Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 4, Issue 2
spring 2014
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Craig Canfield
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Alum Spotlight: Stephanie L. Schmid

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Inspired by then-First Lady (and fellow Yale alumna) Hillary Rodham Clinton’s declaration at the United Nations’ 4th World Conference on Women that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” I quickly declared my double major in Women’s and Gender Studies and Political Science as a freshman in 1998.  The courses I took across every department at Yale, including graduate work at the Law School, gave me a set of tools and analytic practices grounded in feminist theory that I employ every single day in my career as a Foreign Service Officer (a.k.a., diplomat) with the U.S. Department of State.  It is a joy to see the holistic approach championed by WGSS theory take center stage in U.S. government policies that are focused on the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of the status of women and girls to achieve U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives and I am honored to be a part of these critical initiatives.

After graduating in 2002, I continued to pursue my WGSS interests while studying law at the University of California at Berkeley, serving as editor in chief of the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice and as a research assistant for several professors doing cutting-edge work on gender-related legal issues.  In late 2009, after five years of work as a federal law clerk and corporate litigation attorney, I knew it was time to realign my professional life with my personal passions and I began the lengthy Foreign Service application and examination process.  I have not looked back since.  On July 1, 2011, I was sworn in as a United States Foreign Service Officer and received my first assignment:  political officer in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

My past two years in Haiti have without a doubt been the most rewarding (and challenging) of my entire life.  Every day presents new opportunities as I engage with Haitian government officials and citizens, international non-governmental organizations and diplomats from other countries in my role as the Embassy’s point-person on Haiti’s parliament, political parties, and elections.  Gender is a critical aspect of our work on these issues.  In 2012, Haiti enacted a constitutional amendment requiring a minimum of thirty percent participation by women in all aspects of public life.  Great strides have already been made in the amendment’s implementation:   more than 40% of the prime minister’s cabinet members are women and four of the nine councilors who serve on the nation’s electoral council are women.  But with no women in Haiti’s Senate and only five women out of 99 lower house representatives, much work remains as Haiti prepares for nationwide elections in 2014.

Under the leadership of Ambassador Pamela A. White, my Embassy colleagues and I work every day to engage Haiti’s leaders on WGSS issues.  In October 2012 in celebration of the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child and the Fifth International Day of Rural Women, I organized a fair hosted by Ambassador White at her residence – attended by over 300 guests, including Haitian First Lady Sophia Martelly – celebrating Haitian women’s arts, crafts, and music in coordination with Haitian Vital Voices affiliate Femmes en Democratie.  Several months later, we marked an important visit by then-Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer with a dinner honoring Haitian women entrepreneurs and celebrating a public-private partnership between the Department of State, the Goldman Sachs “10,000 Women” initiative, and the Thunderbird School of Global Management.  Organizing roundtables on gender-based violence and women’s political participation, providing assistance to Haiti’s five female parliamentarians to advance key legislation, and helping to encourage and train female candidates from all political parties for political office are just some examples of Embassy Port-au-Prince’s day-to-day work on WGSS issues of which I am proud to be a part of.

In a moment more than seventeen years in the making, I was able to meet and thank the woman who first inspired me to follow this path, and who continues to inspire me each day, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Haiti in October 2012.  I keep a picture of the two of us on my desk to remind me of all the amazing work that is being done to advance a women’s rights agenda and all of the pressing work that remains.  Our hard work has not gone unnoticed; in June 2013 Ambassador White presented me with the State Department’s Meritorious Honor Award “for the extraordinary issue leadership . . . in forwarding Embassy Port-au-Prince's ‘Women in Haitian Politics’ engagement strategy, a key USG policy objective in Haiti.”

By the time you read this, I will be back in Washington, D.C., studying Portuguese (how amazing is a job where you are paid to learn multiple languages!) in preparation for my January 2015 assignment to our Consulate General in Recife, Brazil where I will continue to contribute to the State Department’s critical work advancing the rights of women and girls.  I encourage WGSS students to seek out rewarding careers in our government where you can play a critical role in creating and advancing our national and foreign policies.

Stephanie L. Schmid received her B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies (with distinction in the major) and Political Science from Yale University in 2002. The views expressed are those of the author and not of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.

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