March 31, 2017

Investing in Women around the World: Supportive Voices in the Administration

By Sung Lee

Against the backdrop of proposed dramatic budget cuts to the State Department and USAID, prominent voices in the Administration have been speaking on behalf of investments in the empowerment of women and girls around the world.

First Lady Melania Trump made a rare public appearance at the State Department’s International Women Courage Award ceremony, saying, “As leaders of our shared global community, we must continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect people from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Wherever women are empowered, towns and villages, schools and economies, are empowered, and together we are all made stronger with them.” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley also recently said, “We want to make sure that our governments support girls and support women so that they always feel like they can show the power of their voice.”

Empowering women and girls has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to deliver development results. Studies show that if women had the same access to economic resources as men, agricultural productivity could increase by 20 to 30 percent and help lift 100 million additional people out of poverty. Moreover, child mortality can be cut by nearly 10 percent by providing one additional year of education for women of childbearing age.

Recognizing that empowering women can help achieve lasting peace, security and economic prosperity, America’s strategic investments in development and diplomacy have put women and girls at the center of development in recent years. For over a decade, the State Department has recognized over 100 women from more than 60 countries, giving them the voice they need to end violence against women and girls and protect them from HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, USAID has expanded President Bush’s effort to educate women and girls in Afghanistan, ensuring that Afghan girls today account for more than 40 percent of all school children compared to virtually none in 2002.

The First Lady and Ambassador Haley’s remarks on empowering and expanding opportunities for women and girls are encouraging, but the proposed budget cuts could wipe out funding for programs that are giving women and girls in developing countries the tools to lift themselves out of violence and poverty. The Administration also sent a memo this week to the House and Senate Appropriations committees that seek to further reduce the FY17 International Affairs budget by $3.38 billion, including a 20 percent cut to education programs that are vital to building a healthy and prosperous future for millions of women and girls worldwide.

Former President George W. Bush once said that when women are empowered and educated, it can help build a foundation for lasting peace. As we conclude Women’s History Month, let’s remember that empowering women and girls is a strategic, cost-effective investment that builds a better, safer world for America and for people across the globe.