Wednesday, January 4, 2023

U.S. Department of State

January 4, 2023

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much Kat. Thank you for your incredible leadership, of such an important part – not only at the State Department – but of the entire U.S. government’s approach to promoting women’s rights, women’s empowerment of all kinds. So, I generally make fairly ambitious New Year’s Resolutions that I don’t keep, but I don’t know that I’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution as ambitious as, “End the Economic Oppression of Women, globally!” But that is what we are here to resolve to do, so I think we’re all on board with that as our objective. And I can count on the individuals in this room to do everything in their power to stick with this – of all New Year’s Resolutions. 

I’m really grateful every day to get to work with Secretary Blinken and Director Klein, both have done so much to spearhead work in this area. Jen, of course, with her dedicated role from the White House, having the ear of President Biden – knowing that we have a President and a Vice President who are seized with these issues not only when a particular strategy is rolled out, but every minute of every day of the year. And their choice of Jen to drive this entire agenda – domestically and internationally – was a brilliant one, and it is the gift that keeps on giving, I think, for all of our agencies everyday. So, thank you Jen for your leadership. And then I, of course, must thank Jamille Bigio and the team in our Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Hub, that have helped shape this important strategy. Jamille, as you all know, is USAID’s Senior Gender Coordinator, and again is now out and about in the world, in our missions, figuring out how we take these strategies – including the one we are launching here today – and make them real in the lives of individual women. 

So, launching this strategy, of course, as Secretary Blinken, Director Klein, Kat, and others know and have spoken to, of course, advances the cause of justice. To not empower women or set out to do so would be abetting the cause of injustice. But today’s launch is also born of a really important recognition that I think is permeating more quarters than it ever has before, and it’s the recognition of a very, very simple fact – which is that we just can’t solve the greatest challenges of our time without empowering women economically. It just can’t be done. It’s structurally impossible. 

So take for example, the mounting food crisis that is harming – devastating – so many communities around the world. This is a crisis – to be sure – driven by drought, driven by conflict, including Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But there’s something else, as you well know, that's long fueled food insecurity, and compounds it right now when it is hurting so many people – and that is sexism. Women farmers who comprise nearly half the workforce in developing nations, are often shut out of the training, the resources, and the land that they need to be maximally productive. Simply getting women farmers the same agricultural inputs – just the same, no more – as their male counterparts could lift up to 150 million people out of hunger. That is within our reach to do.

Take extreme poverty, another one of the world’s toughest problems that we all wish to see tackled. We are currently living through the first increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty in two decades. If we want to reverse this crisis though, we don’t need to look far. The biggest source of untapped economic growth potential on planet Earth is unemployed and underemployed women. As you’ve heard Director Klein and Secretary Blinken note, closing the gender gap in the global workforce could add $28 trillion to global GDP. Think of how many boats would rise in such a scenario.

We see again and again, when we remove the barriers that keep women from fully contributing to their communities, removing those barriers creates a better world for everybody. 

The strategy we are launching today marshals the energy, and the determination, and the New Year’s Resolutions of people working across agencies and issue areas in the U.S. government to advance this effort. 

For our part, across USAID and the State Department in 2023, we plan to invest $2.6 billion  in foreign assistance programs that promote gender equality – doubling our previous investment.

We are achieving this not by cutting back on things like climate resilience or economic growth funding, but by investing in gender equality as a means of furthering these goals. 

Our flagship investment in this effort – that you’ve already heard much talked about – is our Gender Equity and Equality Action, or GEEA Fund, which is starting with three hundred million dollars. We are excited to roll out this fund today. 

You’ll be hearing more in the coming sessions about the initiatives that this new fund is going to support, but let me start by sharing just one. We are going to scale a program that I just love called Engendering Industries.

At energy companies around the world women hold just 22 percent of jobs and 14 percent of senior roles. Which means that an industry – if you read the newspaper, seriously in need of innovation – rarely benefits from the skills and insights of a significant and very talented portion of the population.

So, starting back in 2015, USAID’s Engendering Industries program began offering training to gender equality champions of all gender identities at energy companies, providing them with customized change management coaching to help them drive progress within their companies. 

One of those gender equality champions who partnered with this initiative, Engendering Industries in Jordan, is an engineer named Reem Hamdan. When Reem first started as an electrical engineer her male managers at her company refused to train her, telling her that she’d last only a few months. But she proved them wrong, and she rose through the ranks at the company where she worked, which is called EDCO. Eventually, using the training and coaching from this USAID flagship program – Engendering Industries – she used that coaching also to help herself, and to develop the confidence to put herself forward when she knew she had the goods, but also to help other women at this company, EDCO, to help them advance as well.

EDCO has about 1,500 employees. Since Reem started partnering with Engendering Industries, EDCO has increased the number of women employees by 21 percent – and Reem has risen to become the first C.E.O. of an electrical company in Jordan’s history. Now this is a stunning accomplishment given that just 3 percent of companies in the Middle East have a woman as C.E.O. And, again, this is the kind of thing that we can scale and we can expand, and we are really excited to do so.

Engendering Industries has already moved from the energy sector to other male-dominated industries. There are a lot to choose from – as you know. Through the GEEA Fund, we’re going to expand Engendering Industries and programs like it to promote gender equality in business worldwide – everywhere from agri-business to information technology. 

And, as you heard the Vice President announce at the African Leaders Summit, we are going to scale this work with more African companies – specifically as part of the Administration’s new initiative to drive inclusive economic growth and to improve trade flows across the continent. 

So, when something is working and we have proof of concept – we know it is working – it is a really good idea, generally speaking, to expand its reach. And if we are to exceed – succeed – in advancing the rights and prosperity of women globally, and if we are to succeed in tackling the toughest challenges of our time, we need to do just that. And this is what this day represents, and this is just one example of the kind of work that is going to get scaled thanks to the efforts of all of you.

Thank you so much.

Samantha Power
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Samantha Power