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Global Women’s Leadership Project 

Penn Law’s Global Women’s Leadership Project (GWLP) provides research for UNESCO and UN Women in support of their work on women, peace and justice and women’s human rights. 


Mission Statement

Global citizens like you know that fairness and equality start with empowering women and girls.” - Justin Trudeau

Under the distinguished leadership of UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (former Vice President of South Africa), and Irina Bokova, the Secretary-General of UNESCO (the leading female candidate for UN Secretary General in 2016), Penn Law launches the Global Women’s Leadership Project. The Project, the first of its kind, is distinctive in its unique vision: to bolster the primacy of SDG Goal 5 C’s target on gender equality law reform through research support for UN Women’s and UNESCO’s work on gender-based justice sector reform.  

Founded on the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015, Penn Law’s Global Women’s Leadership Project strives to provide research support to UNESCO’s gender-related work on peace and justice and UN Women’s work in women’s human rights, specifically relating to legal reform, and the elimination of discrimination in justice systems. Adopted by 193 countries, The SDG’s is the crowning achievement of the global development agenda and one of the most ambitious platforms of action. Goal 5 is inextricably interlinked to all 17 SDG goals and recognizes that gender equality and ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere is linked to sustainable development and security.

UN Women, grounded in the vision of equality enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, works for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls around the world.  In 2007, UNESCO designated Gender Equality as one of its two Global Priorities. Gender equality is central to UNESCO’s overarching objectives of peace and sustainable development.

Working with Student Fellows, Penn Law’s Global Women’s Leadership Project’s research will build on the Beijing Platform of Action, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its intersectional treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015).  Further, taken together, the UN Security Council’s eight resolutions 1325 (2000); 1820 (2009); 1888 (2009); 1889 (2010); 1960 (2011); 2106 (2013); 2122 (2013); and 2242 (2015) provide landmark guarantees to promote and protect the rights of women in conflict and post-conflict under the rubric of the Women Peace and Security Agenda. Penn Law’s Global Women’s Leadership Project will convene important global leaders on critical conversations and build a single umbrella of research on one of the key targets of Goal 5 of the SDGs, the adoption, and strengthening of sound policies and enforceable legislation on gender equality. 

Distinguished Advisors 

Irina Bokova
Secretary-General, UNESCO

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Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Executive Director, UN Women


Ambassador Melanne Verveer

Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the first U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues


Founding Director

Program Coordinator

  • Kait Johnstone, Program Coordinator, International Programs

Global Advisors

  • Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Under Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict and first UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. Currently, member of the High Level Fact Finding Mission to Myanmar
  • Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur for Iran
  • Hina Jilani, member of the Elders and former UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders
  • Indira Jaising, former member of the CEDAW Committee and currently, Chair of the High Level Fact Finding Mission to Myanmar 
  • Aisha Oyebode, CEO of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF)
  • Gülser Corat, Director of the Division for Gender Equality in the Office of the Director-General at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris 

2015-2018 Global Women Leaders Forum 

From 2015-2018, Penn Law has hosted leading women trailblazers from around the world creating a platform to amplify women’s leadership as an urgent cause of the 21st century.

Featured Global Women Leaders: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Mary Robinson, Navi Pillay,...

Featured Global Women Leaders: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Mary Robinson, Navi Pillay, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Irina Bokova, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Ambassador Moushira Khattab, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Asma Jahangir, Hina Jilani, Indira Jaising, MK Tzipi Livni, Penny Wong, Lubna Olayan, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Making Laws, Breaking Silence: Case Studies From the Field

Making Laws, Breaking Silence: Case Studies from the Field grows out of a high-level roundtable convened by Penn Law, UN Women, UNESCO, UN SDG Fund, and IDLO in March 2017. The convening brought together over 30 legislators, judges, and policy experts from more than 15 countries to examine new developments and challenges in gender equality lawmaking under Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The following case studies and essays expand on those deliberations and interactions and highlight some tensions in evolving law reform efforts around the world. Closing the enforcement gap in gender equality laws is often called the “unfinished business of the 21st century.” These reflections offer fresh insights and policy guidelines for UN agencies, multilaterals, government entities and civil society organizations charged with gender-based law reform.


Project News

  • April 22
    Allyson Reynolds L’19 & Allison Perlin L’20 as part of an Independent Study supervised by Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Associate Dean of International Affairs. Report presented to Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions & Ambassador Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwanda’s Permanent Representative to the UN
    global women leadership project, International
  • March 1
    To mark Women’s History Month, we present four extraordinary stories that change the public conversation. On a personal level,  I celebrate the women who have made history and shaped my thinking: Radhika Coomaraswamy, Asma Jahangir, Hina Jilani, Mary Robinson, Martha Minow, Nancy Gertner, Hillary Clinton, Melanne Verveer, Deborah Rhode, Paula Johnson, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
    Blog, global women leadership project, International Women's Day, Mentorship, Women's History Month, Womens Rights
  • February 28
    In The Odyssey, before he leaves for the Trojan War, Odysseus asks Mentor, a wise old friend to watch over his son, Telemachus. While Odysseus was on the battleground, goddess Athena, also disguised herself as Mentor to watch over Telemachus, creating Western history’s first interpretation of a female-male mentor relationship. Below, Bill Burke-White, Richard Perry Professor and Inaugural Director of Perry World House, speaks of the role of powerful female mentors and role models in his journey to leadership with Associate Dean of International Affairs Rangita de Silva de Alwis.
    Blog, global women leadership project, International Women's Day, Mentorship, Sponsorship, Womens Rights
  • February 27
    In a special edition of the Penn Law Feminism Podcast Series to acknowledge International Women’s Day, Sophie Gaulkin speaks to Jake Romm on becoming a woman lobsterer.
    Blog, Feminism, global women leadership project, International Women's Day
  • February 27

    Twenty-two years ago Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty changed the national conversation on race, gender and reproductive justice. Two decades later, it remains more critical than ever before–a rallying cry around the world, for education, awareness, and action. Its vision for reproductive justice for all women engages in the global conversations on Female Genital Mutilation, virginity testing, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization and asks questions on how women’s ability to control their bodies is constantly challenged by politics, economics, race, cultural traditions, and injustice.     

    A whole generation of feminist scholars and practitioners are trained on Dorothy Robert’s groundbreaking scholarship. In marking International Women’s Day, we speak to her about the way she continues to exert an influence on the study of law, gender, and its intersections.  

    A Q&A with Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Associate Dean of International Affairs

    Blog, global women leadership project, Human Rights, International Women's Day, Reproductive Justice, Womens Rights
  • February 27
    For Women’s History Month, Sharada Srinivasan, CTIC Fellow, talks about the way in which a global leader at Penn Law has championed her academically, professionally, and personally.
    Blog, global women leadership project, International Women's Day, International, Sponsorship
  • November 16


    The Women Leaders: Power, Together session will be a roundtable of extraordinary women leaders (current and former female Heads of State/Government and other special guests) addressing the most complex challenges of our times. It will be held in cooperation with the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL) on a yearly basis at the WLGF. The inaugural event will be held at the Höfði House, a historically significant building where the Cold War came to an end with a momentous summit between American President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. In 2018, in a moment where the global focus is once again on fractures, chaos and violence, women leaders will gather at this historic site to accelerate progress toward peaceful societies.

    global women leadership project
  • November 7
    During the World Bank’s 2018 Law, Justice, and Development Week, Penn Law ’s Associate Dean for International Programs Rangita de Silva de Alwis spoke with UNWOMEN ’s Constitutions and Access to Justice Advisor Beatrice Duncan about the impact of gender discriminatory laws around the world, including the pernicious economic effects of laws that control women’s and girls’ status in the family.
    global women leadership project