In an exclusive interview with You!, Grace W. Shelton, U.S Consul General in Karachi, talks about her work and 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence...
Grace W. Shelton assumed charge as the U.S Consul General in Karachi on September 8, 2016.
A career diplomat in the United States Foreign Service, she most recently served as the Director of the Office of Central Asian Affairs in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. She also served as the Consul General at the U.S Consulate General in Hamilton, Bermuda.
Her other previous assignments include Slovenia, Nepal, Belarus, Malaysia and Washington DC. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ms. Shelton was an attorney with Bouhan, Williams & Levy in Savannah, Georgia and a law clerk to the Honorable Duross Fitzpatrick, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia.
She has a J.D. and a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bucknell University. Ms. Shelton was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina.
In an exclusive interview with You! Grace W. Shelton talks about her work and ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’ - an issue which is close to her heart. Here are the excerpts...
You! How long have you been in the Foreign Service?
Grace W. Shelton: For over 25 years.
You! You were an attorney; what got you interested in joining the Foreign Service?
G. W. S: I studied International Relations, Human Rights and International Political Economy and I was also taking classes at the law school where all of this was coming together. Even when I was in law school, I was interested in joining the Foreign Service because I wanted to have the opportunity to serve my country and to go and live in other countries and got to know them and live in their culture because I think we have a lot to learn from each other.
You! Do you believe women diplomats can make a difference?
G.W.S: I believe diplomacy can make a difference and I also believe women in diplomacy can make a difference. The United States tries to have diversity among its diplomats because it makes us stronger representatives of who we are. And I think women bring an important point of view.
You! What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
G.W.S: It’s being away from family and friends. But I am very lucky, my family does support me in what I am doing. They understand why it is important that I am in Pakistan. Why it is important for Pakistan and United States relationship. However, I am in touch with my family and friends via net. Like on the Thanksgiving Day I was connected with my family via face time. They were cooking turkey and I felt as if I was in the middle of everything. Their undeniable support helps me in carrying out my duties efficiently far away from home.
You! What is a typical day for you?
G.W.S: That’s the exciting part of this job - there is no typical day. Sometimes there are meetings with different government officials and ministries; sometimes you meet different delegations, sometimes you are invited to high profile events etc. We also work in partnership with Health Ministry, Ministry of Education and the Police.
One of my favourite things is to meet with students who are in our ‘Access Programme’. They are 13-15 year olds who are learning English. They are so inspirational. They are so bright. They have so much energy and they also play an active role in their respective communities.
You! What do you like the best about Pakistani culture?
G.W.S: I like a lot of things. I love Pakistani music, art and food. I really appreciated the kind of work which was shown at recently concluded Karachi Biennale. Some of the female artists were amazing. I also enjoyed Karachi Literature Festival. And yes, the best part is food. I like spicy food and I savour Pakistani cuisine. And I also happen to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and I must say Pakistani mangoes are the best.
You! What do you think of Pakistani women?
G.W.S: I am so impressed by Pakistani women. From lawyers, entrepreneurs to doctors and parliamentarians, I think women that I have met in Pakistan are so bright and they have the potential to do much more.
You! Can you tell us about the ‘16 Days of Activism against GenderBased Violence?
G.W.S: November 25th kicks it off. The United States joins hands with other nations in commemorating the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, then 16-day campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, it concludes December 10 with Human Rights Day. This was started in 1999 by UN General Assembly as a global platform of governments, civil societies, NGOs and individuals to raise awareness about this problem that affects everybody.
You! What is gender-based violence?
G.W.S: Gender based violence is something like an attack that is done because of gender. It mostly affects women and girls. It happens in the U.S, it happens in Pakistan. It happens everywhere.
You! What are the costs of gender-based violence?
G.W.S: It affects everything. It affects women going to education. It affects their seeking jobs because they don’t want to be in an environment where they can be a subject to violence. So the ways to tackle this issue have to be manifold.
You! Can you tell us about the U.S Consulate activities during the 16 Days?
G.W.S: We are going orange. Orange is the colour - symbolising our campaign. All our residential and official buildings will remain illuminated with Orange colour throughout our 16 Days campaign. The U.S Consulate is working in partnership with government and civil society. We are working in close connection with the ‘Aurat Foundation’ and other NGOs who are also working for the cause. We are also organising two different Round Table discussions with ministers and civil societies to discuss how they can work together for bringing people from Sindh together.
You! Tell us more about the Karachi Champions - an on line initiative by the Consulate?
G.W.S: Finally we are going to have a social campaign on Facebook. It is called ‘Karachi Champions’ against gender violence - an online project. We are going to have brief interviews of women in Karachi who are heroes, spotlight them for what they are doing. Also to raise awareness and let people know that there are role models out there.
You! Why is gender equality important?
G.W.S: When you have a country or society where half of their population is behind, how can they advance? When you educate a woman, you educate a family, you educate a community.
You! Beyond the 16 Days, how does the US government work on gender equality and women empowerment?
G.W.S: 16 Days are really important to focus attention. However, it’s an on-going process. We are doing a number of things. It is in partnership with the Federal Government, with the Sindh government, with civil societies. We collaborate with a number of NGOs like Aurat Foundation and shelter homes.
We provided 40 million dollars to help gender-based violence survivors, so that they can have access to short and long term help and may seek psycho, social, security and legal services. We also support shelters, half-way houses, so that women have a safe place to go to. In Karachi, we have donated more than one million dollars for vehicles and equipments to three women police stations in Karachi East, West and South zones. These police stations provide a safe place to women to go, report crimes and to get investigated by the women police officers.
We have also contributed some vehicles and equipments to Hyderabad Women Cell. It is very innovative; it includes women police officers and women NGOs. They are working together to solve women’s problems. I believe Sindh Police and Sindh Govt want to spread the model around Sindh.
We are also helping women register for their National ID cards so that will allow them to vote and give them access to exercise their right to vote. We are also trying to help govt meet their 10% quota of female police recruitment.
Then we are working with Sindh Government to improve women access to education. Some of these are girls only school - it’s going to provide access to education to 42,000 girls. We are also working on ‘Sindh Reading Programme’. More than 120,000 girls have improved their reading skills in public schools. So in a nutshell we are doing everything - from helping build schools in Sindh to support gender-based violence survivors. We are also concerned about early child marriage in Sindh and we are going to raise awareness about this serious issue too.
You! Is there any message you would like to share with our readers?
G.W.S: When you empower women, you empower the country. Together we can make a difference.