“Gender equality is not only a basic human right,” Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) told the crowd. “It has implications for the economy, for peace and security, and the wellbeing of society at large.” The Congressman spoke at Plan International USA’s Capitol Hill policy event titled Transforming Foreign Aid: Putting Women and Girls at the Center on June 12.
The event underscored the strategic value of investing in marginalized women and girls. An overflow audience heard from leaders from the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Plan, and event co-sponsors the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), and Save the Children. Attendees also heard about the unique opportunities to mainstream USAID’s gender equality work as part of its on-going reform process.
Michelle Bekkering, USAID’s lead on gender equality and Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, confirmed that a focus on women and girls is at the core of USAID’s transformation.
“We have to put women and girls at the center of our work—no country can succeed in its development goals if it excludes the talents and needs of half its population,” she said.
Bekkering added that USAID has increased its “whole-of-girl approach,” empowering girls through holistic programs encompassing girls’ priorities for education, youth employment, psychosocial support, and financial services.
Diana Prieto, head of USAID’s gender equality office, spoke about the agency’s gender programs, elaborating on their new focus of “reducing gender disparity in resources, prevention and response to gender-based violence, and increasing women’s empowerment.” Prieto emphasized not only USAID’s goal of filling the gender data gap, but also the importance of weaving gender data into country transitions.
Further, the U.S. government’s inclusion of women and girls is exemplified by the 2017 passage of the Women, Security, and Peace Act. Kat Fotovat, of the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, said that this Act has motivated several State Department Bureaus to apply a gender lens to their analysis and decision-making.
“If we do not focus on women and girls, they will turn into the victims, survivors, or perpetrators of violent extremism,” said Fotovat.
In opening remarks, Plan called on Congress to take three actions that would further improve the lives of marginalized women and girls around the world:
- Establish by law the State Department and USAID’s core capabilities on gender.
- Close the gender data gap. Without accurate data on critical issues affecting women and girls, the U.S. cannot effectively implement programs for those women and girls.
- Support further mainstreaming of USAID’s gender programs as central to its reform and transition process. Gender warrants a center of excellence in Washington and permanent staff in the Bureaus and Missions. USAID needs to link its solid gender policies more closely to its budget allocations and ensure gender equality is considered as part of any country transition process.
Putting women and girls at the center of foreign aid will benefit all of society. We hope the U.S. government continues to make women and girls a priority.