Good morning. Congratulations to the Stanford Association for International Development for organizing this conference today on such a timely and vital issue. My congratulations to SAID co-presidents Cooper Williams and Jasmine Dehghan for their leadership and to Jessica Pham and her intrepid band of colleagues for doing such an excellent job of organizing this event. And thank you for inviting me to join you.
I am delighted to be back on the Stanford Campus today. I was happy to accept the invitation, as it was my years here at Stanford that connected me to a sense of service, to being part of something much larger than myself, to a sense that actions mattered and that we could change the world. The people I met here, the issues we debated and the pathways that emerged were a profound influence for me. So I salute the SAID organizers as well as all of you who have committed your Saturday today and your energy into the future to tackle these issues.
As I was thinking about today, I saw the PBS special, “Women Who Made America” last week, which triggered so many memories of my time here at Stanford. It reminded me of how present and compelling the issues of women's rights and empowerment were for us when I was here, from Take Back the Night marches to women's consciousness raising groups.
The show also included a clip of that electrifying moment in 1994 when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton declared at the World Conference on Women in Beijing that "women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights."
This seems self-evident now. And we have made enormous strides, both here and around the world. Awareness has reached unprecedented levels; more resources than ever are dedicated; and more laws and resolutions have been passed than ever before to involve, empower, and protect women. There is literally One Billion Rising, as we saw with the inspiring action by women around the world on February 14.
So I am truly honored to be here today with so many courageous and accomplished women and men from around the world who will be talking from their experiences, their research, their lives. SAID has organized a rich and thought-provoking day.
I’d like to get us started by affirming and underlining that, in the field of international development, there is no longer any question that the advancement of women, attention to gender issues and an inclusive approach is not only vital to protecting fundamental human rights, but also to meeting our overall development goals. And for building greater peace and security worldwide. The evidence base is clear: we cannot get there if we leave women behind. Today I’d like to talk to you about three areas that I have the privilege to work in, where this is unquestionably the case, starting with economic inclusion.
Last year, the World Bank’s World Development report noted that when women can’t participate in the labor force, are precluded from certain occupations by law, or excluded from management, GDP growth in a country can suffer by up to two percent. Bill Gates offered the wonderful response when asked by a group of Saudi Arabian businessmen, how their country could be as innovative and economically successful as the US, that they would never get there as long as they excluded half their potential contributors from the marketplace.
In the developing world, agriculture is key to economic growth and food security. That’s why in 2009, President Obama launched the landmark initiative Feed the Future (FTF) to battle the root causes of poverty and undernutrition through increased investments in agriculture-led economic growth.
The FAO recently found that women’s lack of access to resources and opportunities is a key factor behind the underperformance of agriculture worldwide – and that closing this gap could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 12%–17%. So the new investments and technologies of the FTF program include a commitment to elevate the role and voice of women farmers in the decisions that affect their roles on the farm, in the household, and in the community.
This is an ambitious goal, so FTF is collaborating with institutes here in the United States and at Oxford University to support the first of its kind Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index to measure women’s growing role in decision-making about agricultural production; their growing ownership of land, livestock and other resources; their leadership in the community; and their control of time and income. With other donors now looking to the index to guide their own investments, this FTF effort is helping to change the way the international community approaches women and agriculture more broadly.
Women at the Heart of Building Resilience
These increased agricultural investments are especially important in Sub-Saharan Africa, where women grow 80 to 90 percent of the food and live in areas buffeted by recurrent shocks of global price hikes, droughts and floods. I spend a lot of my time responding to crisis, and we know from the devastating droughts in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel last year that we need to change our approach in areas of constant, protracted crisis. In the face of climate change, we see cycles of drought coming faster than ever, and poor households are unable to recover before the next crisis hits.
USAID has helped galvanize a global commitment to doing business differently by taking action early to prevent crisis, by working more closely with international development partners in support of country-led plans, and by connecting our humanitarian and development programs for greater results. And, importantly, we know that a focus on women will be key to building greater resilience at the household, community, systems, and country levels.
Last year I met a woman named Safieta in a rural village in northeast Burkina Faso. She was with three other women, all widows, and between them they had 39 children. It was the dry season, after yet another season of failed rains. But because of a program that USAID had supported, Safieta met me in her fields that were green with new onion shoots. Because of investments in small-scale irrigation, training in alternative crops and most importantly, reliable access to land, Safieta and her friends were able to support their families with dignity, to send their children to school, and even hire additional laborers.
This story confirms what a 2009 study showed when it examined the role of Sudanese women in providing and improving household food security, suggesting that rural women are more likely than men to use available resources more effectively to diversify strategies and ultimately to improve their household food security.
Political Participation and Influence
Secondly, USAID is working to ensure that around the world, women are empowered, not only to participate but also to have real influence and decision-making authority.
Last June, USAID organized a conference on the New Frontiers of Development through the effort of our exceptional colleague Steve Radelet. We set out to assemble a gangbusters opening panel of world leaders who could talk about what it takes for countries to emerge from conflict. Without trying, the panel ultimately consisted of five remarkable current or former women presidents and premiers: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Joyce Banda of Malawi, President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo, President Mary Robinson of Ireland, and former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
It was an exhilarating start to a look at the new frontiers of where we need to go with our collective development effort. But in too many countries around the world, we just don’t see women in positions of power, at the negotiating table, represented in the parliament, the judiciary, or in the security sector. The simple result is that women’s concerns are not heard or given significant attention. Vital opinions are not aired, and women’s ability to affect policy and laws that affect their everyday lives is significantly compromised.
USAID's Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance launched the Global Women's Leadership Fund (GWLF) together with NGO partners precisely to support women’s ability to influence some of the most consequential political processes in developing and post-conflict countries: peace negotiations, peacebuilding, donor conferences, and political transitions.
We are also looking closely at what else matters in addition to numbers. USAID is supporting a new research agenda to study whether electing a critical mass (30 percent) dramatically empowers women in the country overall.
Last fall just after the elections, I was in Senegal, where a record 64 women—constituting 42% of the Parliament—were elected to office. This was up from only 27 women in the 2007 elections and after a gender parity law was passed in 2012 that required half of all candidates in each party to be women. The mood was euphoric, and when I congratulated a group of women activists, one woman told me with both pride and fatigue: "It took 25 years. This was no accident; we've been working nonstop."
USAID is particularly focused on helping women stay at the forefront during transitions, especially in the Middle East where women played an important role on the frontlines of Tahrir and Change Squares.
I was in Yemen last June as they began laying the groundwork for a National Dialogue. I met with a group of activists, including a young woman who told me that every day she went to Change Square without her parents knowing, until one day her father saw her on television. At first they were horrified and demanded that she stay home. However, they eventually became proud of her efforts, her spirit and came around to supporting her. She returned to the Square and is now an active leader on the road to building a better Yemen. It was like hatching from an egg, she told me.
So in Yemen, USAID supported advocacy efforts around adoption of the 30 percent seat quota for female seats in Parliament in the Election Law, that now awaits discussions in the National Dialogue. Yemen’s National Dialogue, due to start in a few weeks, is designed to bring all voices around the table—many of them previously disenfranchised. USAID supported more than 900 activists and high-ranking officials as they shaped a Women’s National Agenda to support concrete recommendations for improving the status of women.
In too many transitions, we have seen questions about whether women’s rights or inclusion of minority voices should come now or later. Just about two years today, on March 8, 2011, women were beaten and harassed in Tahrir Square after having been deeply involved in the demonstrations that overthrew the longstanding authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. I was in Cairo a few days after this and visited a group of activists who were debating whether they could afford to include issues related to women and to the Coptic Christian minority. They wondered whether they needed to focus on winning democracy and circle back to women and minority inclusion later.
This is a dangerous approach that only risks returning us to the false stability of the repressive regimes that were just overthrown. Democracy and development fundamentally require the full inclusion of all groups, whether women, minorities, disabled, or LGBT.
Conflict, Crisis & the Importance of Protection
As we work to empower women and bring more voices to the table, we cannot underestimate the critical importance of protection, especially in areas of conflict. We know that protection and empowerment/participation are mutually reinforcing objectives, and we cannot address them in isolation. The unfortunate reality is that, despite our efforts, we are still collectively making too little progress in the struggle to combat sexual abuse, impunity, and the systematic disengagement of women from peace processes and post-conflict transitions.
In too many conflicts, rape continues to be used unabated as a weapon of war. I was just with Syrian women in the refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan, who talked with great emotion about the crises within a crisis as Syrian women are being raped and beaten even as they try to keep their children safe and fed.
Moreover, when women are excluded from peace negotiations, the result is agreements that lack popular support and are thus as likely to fail as to succeed. In the past 20 years, hundreds of peace treaties have been signed but fewer than 8 percent of their negotiators and 3 percent of signatories have been women.
As a result, issues related to trafficking in persons, reproductive health care, girls’ education and accountability for past abuses continue to get lost in the shuffle. Warring parties still tend to begin peace processes by granting amnesties to each other for heinous crimes committed during the course of fighting, which ostensibly means men forgiving other armed men for crimes committed against women. And women, the disabled, LGBT, the displaced and indigenous groups tend to be subjected to the worst abuses with the least protection.
We have seen tremendous forward movements with norms and attitudes. On the international stage today, it would be unthinkable to pass a UN Security Council resolution addressing an ongoing conflict or to organize a peace building or enforcement mission without including language about the protection of civilians generally and about women threatened by sexual violence in particular. Resolutions 1325, 1888, and 1960 are now part of our international lexicon. And, in the U.S. Government, the full-throttled participation of the White House, State Department, Defense Department, USAID, and other agencies in implementing the National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security goes far beyond just checking the box.
We know that crisis and conflict affect men and women differently. The fact that civilians bear the heaviest consequences in today’s conflicts means women and children suffer disproportionately from hunger, displacement, and disease, as we are seeing right now in the DRC, in Syrian and in Mali. Breakdowns in security and the rule of law in the aftermath of conflict expose women and girls to continued risks of violence and exploitation. The United States’ National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (NAP) represents our utmost commitment to shaping and executing a comprehensive solution. In August 2012, USAID committed to implementing the NAP with a formal implementation plan that ultimately provides a new architecture for advancing both empowerment and protection of women and girls in crisis and conflict situations, including the full spectrum of our prevention, response, recovery, and transition efforts.
New Tools for Today’s Changemakers
Before I leave you today, I want you to know that USAID isn’t tackling these issues on our own or in a vacuum. Especially standing here in Silicon Valley, I want to salute the power of innovation and the potential of open source development to bring forward innovative, new and edgy solutions. We are eager to hear new ideas.
We are committed to using today’s technology both to engage solution seekers from all parts of the world, including here at Stanford, as well as to help people engage with their own governments, through the internet and mobile technology, ways that were not possible when I entered this field years ago.
So USAID has launched several “challenges” to use the power of open-source development to identify the best possible ideas.
Last fall, in response to President Obama’s powerful call at the United Nations General Assembly to end modern slavery, USAID launched a Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) Campus Challenge. The Challenge invited students and scholars worldwide to join Challengeslavery.org, an online community committed to combating trafficking that has grown to 2200 members representing 105 countries. A contest that just closed drew submissions from students around the world, and I hope some of you had a chance to offer up your ideas. Meanwhile, a research grant just opened, so please do take a look at the web site – we are looking to you for your very best thinking.
Then, in December, USAID launched a $45 million public-private Grand Challenge partnership to "Make All Voices Count," in a direct expression of our commitment to inclusive development. We want to help bring those who are most often excluded to the table -- most often women, but also all those who are underrepresented. With the cell phone revolution, for example, we are seeing ways that allow women to directly give input and demand greater accountability from their governments through their phones; we know the internet could allow women in more traditional societies to amplify their voices. There are ideas we haven't even imagined yet that could change the future.
In closing, I want to assure you that USAID has put women, girls, and, gender equality more broadly at the heart of our development efforts. And it starts at the top, from President Obama continuing down throughout USAID, including a dedicated Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg, two top gender advisors Carla Koppell and Caren Grown, my deputy in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Sarah Mendelson, and many colleagues across the Agency.
As you will hear throughout the day today: we have the evidence basis, the institutions and the global norms for greater inclusion of women and for a gendered approach to development; we know that men are an equal and an important part of this conversation; we understand that we cannot reach our economic or social potential unless we have inclusive economic growth, with everyone at the table and with all voices counting.
Together, let’s continue to put this into practice for all it is worth. I am simply awed by the potential and energy of this group as I look around. Without question, there are steep challenges ahead. But I am confident that, with the shared commitment and aspirations and imagination of everyone in this room today, if any of you have the same great opportunity I have today, to come back years from now, no doubt you will be able to report a more peaceful, more developed and more inclusive world. You will make the difference.
- The Young Diplomats of Kenya Forum on the Role of Young Women in International Affairs - Remarks by USAID Kenya and East Africa Mission Director Karen Freeman at the Karen Freeman
- Remarks by Thomas Kress, Program Office Director
- Remarks by USAID/RDMA Deputy Mission Director Carrie Thompson at the Regional Workshop on Women’s Participation in Local Governance
Last updated: November 07, 2016