February 8, 2019

W-GDP: The Administration’s New Initiative to Empower Women Globally

By Sung Lee

An unusual coalition – from Secretaries of State, Commerce, Treasury, and Defense to the heads of America’s development agencies, from a Democratic Senator to a Freedom Caucus member, and from a National Security Advisor to leaders of private and public sector organizations including the World Bank, UNICEF, UPS, P&G, Deloitte, and Walmart – joined the President this week, committing America to promote women’s economic empowerment around the world.

“By investing in women around the world, we are investing in families, we are investing in prosperity, and we are investing in peace,” stated President Trump as he launched the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP), a $50 million whole-of-government initiative to help women and girls in developing countries overcome economic and social obstacles to maximize their full potentials.

Joining the President were a group of women who have benefited from America’s diplomacy and development programs, including Nina Zambakhize – a successful businesswoman from the former-Soviet Republic of Georgia. With the help of a small $125,000 grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), she has been able to grow her dairy business into one of the largest farming operations and now sells her cheeses at major supermarkets. Nina said, “my story shows the incredible impact that U.S. taxpayer dollars can have when invested developing countries.”

Three Pillars to Unlock Economic Opportunity

The fund, which will be housed within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will focus on three policy areas – increasing education and skills training, promoting women entrepreneurs, and eliminating barriers and creating enabling environments. The initiative seeks to mobilize private sector resources for the Fund to create even greater impact, and UPS and PepsiCo joined the Administration as corporate partners committed to its goals.

“By investing in women, we are investing in a future in which countries can support themselves by unleashing the potential of their own people,” wrote Ivanka Trump. Ensuring women have equal access to economic resources have indeed shown to be among the most transformative ways to generate economic growth and help countries’ journey toward self-reliance. For instance, enabling women to fully participate in the labor force would add $28 trillion to the global GDP and its impact is even greater in developing countries – with the GDPs of India and Mexico increasing by 60 percent and 43 percent respectively.

Women Make Countries Safer

Women’s economic empowerment has significant impact on building peace and stability as well, contributing to America’s national security. For instance, when women participate in the peace processes, the chance of an agreement lasting over 15 years increases by 35 percent. “Economic stability is good defense policy,” highlighted Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan at Thursday’s signing of the Presidential Memorandum on Promoting Women’s Global Development and Prosperity.

The Memorandum creates a working group – composed of 12 federal departments, agencies, and offices – to monitor progress and direct agencies to “attribute no less than $300 million per fiscal year to programs that further women’s global economic empowerment.”

Scaling Up Women’s Empowerment

The initiative builds on a long track record of America’s efforts to empower women and girls around the world. Since launching the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy in 2012, USAID has delivered targeted investments to help create safe and enabling environment to help women and girls succeed. In East Africa, USAID is helping 200,000 girls improve their economic capacity and become entrepreneurs. USAID also helped more than 4 million survivors and persons at risk of gender-based violence in more than 40 countries.

The MCC has provided gender training to 1,400 teachers and 28,000 students and their families to help remove the systemic barriers and biases that limit girls’ education in El Salvador. Furthermore, the Overseas Investment Private Corporation (OPIC) launched the 2X Women’s Initiative, investing $350 million to support women in the developing world increase their access to finance, jobs, and services to drive economic prosperity.

Yet, much more remains to be done. Today, 104 countries still place restrictions on the type of jobs women can hold, 75 countries limit women’s property rights, and 59 countries have no legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. Furthermore, over 45 percent of women in low-income countries do not have identification cards, inhibiting their ability to access bank accounts and critical government services.

Strong Bipartisan Support

While many observe the challenges of getting things done in Congress today, empowering women and girls is an issue that brings both parties together. Congress passed and the President signed the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act in December with wide bipartisan support to level the playing field for more than one billion women and girls who lack access to finance and other critical economic resources to thrive.

Championed by Senators Boozman, Cardin, Rubio, and Shaheen; Chairman Engel, Ranking Member McCaul; Representative Frankel; and former Chairman Royce, the Act improves women’s access to finance by directing 50 percent of USAID’s small and medium enterprise assistance to women-owned businesses and requiring USAID to incorporate gender considerations in all projects to help overcome legal and societal barriers that too many women face across the globe.

Congratulating the launch of W-GDP, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “America has always been a champion of free, peaceful and prosperous societies. We can and should come together to advance greater equality and economic opportunity for women. This work will not only make for a better America, but a better world and a more prosperous future full of opportunities for all.”

Against the backdrop of an on-going foreign assistance review and the President’s upcoming budget request which is expected to propose deep and disproportionate cuts to the International Affairs Budget again, the W-GDP is an opportunity to show the world that America is committed to building a better, safer world by lifting up women and girls.