Amb. Cathy Russell | Spring 2019

Why Women and Girls Matter to U.S. Foreign Policy

The Obama Administration elevated women’s issues on the U.S. foreign policy agenda based on the belief that ensuring and expanding women’s rights is consistent with American values and critical to national security. Today, women are spurring global growth and helping to rebuild fragile and conflict-torn societies. These trends will boost American efforts to address geopolitical instability, to raise global living standards, and to expand markets for American businesses. Even so, women continue to face barriers to their full participation in political structures and economies, including violence, lack of education, and early marriage.

In the past, both Republican and Democratic administrations have recognized that the inclusion and empowerment of women and girls should be a foreign-policy priority. Going forward, the success of our broader efforts to forge a peaceful, prosperous, and secure future for our citizens and around the world depends on our fidelity to the commitment to empower women.

This study group will examine the role of the United States in supporting women around the world, including the important role of men and boys, and consider the future of American leadership. 

Note:  Weekly topics are subject to change, based on shifting schedules of our guests.

Week 1: How Did Women Come to Matter in U.S. Foreign Policy?

From the 1995 Beijing Declaration to recent U.S. policy statements, what are the policy underpinnings of the U.S. government’s efforts on behalf of women and girls around the world?  This session will look at the challenges faced by women, including limited political participation, gender-based violence, lack of education, and difficulties participating in formal economies. Why are these issues important to U.S. policy makers?  And how did the Obama Administration make the empowerment of women a foreign-policy priority?   

Week 2: Using American soft power to support women and girls.  

Wise diplomats know that American power includes the ability to persuade others to follow our lead. The United States conveys and highlights our culture and values through a wide range of public diplomacy and exchange programs administered by the Department of State. In 2017, OMB Director Mulvaney announced a “hard power budget” which proposed dramatic cuts in State Department and USAID budgets.  What is the value of soft power in promoting and supporting women’s rights?  What programs have been most effective in conveying the important values of equality and opportunity?

Week 3: Role of Women in Forging Peace and Stability

Democratic governance and sustainable development depend on the participation of women. But women are woefully underrepresented in leadership positions around the world, in peace-keeping efforts, and in peace negotiations.  According to President Obama’s National Security Strategy, “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries often lag behind.” How did the Obama Administration support the participation of women and what happened when the support for women conflicted with other priorities?

Week 4: Women In Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings

Estimates are that one in three women will face some form of violence in her lifetime. Violence takes many forms and affects women from birth to death. While women in all countries face rape, abuse, and sexual harassment, the risks are heightened during and just after conflicts as well as in unstable settings like refugee crises or natural disasters. Are there effective approaches to address violence against women and girls?  How should the international community anticipate and address these challenges?

Week 5: What About Girls?

In too many places around the world girls are not valued by their communities or their families. They are often denied education, suffer higher rates of violence and disease, lack access to water and sanitation, and have limited economic options. Can we change harmful norms and practices that limit the opportunities for girls? What role do men and boys play in this effort?

Week 6: Economic Growth Depends on Participation of Women

Women are critical to the economic success of their countries. A McKinsey report in 2016 estimated that closing the world’s gender gap in workforce participation would add $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025. That amounts to about a quarter of the world’s current GDP and almost half of the world’s current debt. Yet progress on the full economic participation of women is slow. What steps should countries and the private sector take to expand women’s economic participation? 

Week 7: Women’s health

Women in the developing world face tremendous health challenges, including poor nutrition, early and poorly spaced pregnancies, and high maternal mortality.  In addition, they lack access to sexual-and reproductive-rights, and they face high levels of HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.  How can the United States effectively improve women’s health outcomes globally, and how do current policies, including the Mexico City Policy—which prohibits family planning funds from going to foreign-aid groups that discuss abortion—affect women’s health around the world?

Week 8 – Next Generation

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals set a global agenda for peace and prosperity. Women’s equality and empowerment is one of the 17 goals and is also integrated throughout the other goals.  As we look ahead, what emerging trends will impact that development?  Issues like women in technology, the impact of climate change, improving data collection, and understanding changing demographics, demand new approaches. How do new policy areas intersect with the advancement of women and girls?