The special coordinator on improving the United Nations’ response to sexual exploitation and abuse; president and CEO of SICPA North America, which provides secured identification, traceability and authentication solutions; former deputy secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security; and former UN assistant secretary-general for peace-building support was in Israel last week.
“I am eager to learn,” Lute told The Jerusalem Post Magazine.
She was brought to Israel last week by The Genesis Prize Foundation, which this year is focusing its philanthropic theme on gender equality and equal opportunities for women. Lute spoke as part of a Genesis Prize Foundation panel about women’s rights, advancement and prevention of sexual abuse before directors and leaders of Israeli NGOs.
She then met with and heard firsthand from groups wrestling with these same issues in hopes of exploring their challenges with them and learning from their best practices.
“We have progressed much, but we are still far from ethical, legal and normative social objectives of gender equality,” said Jill Smith, senior adviser to the chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation. “But we won’t and cannot go back.”
The Genesis Prize Foundation is running two grant competitions in Israel and North America to fund up to $3 million in new investments in organizations working for women’s causes by winter 2018. So far, according to Smith, more than 200 applications for this money have been received in Israel.
Lute said in her role as special coordinator on improving the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse, she has had the complete support of both former secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and current Secretary-General António Guterres. As such, she and her team have developed a system-wide approach to tackling abuse centered on four initiatives: putting the right and dignity of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation first, ending impunity, opening to outside input and advice, and adopting a program of education and communication.
Lute was asked to fill her role at the UN after dozens of UN peacekeepers were accused of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians at UN missions around the globe. She said that while she – a former peacekeeper herself – understands that peacekeepers are often working in dangerous, remote societies where prostitution is generally condoned, “one case is one case too many.”
She said, “The fact that the UN has had episodes of sexual exploitation or abuse has tarnished the work of hundreds of thousands of men and women over the more than 70 years of UN peacekeeping operations. In fairness and testimony to the selfless work that goes on every day in dangerous and austere and remote areas, we must tackle this problem.”
She called it “outrageous” that when UN peacekeepers are sent to help a society in need they instead exploit or bring even greater problems to the population. She explained that the secretary-general is committed to maintaining constant vigilance.
“He expects anyone who works under the UN flag to get this message through their head and heart,” she said.
Today, member states sign a voluntary contract detailing their commitment to measures that ensure every person deployed to a peacekeeping mission undergoes training to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. Additionally, the UN works with member states to ensure their commanders are well trained. Whenever allegations are received, the UN will now send national investigative officers to expedite the investigations and pursue justice.
The field of women’s rights was not one that Lute was inherently drawn to or focused on. Rather, she said, she has always been an empowered woman.
“It never really crossed my mind that these fields were not open to me or anyone else who had a determination to do what they could,” she said of her roles in homeland security and technology.
Specifically, Lute is an example of someone who broke through the glass ceiling in the cyber industry.
She said there were times during her military service or as a young professional when she was spoken to in a way that she felt was inappropriate, or she was excluded from meetings or opportunities. However, she never let these obstacles deter her.
“When you have a job to do, you should focus on that job and do it with confidence and competence and authority, and with the support of those around you who asked you to do the job,” she said. “There are times that things are uncomfortable or even difficult. Keep going and find those who believe in you.”
While in Israel, she also spent time exploring the ongoing work Israel is doing in the cybersecurity arena. She called Israel “one of the leading global centers of policy and action” when it comes to cybersecurity.
“In Israel, I see the cutting edge of what it means to have a national commitment not only to developing top technology but the ability for the society to make the most use of it in a safe way,” she said.
This visit was not Lute’s first trip to the Holy Land. She said she has been to Israel many times in her various professional capacities, including a 2010 consultation with Israeli aviation security officials after the “Underwear Bomber” incident.
Lute said she sees Israeli women as empowered and touching all aspects of social, economic and political life with their opinions and innovation.
When asked if she always knew she would want to enter the fields of national security and leadership, she said no.
“What I learned over the course of my career is you must leave room for magic, because you don’t want to be limited to what you can imagine at any given time,” Lute explained. “We all have opportunities and experiences – good and bad – that shape us as people and build our character.”
For Lute, “contributing my piece to tikkun olam
is something that has been very real.”
Her message to other women looking to break their own glass ceilings: follow your passions and persist.
“There will be days when every move feels like a success and triumph and days when it feels like you are not making any progress,” she said. “That is not you. That is life. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up... and follow your dreams and passions and be open to the possibility that magic will happen in your life.”
This article was written in cooperation with the Genesis Prize Foundation.
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