me one thing: “We need education for our young women.” That was his number one priority, and so to stand here at the graduation of 56 young women from Akilah, is a fulfillment of President Kagame’s dream and I am delighted to tell the world about this school because it is fabulous and a step forward for Rwanda.
Talk about your involvement in women’s programs
I have been involved in women’s empowerment for more than 30 years, beginning at the grassroots level in my home state of Colorado, USA to working now with Heads of State all over the world.
What is your assessment of Akilah’s work towards women’s empowerment?
Even a country committed to women’s empowerment can’t move forward without professionally and academically prepared women. Akilah is providing a pool of women who can excel throughout the society.
What do you think this institute should prioritize?
The institute could add one more area, and that is women in politics. Rwanda is so open to this opportunity, but the women who move into these positions need to be well prepared to campaign for office, to assess situations at a policy level, and to write laws.
Rwanda has been globally recognized as a country with the highest number of women in parliament. What impact does it have on the nation?
Rwanda is known worldwide as excelling in women in politics. But when you come here, as I often do, you find that in general, people (men and women, ministers and police) consider women more honest, less corrupt. That’s huge in terms of business development; since the international community wants to be sure their dollars are being used wisely. And when you empower women, you are able to use the full population, it is just wrong to think that you can be a great country and only use a portion of your population. With women in addition create certain skills because they have different experiences and manners often to bring people together and that is what this country is all about right now
Any word of inspiration to women out there?
Develop wisdom about when to be patient, and when not to be patient! Stay committed to being innovative. Try and fail. Try again and succeed. Try and succeed again. If you are succeeding all the time, you’re not trying new things enough. Remember that the fullest life is not where you get to, but how you keep your balance along the way.