Historically women – in the U.S. and abroad – have had fewer opportunities for economic participation, restricted access to education, increased health and safety risks, and less political representation than their male counterparts. They are more likely to be the victims of gender-based violence such as sexual assault; domestic, financial, physical, and economic abuse; forced marriage and child marriage; and human trafficking.
“Give a small-business woman access to capital and training, and she can become a powerful contributor to GDP growth. Include women in governments and peace talks, and they can help ensure that ministries are better run and peace agreements are sustained. Educate a girl, and she will be more likely to raise healthier and more educated children-and end the cycle of poverty.”— Amb. Melanne Verveer
While much has been done to combat gender inequality, according to the 2022 Global Gender Gap report, women around the world, on average, are only 68 percent of the way to achieving gender parity, and if the current rate of progress holds, it would take 132 years to close this gap.
Education is one of the key pathways to gender parity. Girls who can go to school are more likely to grow up healthier, earn higher incomes, participate in the formal labor market, marry later in life, and have fewer and healthier children. Therefore, girls’ education is crucial to shared prosperity for all members of society. A World Bank study found that “limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 12 years of education cost countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earning.”
According to the World Economic Forum, if the current trend persists, it will take 12 years to achieve global gender parity in education.
One of the most pressing barriers to girls’ access to education is violence. In countries impacted by conflict, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. In addition to barriers created by generalized violence and conflict, COVID-19 has created a “shadow pandemic,” where violence and harassment against women and girls have increased, both at home and in public spaces, making participation in school and work dangerous.
The pandemic has also had long-lasting effects on women’s economic empowerment, as women have disproportionately lost employment and businesses, and have been burdened by unpaid care work. Economic hardships coupled with school and service disruptions, pregnancy, and parental deaths are also threatening progress in reducing child marriage; UNICEF found that these factors could contribute to an additional ten million child marriages by 2030.
These trends not only threaten inclusive development, but also peace and security. Growing evidence suggests that women’s advancement plays a crucial role in global stability. The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda, which was originally established by the U.N. Security Council, attests that women play an integral role in the “prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building” and that their “equal participation and full involvement” in these efforts are essential to their sustainable success. Indeed, countries where women are empowered are more secure in terms of food security, combating violent extremism, and conflict resolution. Women’s participation in peace negotiations makes them 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.
The U.S. has played a leading role in advancing women’s empowerment globally. In 2012, USAID implemented a bold Gender Equality and Female Empowerment policy with the goal of achieving three outcomes: (1) to reduce gender disparities in access to, control over and benefit from resources, wealth, opportunities and services—economic, social, political, and cultural; (2) to reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals and communities; and (3) to increase capability of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes, and influence decision making in households, communities, and societies. However, a 2016 implementation report found that USAID did not have the time or financial resources to fully integrate gender within the policy cycle.
In 2017, the U.S. Women, Peace and Security Act was enacted and requires trainings for relevant government officials on WPS issues and led to the 2019 Strategy on Women, Peace and Security, which advances the WPS agenda both in U.S. international programs and diplomacy, including by encouraging allies to implement WPS policies.
Advancing equity across a range of intersectional issues has been raised as a top priority of the Biden-Harris administration, and the president has committed to restoring the United States’ role as a champion for women and girls globally. In March 2021, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced the formation of the White House Gender Policy Council, which works in cooperation with other White House councils to guide policies impacting women and girls on economic security, health care, racial justice, gender-based violence, and foreign policy.
In October 2021, the administration released the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which outlines American priorities to advance the empowerment of women and girls both in the U.S. and globally, rooted in the belief that gender equity and equality is a “moral and strategic imperative” because it is “essential to economic growth and development, democracy and political stability, and the security of nations across the globe.”
The administration has also worked to restore U.S. leadership in sexual and reproductive health. In the first month of his presidency, Biden revoked the Trump administration’s expanded iteration of the Global Gag Rule, and reinstated funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls worldwide. Despite rollbacks on access to abortion in the U.S. following the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to sexual and reproductive health aid and protections around the world.
Congress has a moral imperative to push the needle on U.S. leadership in gender equality. Call (202) 224-3121 and: