June 1, 2018

Elevating Women and Girls at G7

By Sung Lee

The heads of development agencies will gather for the first-ever G7 Development Ministerial Meeting ahead of next week’s G7 summit. At the top of the agenda for the meeting: empowering women and girls. “We will make adolescent girls at the heart of all discussions. We will explore a holistic approach to girl’s empowerment,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Development Minister, when she announced that much of the agenda will focus on the role of girls in developing countries.

Powerful Return on Investment

With over 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world today, early investment in young girls yields a powerful return— preventing early marriage and childbirth, keeping girls in school, and protecting girls and women from sexual violence and HIV/AIDS. For example, ensuring that girls receive an extra year of school increases their future income by 10 percent. Moreover, if all girls completed 12 years of education, child marriage rate would decrease by 64 percent.

Reversing the cycle of poverty is possible when women and girls have more rights, access to education, and economic opportunity. Thanks to a U.S. government program, Hadijah Nabukenya, a 24-year-old woman in Uganda, transformed her life. The DREAMS initiative – a program under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) – is aimed at reducing HIV infections in young women and girls. DREAMS-supported vocational training and HIV-prevention workshops have enabled Hadijah to earn money from her salon business to provide for her four children without putting herself at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

American Commitments to Empowering Women and Girls

America has a long track record of helping transform young women into powerful agents of change. At last year’s UN General Assembly, President Trump highlighted America’s commitment to advance women’s health and opportunities around the world, “through programs like PEPFAR, which funds AIDS relief; the President Malaria Initiative; the Global Health Security Agenda; the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery; and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative.” Recently, Ivanka Trump also noted, “when women thrive, all succeed,” as she launched USAID’s WomenConnect Challenge to increase women and girls’ access to digital technology.

Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of PEPFAR last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo observed, “last year’s HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment results reached a historic high, especially adolescent girls and young women.” America’s $80 billion investments in PEPFAR provided 6.4 million vulnerable children with care, and it has resulted in 2.2 million babies now born free of HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, USAID has helped adolescent girls worldwide – including more than 375,000 school aged children in Somalia and 236,000 female students in West Bank – to complete their education to achieve their full potentials. “When women do better, countries do better, communities do better, and families do better,” said USAID Administrator Mark Green.

With the passage of the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act last year, Congress has also taken steps to increase education opportunities for more than 260 million children, including 130 million adolescent girls worldwide. And just last week, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees rejected the administration’s proposal to cut the International Affairs Budget by 30 percent.

Development at the G7

As the host country for the upcoming G7 Summit on June 8th, Canada has announced that it seeks “to boost momentum on gender equality issues and build consensus among G7 leaders so that policies are translated into resources, and then into programming.”

Yet in the past, development issues have often been crowded out of the G7 Summits by the crises of the day. It has been reported that the G7 leaders have not yet reached any general agreement with just days to go before the summit, even raising a possibility that there may not be a final communique signed by all G7 leaders. One official has said, “At the moment there’s nothing. It’s just about being nice to women, which is fine, but is that it?”

To achieve the Summit’s goal, Canada is increasing the share of its international development funding dedicated to gender equality from 3 to 15 percent. As world leaders come together next week, let’s hope that the U.S. can demonstrate a political will and find common ground with our key partners to advance gender equality and empower adolescent girls across the world.