Business leaders urge Tillerson to prioritize women's rights

Story highlights

  • A group of business leaders wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
  • They urged Tillerson to fill key State Department positions in women's rights and empowerment

(CNN)A letter from a group of over 40 business leaders is urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to prioritize women's rights by filling key roles in women's empowerment leadership positions at the State Department.

"Investments in women and girls bring high returns for economic growth, societal well-being and global stability," a copy of the letter, obtained by CNN, read.
The letter, first reported by McClatchy, was sent to Tillerson on Tuesday. Assistant to the President Ivanka Trump, who has made women's economic empowerment a key part of her White House portfolio, was copied on the letter, along with Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, who worked on economic initiatives to help female entrepreneurs during her time at Goldman Sachs.
    The letter to Tillerson comes as the Secretary of State is moving to eliminate or downgrade special envoy positions at the State Department. However, he pledged to keep the post of ambassador-at-large for global women's issues. The position, which is dedicated to women's rights and empowerment, remains vacant, along with many other State Department jobs.
    Citing the importance of women's empowerment for US business opportunities, national security, global stability, and US leadership and values, the group wrote: "We strongly urge you to quickly select qualified and experienced candidates for key leadership positions that focus on empowering women and girls globally. The swift nomination (and confirmation) of the ambassador-at-large for global women's issues at the US Department of State and the ongoing support for the USAID leadership focused on the empowerment of women and girls will help harness untapped potential as the US seeks to achieve its foreign policy goals."
    The business leaders on the letter include representatives from a diverse range of companies, including Macy's, P&G, TOMS, PF Changs China Bistro and Accenture.
    Tillerson's move to eliminate or downgrade some of the special envoy posts comes as he undertakes a reorganization of the State Department. In a letter obtained by CNN and written to Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who heads the foreign relations committee, Tillerson said he would end or transfer as many as three dozen special envoy positions.
    "I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus," Tillerson wrote Corker, "and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose."
    Corker expressed support for Tillerson's move, noting that the State Department reauthorization bill his committee passed directed Foggy Bottom to tell Congress which special envoys it wanted to keep.
    Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, pushed to get language in the bill that preserves the ambassador-at-large for global women's issues role.
    Tillerson said in his letter that the position will continue to be a Senate-confirmed ambassador-level position, which will report to the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights. A State Department spokesperson said the role "will continue to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls through US foreign policy."
    The spokesperson added that: "The Department is working closely with the White House on all nominations for positions that require Senate confirmation. We would refer you to the White House for any questions regarding the selection and vetting process."
    Melanne Verveer, who first held the post, reported to directly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who created the position.