A new paper, Toward a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States, was recently released. With the launch of Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy in 2014, Canada’s Feminist Foreign Assistance Policy in 2017 and France’s Feminist Foreign Policy in 2019, a group of Washington-based foreign policy experts and advocates for global gender equality came together over the course of three days in August to sketch out what such an effort might look like for the U.S. I was happy to take part in the gathering.
Our discussion built off of a research review of feminist foreign policy as expressed by other countries, ideas surfaced from consultations with more than 100 feminist activists from over 30 countries and a paper Smash Strategies recently released. This paper is much broader covering policy ideas in the following areas: diplomacy, defense, foreign assistance and trade, as well as in the cross-cutting issue areas of climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
This paper is just a starting point. A final policy agenda will be refined through global consultations and input of additional experts and organizations, and will be published ahead of events marking the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and resulting Declaration and Platform for Action. This document elucidates a vision for the highest standard of U.S. foreign policy that promotes gender equality, human rights, peace and environmental integrity. It includes a proposed definition, key principles and policy recommendations that will be expanded and refined over coming months.
Defining a Feminist Foreign Policy for the United States
A country’s foreign policy is a statement of its values and priorities. The implementation of foreign policy, across all of its various levers, is one demonstration of how a nation lives its values. Now more than ever, the United States needs a feminist approach—one that fundamentally alters the way the nation conducts itself, prioritizing the importance of diplomatic solutions, cooperating with allies and international institutions, embracing a progressive, inclusive and rights-based agenda, valuing the voices of the most marginalized and addressing racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic and patriarchal and/or male-dominated systems of power.
Foreign policy shapes how a government defines and prioritizes peace and security, structures trade, provides humanitarian aid and development assistance and works with other nations and non-state actors. Coherence across all aspects of foreign policy is paramount for a feminist approach; so too should coherence extend across domestic and foreign policy, with both embracing the same feminist values.
To clarify the goals of a feminist foreign policy and to promote coherence of a feminist approach across policy domains, the following draft definition is proposed:
Feminist foreign policy is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states, as well as movements and other non-state actors, in a manner that prioritizes gender equality and environmental integrity, enshrines the human rights of all, seeks to disrupt colonial, racist, patriarchal and male-dominated power structures, and allocates significant resources, including research, to achieve that vision. Feminist foreign policy is coherent in its approach across all of its levers of influence, anchored by the exercise of those values at home and co-created with feminist activists, groups and movements, at home and abroad.
Taking that as the guiding vision for feminist foreign policy, there are a number of key principles and policy recommendations that apply across the whole of the U.S. government.
Key Principles for U.S. Feminist Foreign Policy
Given the complicated legacy of U.S. global engagement as both a colony and colonizer, as well as its associated history of struggles for racial, gender and environmental integrity both at home and abroad, a number of key principles should underpin a U.S. feminist foreign policy.
First, human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. U.S. foreign policy must respect the rights recognized by international and domestic law and should place itself on the side of those seeking to defend and expand the rights and freedoms of individuals and groups around the world.
Second, U.S. policy should be representative, inclusive, responsive and accountable to stakeholders. Foreign policy has traditionally been informed by patriarchal and discriminatory social norms and implemented through male-dominated institutions. A feminist approach demands gender parity in representation, as well as active commitment to gender, racial and other forms of diversity, equity and inclusion. A U.S. government commitment to diversity and inclusion should not exclusively focus on rhetoric and internal processes, but also on the impact of its policies and public-private partnerships on diverse communities. As such, this principle includes a government-wide commitment to consultation with civil society and feminist movements outside of government, including and especially in the Global South.
Third, a feminist foreign policy should take an intersectional approach to feminism. This is an approach that takes into account and seeks to address the multiple and often intersecting forms of discrimination such as gender, race, age, class, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, gender or sexual identity, religion or ethnicity.
Fourth, a feminist foreign policy should promote and protect bodily autonomy. Recognizing that the oppression of women and gender-nonconforming individuals has traditionally been expressed in the regulation and restriction of bodies and rights, a feminist approach would model its inverse, starting with the basic principle of bodily autonomy. A feminist approach embraces sexual and reproductive health and rights, which according to the Guttmacher Institute is defined as: “A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to all aspects of sexuality and reproduction, not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. Therefore, a positive approach to sexuality and reproduction should recognize the part played by pleasurable sexual relationships, trust and communication in promoting self-esteem and overall well-being. All individuals have a right to make decisions governing their bodies and to access services that support that right.” This approach should also enshrine bodily autonomy, which the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice defines as: “Achieving the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health and rights is based on the fundamental human rights of all individuals to: have their bodily integrity, privacy and personal autonomy respected; freely define their own sexuality; decide whether and when to be sexually active; choose their sexual partners; have safe and pleasurable sexual experiences; decide whether, when and whom to marry; decide whether, when and by what means to have a child or children and how many children to have; and have access over their lifetimes to the information, resources, services and support necessary to achieve all the above, free from discrimination, coercion, exploitation and violence.”
Fifth, environmental integrity. Here, environmental integrity is defined as the sustenance of biophysical processes that support all living organisms, by protecting diversity, ecological functions and resilience of all ecosystems. Climate change erodes human freedoms and limits choice. However, the impacts of climate change are not felt equally. Climate change affects everyone, but women and men experience the impacts differently, and women are often disproportionately negatively affected. Women, compared to men, often have limited access to resources, more restricted rights, limited mobility and a muted voice in shaping decisions and influencing policy. Climate change can also impact security, particularly for those who are already most vulnerable in a society, often women, girls, gender minorities and LGBTQIA+ persons, those with disabilities and most especially those with intersecting marginalized identities. Threats related to the climate crisis generally viewed as a “threat multiplier- a phenomenon that can worsen or exacerbate other sources of instability and conflict, such as competition for natural resources and ethnic tensions.” By way of just one example, following extreme climate-related flooding in Bangladesh, child marriage rates soared. All efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change must include specific protections for and acknowledgment of the harm to communities of color, indigenous peoples and other frontline and marginalized communities around the world, while seeking to address gender inequality.
Cross-Cutting Recommendations for Implementation of Key Principles
There are five cross-cutting elements that are necessary to advance feminist foreign policy across the whole-of-government: (1) High level leadership with mandate to promote feminist foreign policy; (2) Commitment to gender parity, diversity and inclusion both internally, among leadership and staff, and externally, co-created with feminists outside government; (3) Training and capacity-building to ensure robust implementation; (4) Gender analysis underlying all aspects of foreign policy; and (5) Adequate resourcing to ensure all of the above.
Following this in the paper, specific policy recommendations are made for each of the major levers of foreign policy—aid, trade, diplomacy and defense. This is not yet a complete policy package; additional consultations and efforts will augment, refine and supplement this opening salvo over the course of ensuing months. However, it is a solid start.
If you are interested in taking part in an upcoming consultation or would like to send written feedback, please contact me at [email protected].
The Guardian recently reported that Apple’s Siri virtual assistant deflected questions about feminism or the #MeToo movement.
More troubling is that when asked about feminism, Siri had previously been programmed to say, “I just don’t get this whole gender thing,” and, “My name is Siri, and I was designed by Apple in California. That’s all I’m prepared to say.”
Then, as reported by the Guardian, there was a “reset” for initial answers to questions about the #MeToo movement: Once, when users called Siri a “slut,” the service responded: “I’d blush if I could.” Now, a much sterner reply is offered: “I won’t respond to that.”
I’m glad these programming missteps were corrected, but they could have been avoided altogether if there were more women involved in Siri’s design and programming.
Every day and in every way, we all depend on technology like Siri, our phones, computers and other applications. Technology helps us access information and each other, and organize our business and personal lives.
But there are increasing concerns about who designs tech tools and the related implications: whether the designers, who are mostly men, embed gender and other norms in what they design; and, how technology perpetuates offensive and dangerous offline behavior.
It is imperative that women and girls can use technology to fully access education and financial services, grow their businesses and communicate with family and friends. At the same time, it is critical that technology reflects the lives of women and girls, and does not perpetuate outdated norms or replicate offline harassment and gender-based violence.
In order to do that, we must increase the number of women — across the globe — who design technology. Programs and apps will be different when they’re created by a more diverse group. Jobs designing technology must be filled by a broad range of people. Effective problem solving occurs when people with diverse voices, viewpoints and life experiences are involved.
Research published by the Harvard Business Review supports this approach, finding that diversity, both inherent and acquired, helps drive innovation.
Yet barriers limit the kinds of people who enter and remain in these fields; women, especially, are often left out of the talent pool. A report by the American Association of University Women found that, in the United States, 80% of science, technology, engineering and math jobs are in engineering and computer science, but women comprise only 12 percent of the engineering and 26 percent of the computing workforce.
There is a lot of work to be done by the tech community, governments and educational institutions to meet this goal. Experts estimate there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs in the U.S. by 2020. We need to increase the portion of women and people of color in the computing workforce.
There is so much opportunity in technology. We need to make sure that this future is designed by the most diverse group of programmers so that missteps like the one with Siri don’t continue to happen.
This column originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury news.
This document focuses on how to operationalize a new feminist foreign policy within the U.S. context. The complete document can be found HERE. Current events and conversations challenge us to consider a new way of thinking. They take place at a unique time when the U.S. leadership role is being transformed in part due to the rise of China and other powers. The use of cyber weapons, the greater role of non-state actors, and the ability of technology to give citizens access to their governments and demand greater transparency are upending the way diplomacy works. Further, the Trump Administration has thrown away the rule book by antagonizing allies, pulling out of international accords, and shattering traditional foreign policy thinking. It has “hyper-masculinized” the U.S. approach to national security. Finally, Sweden’s groundbreaking adoption of a feminist foreign policy has spurred a deeper consideration of how a feminist policy applies in other countries.
As we ground the principles of human rights and equality in foreign and national security policy, we must envision how a country as unique as the United States with a bureaucracy as large as the U.S. government can turn these ideas into practice. These recommendations will help the U.S. foreign policy establishment actors and officials promote gender equality, defend human rights, and protect fundamental freedoms by addressing power imbalances, utilizing gender analysis to increase the range of issues and solutions considered, increasing the number of feminist voices promoting gender equality, and increasing the number of women leaders.
CHANGE THE INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE
In envisioning a feminist foreign policy, it is important to note the unique role of the United States and its large footprint in global economic and political affairs. The US federal government is large and complex. With a population of 327 million people, the U.S. government employs over 2 million people,14 includes 15 executive departments or agencies, and has an annual budget of about $4 trillion. There must be thought given to how to best integrate this policy across the executive branch agencies. Further, the coordination mechanism, and the individual leading that work, must be at the highest level and only dedicated to implementing this policy.
Example: There have been far-reaching structural changes made in the US government in the past. Following the attacks on the United States in September 2001, President Bush established the Department of Homeland Security, transforming the federal government by combining 22 federal departments and agencies into a unified cabinet agency to respond to threats. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was created by Congress in 2004 to apply a new approach to U.S. foreign aid.
HOLD INSTITUTIONS AND INDIVIDUALS ACCOUNTABLE
As part of transforming government institutions, the people implementing policy need to change the way they do business. Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment should be a shared responsibility of all who work in foreign policy and national security: staff, contractors, military members, and appointees. This work must be championed by leaders, carried out at every level, and not only be the purview of “gender offices” and “gender experts.” Performance evaluations and promotion criteria should be changed to reflect this priority.
Example: Promoting women’s empowerment and equality is not new to the US government. At USAID, the 2013 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy set forth the policy’s goals and principles and included roles and responsibilities for all of its staff, including the regional, functional, and administrative offices in Washington and in the field. Moreover, Gender 101, a mandatory online training course, was launched to increase the understanding of gender in development. Every USAID staff person involved in the program cycle was required to take it within their first two years of employment.
As noted above, there are not currently enough women in senior-level positions. Given the slow speed at which the number of women in foreign policy and national security is growing, US government institutions should consider the following to reach gender balance. The President must commit to a gender-balanced cabinet and instruct the head of each executive branch agency that she wants a gender balance in political appointees at every level.
An overhaul of the civil service and foreign service recruitment and selection processes is needed to more easily recruit and promote qualified women already working in think tanks. Nongovernmental organizations and other parts of the government should focus on increasing the number of women in leadership positions across foreign policy and national security fields, including arms control, counter-terrorism, intelligence and analysis, and military strategy.
Example: Increasing the number of women in leadership is possible. During Secretary of State John Kerry’s tenure, one of the two Deputy Secretaries was a woman; the majority of Undersecretaries were women, and all but one of the regional Assistant Secretaries were women.
ENSURE INPUT FROM THOSE AFFECTED
Beyond the women who work for the U.S. government, foreign policy and national security decision-makers must listen to, and consider, the voices and views of those most affected. By consistently reaching out and listening to these individuals and organizations, these professionals will have a better understanding of not only how actions and interventions will affect people but how those actions will be perceived. This can build stronger relationships at the grassroots level that are not tied to those in power, who often say what they think the US government wants to hear or diminish flash points that should be factored into decisions. Memos and reports must include the perspectives of those outside of government and powerful elite.
Example: There are fierce internal battles about how the principals and other high-level US government officials spend their time, especially when they travel. As a result, whom they meet with has a disproportionate impact on how they understand a place or an issue. On Secretary Kerry’s first trip to Afghanistan as Secretary of State, he met a group of eight Afghan businesswomen. After that, his speeches often recounted those interactions as a basis for reaffirming the importance of Afghan women to the future of the country.
PRIORITIZE INFORMATION AND INTELLIGENCE
Those who provide analysis for the intelligence community, and others in the foreign policy and national security agencies, must make it a priority to gather information about what is happening in a country with respect to women and other gender issues. Incorporating a gender analysis provides a broad and deep understanding of the situation. Beyond the standard “F” indicators at the U.S. State Department, there must be new ways to measure accountability regarding the participation of women in security, political, and economic processes; track US government budget expenditures to implement feminist foreign policy; and measure outcomes. Collecting sex-disaggregated data allows issues to be seen, measured, and addressed.
Example: Through its gender policy, adopted in 2006, the MCC requires that gender issues and metrics are integrated throughout the threshold and compact cycle, from the initial country selection and assessment to the development and design of programs, project implementation, the monitoring of program results, and evaluation of program impacts. More recently, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation has started to apply a gender lens to all its investment projects to help ensure women will benefit.
Along with setting a new policy framework, it is critical that there are sufficient funds and other resources to support the implementation of these laws and policies. This includes funds to hire specific gender experts as well as educating all US foreign service, development, and military professionals about this policy framework. This means everything from equal access to development assistance for women and men, to increasing the number of women in security forces abroad by funding slots for women in professional foreign military education. This all costs money and takes time. The US government, both the executive and legislative branches, must be willing to put the needed resources toward this new way of doing business.
Example: Successful and lasting initiatives are backed by resources. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is widely considered the most consequential initiative ever launched against HIV/AIDS. Through 2017, the United States had spent more than $70 billion on PEPFAR activities, dwarfing that spent by other donors to eradicate HIV/AIDS.
The use of technology, from social media to online banking, is transforming the lives of millions of people in developing and high-risk parts of the world. It can deliver information, connect people, and close gender gaps in information and employment. Like any other tool, technology used for foreign policy will not be as efficient or effective without planning that ensures a diverse set of users has access to the technology and frameworks that collect usable and informative data.
In the foreign policy arena, technology can help us gather data and information and analyze it in a way that informs policy decisions. This can encompass the use and collection of both macro-level data (i.e., about changes caused by climate change) and micro-level data (i.e., about the incidence of violence).
Example: New technologies have been used by the government through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which makes it possible for technologists to take on temporary projects within government to help agencies take advantage of technological advances.
We are at an inflection point both within the United States and in the world. Rethinking U.S. foreign and national security policies is critical to restructuring the role of the United States as a global leader and to creating a safer and more stable world. These policies will be more effective if we infuse them with the principles outlined in this paper. This paper provides a road map for those within the U.S. government to operationalize a feminist foreign policy.
Today, more women than men vote in the United States. For example, in the 2016 election, 55 percent of American women voted; only 52 percent of men voted. Women voters are courted by both political parties and by candidates, and our voting behavior is constantly scrutinized. More women are also running for office than ever before. Currently, 24 percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 25 percent of U.S. Senators are women. Both major political parties have nominated women for either president or vice president.
American women did not always have the right to vote. Women gained that right 99 years ago — in 1920 — when the 19th Amendment was ratified. As we mark this anniversary, there are numerous programs and exhibits illustrating the struggle for women’s suffrage, which isn’t often taught in school or widely known. The fight spanned over 70 years, culminating in the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment. The struggle here in the U.S. took place as women across the globe also fought for their right to vote. Between 1918 and 1921, women gained the right to vote in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Women in the U.S. began fighting for the right to vote in the mid-1800s, after passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which granted African American men the right to vote. Make no mistake, the women who fought for suffrage were held back by legal barriers to their participation in public life as well as social norms about their role in society. Despite this, American women organized, marched, went to prison, committed civil disobedience, lobbied office holders and candidates at every level and in both political parties, and navigated complex political and legal terrain.
And, they organized across the country, riding trains, sending telegrams, having no access to social media and cell phones. They were called names, castigated as agitators who would tear apart society and family, and their appearances often mocked. They dealt with the legacy of the Civil War and racism, which was often used by those opposing suffrage and at times, by those favoring it.
From the time of the first bitter referendum in 1867 to ratification of the 19th Amendment, the suffragists undertook 480 petition and lobbying drives to get state legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include women’s suffrage planks in their platforms; and, 56 state referendum campaigns. Women in the Western U.S. gained rights to vote before the rest of the country and in many places, women could vote for some, but not all, offices.
The ratification of the 19th Amendment came down to one state (Tennessee) and the vote of Harry Burn (the youngest member of the Tennessee General Assembly, who changed his vote because of a note from his pro-suffrage mother). It’s an iconic and heartwarming story.
As I moderated a panel last month on this topic, the lesson I took away was that women’s suffrage was not inevitable, and neither is any social change. Change happens because citizens organize and fight for it. As Casey Cep recently wrote in the New Yorker: “Apart from inaccuracy, one of the greatest flaws in any historical account is a sense of inevitability. The idea that women were always going to get the right to vote in the U.S. ignores the reality that women only got that right in Switzerland in 1971 and Saudi Arabia in 2015. It also fails to explain why the right was granted to American women in 1920, as opposed to 1919 or 1918, or perhaps more pointedly in 1776.”
It is easy to look back and see women’s suffrage, and Harry Burn’s vote, or the passage of civil rights, or the election of women to office, as inevitable. They aren’t. They happen because committed individuals and organizations lay the groundwork, take risks, challenge norms, revise laws and policies, and work to convince others. The suffragists did just that, so that each of us can participate in American politics and public life. We owe it to them and their struggle to keep working towards a society where everyone can fully participate.
Today we are launching The Smash Index to measure gender equality on each presidential campaign. Why are we doing this?
- Gender issues and the role of women in our society are on the front line of current policy discussions due to the rise of the #MeToo movement, advocacy around pay equity, and attacks on women’s reproductive rights.
- Campaigns today are multi-million dollar small businesses. They should build in strong diversity and inclusion policies, and consider gender. This is analogous to movements to push corporations and businesses to take actions to hire and retain women at all levels, and ensure that women are engaged in decision-making and product design.
- One of these candidates will begin their term in January 2021, we want to ensure that the President has considered these issues as she or he implements both domestic and foreign policy.
The Smash Index covers how the campaign is running and how gender is addressed in the campaign’s policy and programs. With regard to internal management, questions focus on women’s representation, pay at every level of the campaign and how issues such as sexual harassment, computer usage and leave are addressed. On the policy side, we question how women voters are targeted and how gender issues are integrated across policy plans.
Every presidential campaign is invited to complete the Index. Submissions are open now and will be accepted through August 15, 2019. All campaigns will be scored out of a total of 100 points based on their responses and publicly available information. Campaigns which do not respond will receive a zero. The full Index results will be released in early September.
The Smash Index is a tool for campaigns and voters. Campaigns from both parties can use it to showcase their gender equality efforts across their public policy and their campaign organizations. Voters can use it to compare the presidential campaigns on specific data points related to gender equality.
At Smash Strategies, we have decades of experience, internationally and domestically, working on politics, policy and advocacy. We understand that information is powerful in driving sustainable change. We think it’s time that voters can understand how candidates for president and their campaigns translate rhetoric into reality.
Late last week, Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek announced he would step down, the organization’s latest departure in the wake of an investigation into sexual harassment and workplace misconduct. His departure came one week after the resignation of Nature Conservancy President Brian McPeek amid swirling complaints about workplace culture.
Workplace sexual harassment and assault are wrong. And, they are costly — both to those who experience it and to employers. Between 25 and 80 percent of women in the U.S. will experience workplace sexual harassment in her lifetime. Working in geographically isolated environments and male dominated professions makes employees more prone to harassment and assault, as does not having legal status and working in workplaces with significant power imbalances (from my perspective, that is almost every workplace).
Employee cost is staggering and personal: depression and anxiety, loss of confidence, decreased opportunities, forced job change, unemployment, and career abandonment. Research shows that 80 percent of women who experience sexual harassment leave their jobs within two years (as compared to 50 percent otherwise).
There is also a large cost to employers: loss of talented employees and their skills, legal fees, retraining costs, high turnover rates, low morale, and decreased productivity. Research shows that companies lose $28,000 (in 2018 dollars) in productivity per each person working on a team affected by harassment.
No sector or workplace can afford these costs. Every institution is at risk and must take action. Mission-driven organizations, like civil society organizations, humanitarian and development organizations, and governments are not immune. In fact, there have been well-publicized incidents in these sectors over the last several years.
I recently moderated a session with civil society leaders at the Open Government Partnership Summit in Ottawa. We focused on the following questions:
- What has worked to prevent, and respond, to workplace sexual harassment, especially in mission-driven organizations?
- What can influence organizational leaders who are skeptical?
- How can you build strong support at all levels of an organization for addressing these issues?
- How can an organization create and maintain a supportive environment for those who come forward?
During this session, we heard from women who had experienced workplace harassment, and from organizations that have reformed workplace policies. Here are five takeaways:
- Organizations need both strong leadership and staff engagement: Leaders and managers set the tone for how an organization responds to anything, including sexual harassment. Leaders need to also empower and involve staff in developing solutions. These staff-driven conversations can be transformational and lead to policies that exceed legal requirements and create new norms.
- Organizations need to invest in internal capabilities, develop clear processes and safeguard those who report. Organizations need to have full time HR staff, clear standards for behavior, policies and processes for addressing complaints, and effective training. They also must support those who experience harassment, and not just address those who commit it. Everyone needs to understand the process and it must be as transparent as possible while protecting privacy.
- Non-staff actors, like board members and funders, play a key role. Boards of directors hire and fire organizational leadership. In doing so, they must hold the organization’s CEO accountable for policies she has put in place — or not — on this key topic. Not addressing workplace harassment is disrespectful to employees, is costly and undermines the organization’s mission. Funders are especially influential in the non-governmental world as NGOs are dependent on them to keep their doors open. Funders need to pay attention, ask questions about what policies are in place, and fund organizations to develop safe workplaces.
- But, having a sexual harassment policy is not enough. Addressing harassment needs to be part of developing a workplace culture that values every employee’s contribution. This includes policies that reflect how an organization values employees, such as equitable pay and promotion policies and family leave policies. This should be accompanied by regular meetings, training, and conversations on gender policy and other inclusion policies.
- Learning from others is key. It’s important to share best practices and understand how other NGOs and institutions are applying gender equality and inclusion principles. Mission-driven organizations, often with employees across the globe in remote locations, face unique challenges. There needs to be a way to share what has worked, and build in opportunities for coaching.
These can be difficult issues, but taking steps to build strong processes, implement them, and ensure that every employee feels valued will go a long way to ensuring a workplaces where people can do the best job possible.
Afghan women are leaders. They are central to building strong Afghan institutions and legal frameworks and creating opportunity for all Afghans. The current U.S. peace envoy, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, would be well served to call on them, and their expertise, as he seeks an elusive peace in Afghanistan.
As part of any dialogue and debate about the future of Afghanistan, it is critical that the Afghan government, and Afghan citizens, be genuinely engaged in the process. This is not a process that should be reserved for the United States, some Afghan politicians, and the Taliban.
Broadly speaking, engaging Afghans means ensuring that there is genuine consultation with those who comprise today’s Afghanistan: men and women, young and old, people from every ethnic group and sector of society. Afghan power brokers have a role to play but they aren’t the only voice that must be heard. The Taliban do not represent the majority of Afghans, and their efforts to be seen as modern, and moderate, are questionable. For example, reports are that in districts controlled by the Taliban today, girls’ secondary schools are not operating and women cannot go to markets on their own.
Afghan women have made tremendous strides based on international investments and their own tenacity and agency. They are not victims, but leaders and change makers. They have been at the forefront of building a strong economy and a broad-based education system, and promoting the leadership of women across sectors.
It is critical that Afghan women are fully engaged and that their experience, talent, and expertise is brought to bear on all parts of the Afghan peace processes. To date, Afghan women have been generally excluded from the current talks. In a hopeful sign, earlier this week in Kabul, Khalilzad met with representatives of the Afghan Women’s Network, a coalition of 125 women’s rights organizations. At that meeting, he said that “women must be at the table during all negotiations about peace and Afghanistan’s future.” This is in line with the mandate of the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017 which recognizes, as a matter of U.S.policy, the importance of women’s roles in peace negotiations and conflict resolution.
Research demonstrates that when women are engaged in peace talks, a peace agreement is 64 percent less likely to fail. The meaningful inclusion of women in peace processes increases by 35 percent the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years. This is in contrast to the overall durability of agreements that end conflict, with peace lasting only five years on average once conflict ends.
Engaging women in the peace process is about more than institutionalizing the tremendous progress Afghan women and girls have made. Although, the legal status of women and statistics are impressive. Increased access to education for girls is one of the most significant achievements since the defeat of the Taliban. Fifteen years ago, fewer than 5,000 girls were enrolled in primary school. Today, estimates are that three million girls are in primary school. Secondary schools have graduated at least 120,000 girls, and at least 15,000 have completed college. 36 percent of teachers are women. 6,000 women are judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers, and soldiers. In government, as of early 2019, women hold 69 of 249 seats in parliament. Of 25 government ministers, four are women. Twelve of the 63 members of the Afghan High Peace Council are women. About 3,000 businesses in the country are owned and operated by women entrepreneurs.
Engaging women in the peace process is about tapping the expertise and legitimacy of Afghan women. These women have expertise in creating jobs, building a strong legal framework, and engaging large groups of Afghans in dialogue. For example, the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry brings together women business owners from different sectors to advocate for legal reforms that open economic opportunities. Women for Afghan Women runs shelters for those who have been subject to gender-based violence and helps them navigate the legal system.
These women, and many more like them, have been involved in building their communities for years. They understand the situation on the ground in a way that is critical to a peace agreement that protects the rights of women and girls, and also reintegrates Taliban fighters and their sympathizers into the fabric of Afghan society
A stable, prosperous and secure Afghanistan is critical for everyone. Afghan women must speak for themselves, and for their fellow citizens, as part of the current dialogues.
Our world faces multiple challenges: fragility of economic and political systems, cold and hot wars, cyberattacks and extremism, and disruptions caused by climate change. We need every tool to understand these threats and craft workable solutions. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are at the forefront of creating tools and innovative solutions. At every level, we need our best thinkers and that must include women.
In December 2018, I participated in a series of meetings and speeches in Japan, focused on how to encourage women and girls to pursue STEM careers. These conversations highlighted the global and regional barriers to increasing women in STEM, as well as innovative interventions to change the status quo.
Simply put, diversity, both inherent and acquired, helps drive innovation. We know from research that diverse teams are more effective at problem solving, when different voices, viewpoints, expertise and life experiences are brought to bear.
This is true both in STEM and national security fields, which are overlapping and connected, given the security challenges that cybersecurity, extremism (often propagated via social media platforms), and climate devastation pose. Understanding the impact of these challenges on women and engaging women to address these issues — as innovators, decision-makers and community actors — is critical.
Globally, women are underrepresented in STEM. According to UNESCO, 29 percent of those in science research and development are women, with a low of 19 percent in South and West Asia and a high of 48 percent in Central Asia. Europe and North America are at 32 percent. In the U.S., 80 percent of STEM jobs are in engineering and computer science but women comprise only 12 percent of the engineering workforce and 26 percent of the computing workforce. In the U.K., women are underrepresented in STEM at every stage of the STEM pipeline. In 2016-17, women students accounted for less than 10 percent of A Level exam entries in computing, 21 percent in physics, and 39 percent in math. Across the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), women represent 58 percent of university graduates, but only 20 percent of computer sciences graduates.
In both academic and practical STEM environments, we need to cultivate ways of tackling science and technology problems that are inclusive, not exclusive, and that highlight the impact of STEM on real world problems. This helps interest women in STEM, which can address gaps in technology design and usability. Most artificial intelligence (AI), and the programs that utilize AI, are created by (white) men. Those programs and apps will be different than those created by a more diverse group. A recent article documented that “smart speakers” like Alexa and Home have a hard time understanding commands by those who speak American English with an accent.
Challenges and Barriers
Solutions to increase women in STEM must address three major types of challenges.
1. Redefining “what a scientist looks like” and lack of role models: STEM fields are broad and varied. Currently, within STEM, young women gravitate to healthcare, medicine, education, arts, and humanities, while young men gravitate towards engineering, computer science, math and physics. Young women need access to information about all types of STEM possibilities and the women who have succeeded in those careers. The media often does not cover these women and as a result women’s career trajectories are less visible. In the U.S., young women engineers have started a social media campaign#ilooklikeanengineer to change these stereotypes. At the same time, parents and teachers need tools to encourage young women and girls to consider STEM careers, in order to break gender norms.
2. The “leaky” pipeline: Women drop off at every stage throughout the STEM journey, whether in elementary school, high school, university, or in the workplace. Those who remain can be isolated. An OECD study found that while 15 year-old boys and girls are fairly even in terms of science aptitude, girls have less confidence in their abilities. Girls drop out because of a confidence gap, not an ability gap. But once hired, just as in other fields, women may not be encouraged to pursue higher level jobs by their employers and the time constraints also can become pervasive as women enter child-bearing years.
3. “Meta” challenges: These are gender biases and stereotypes about whether women should, or can, pursue STEM careers. They are exacerbated by issues faced by virtually every woman in the workplace, such as perceived leadership aptitude, work-life balance, lack of child care, and flexibility.
How to Encourage Women to Enter (and Stay in) STEM Careers
Identifying challenges is easy. Identifying solutions can be harder, but research and experience point to the following interventions that can work.
Highlight women in STEM: There are have been successful women in STEM for hundreds of years. These include pioneers like Ada Lovelace, U.S. Navy Admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992), one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer, and Briton Sarah Guppy (1770-1852), who patented a method to make safe bridge pilings. They include current innovators like Stanford student Amber Yang and the U.K.’s Sophie Harker, an engineer at BAE Systems. We need to tell these stories so we aren’t continually “rediscovering” this gap. Databases like www.100esperte.it of 100 women experts in Italy or www.WomenAlsoKnowStuff.com help.
Redesign our education systems: It’s critical to encourage female students from elementary school on by calling on them in class, taking their questions seriously, and making sure they see the possibilities of STEM careers. Teachers need the skills to embed this interest, and the exposure to the women role models discussed above. There are lesson plans that can be used to address these issues. “Auditing” how schools are doing in producing gender mix of STEM graduates can make a difference. Gender audits help teachers and administrators evaluate how students are doing, using surveys, focus groups, and data to evaluate student attitudes, participation patterns, and feelings of acceptance. If schools find gendered patterns of exclusion or harassment, they can more easily disrupt them. Scientists-in- residence at schools can explain what they do and be a resource for students. Across the globe, tech camps bring young women together during summer vacations. In Peru, the U.S. Department of State worked with the private sector and the Government of Peru to sponsor acamp with 100 young women from the United States, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.
Promote STEM’s role in problem solving: In the U.S., women earn about 20 percent of engineering degrees and 16 percent of computer science degrees. This is being addressed at key universities by highlighting the social impact of science and its role in solving the world’s pressing problems. These approaches have helped increase the number of women earning engineering degrees at schools like MIT, Yale, Howard, George Washington, and Harvey Mudd. At Harvey Mudd, the percentage of women graduating from the computer science program increased from 12 percent to approximately 40 percent in five years. The school revised its introductory computing course, provided research opportunities for undergraduates after freshman year, and exposed young women students to key conferences and meeting women leaders in the field.
Collect data to expose gender gaps: Data can pinpoint specific gaps in professional career paths and achievement. For example, there may be a lot of women in STEM overall, but fewer in computer science or engineering. It’s easier to overlook gaps if we don’t collect data. The European Union’s “She Figures” database tracks comparisons of women and men Ph.D. graduates, researchers and academic decision‑makers. The data illuminates differences in the experiences of women and men working in research, such as relative pay, working conditions, success in obtaining research funds, and scientific publications.
Rethink the hiring and retention process: Gender blind interviews and application processes yield more women, not just in STEM. Helping women succeed in STEM jobs is equally important. Employers shouldn’t make assumptions about how long a woman will stay at the company, or assign her only to certain tasks. Companies can also develop apprenticeship programs for those with nontraditional backgrounds. LinkedIn’s Reach is such a six month program; successful participants include an optometrist and a dancer. LinkedIn focused not on resumes but skill sets, such as talent in coding, ability to learn new skills, commitment to work and growth potential during interviews.
Many of the issues faced by women in STEM fields are common to women in any workplace, but STEM jobs have particular challenges. We need to aggressively address these challenges to ensure that we have the best talent engaged, and enough people to fill these key jobs. Our ability to be competitive and create a secure future depends on it.
52 women (and one man) from 53 countries. 11 cities. 21 days.
It’s not. It’s a snapshot of the itinerary for a recent U.S. State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), organized by Meridian International Center, to promote women and entrepreneurship. These 53 leaders were from Algeria to Zimbabwe and everywhere in between.
The participants were entrepreneurs, directors of business accelerators and non-governmental organizations supporting women in business, corporate executives, government officials, and academics. All play a role in their country’s efforts to support women entrepreneurs, whose enterprises contribute substantially to economic growth and poverty reduction.
I met with the group in Washington, DC both at the beginning of their visit to the U.S. and when they returned from travel to cities as diverse as Kansas City, Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Pensacola, Florida. At the first session, they talked with each other about their role in the ecosystem of entrepreneurship and in supporting women entrepreneurs. They shared views about the fundamentals for advancing successful women’s entrepreneurship and business and how to ensure that more women have access to the tools they need to succeed. They each outlined their goals and objectives to maximize the IVLP for themselves, their business or organization, and their community. They listed the types of contacts and skills they wanted to gather as well as the types of policies and innovations that interested them, such as accessing supply chains, meeting angel investors and talking with successful women entrepreneurs.
We met again when they returned from their intensive program outside of Washington, DC. They talked about what impressed or surprised them, whether the IVLP changed their perspectives, and what new individuals and organizations they would connect with upon their return home. (Side note: they also talked about how their packing and unpacking skills had improved.)
They each had a unique experience, but overall, several things stood out:
- Globally, women entrepreneurs face common challenges. The most common takeaway was that women, particularly women business owners, across the world face similar issues. Participants were struck by how their everyday challenges were similar to those faced by their fellow participants from different countries and by women in the U.S. Bottom line, since there is so much we have in common, there is much we can learn from each other.
- Support systems and women’s networks matter. The IVLP participants met with organizations supporting women entrepreneurs and providing platforms for women business owners to connect. This strategic networking and relationship building is critical to business development, and to business success and growth. Many took away lessons about the types of organizations and platforms that exist in the U.S. for developing connections and business opportunities, as well as for helping women learn how to be effective networkers. While in DC, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) organized a roundtable with pioneers and leaders in building strong environments for women’s businesses. In Charlotte, NC, the group met with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which gives U.S. women business owners a place to organize as an economic and advocacy force.
- Broader policy support for women and girls is critical to economic empowerment and opportunity. Women can’t succeed as entrepreneurs if they can’t stay in school, learn critical thinking and financial literacy skills, or make their own life decisions. In several countries represented, child marriage is prevalent and the women participants are committed to changing that reality, as they see its negative impact on women’s economic futures. In the countries represented, most decision-makers are men and women are subject to restrictive laws that create barriers to business success, such as those that restrict women’s ability to get credit or have access to child care and family leave. The participants focused on the importance of advocating for changes in these laws and policies as well as those that narrowly target barriers to entrepreneurship.
- Government support of women’s entrepreneurship makes a difference. Participants were struck by the critical role that government in the U.S., at every level, plays in supporting women and business. This includes advocacy around increasing the allocation of government contracts and procurements set aside for women-owned businesses, and regulatory reforms that increase access to capital and markets for businesses.
These 53 leaders — representing almost one-third of the world’s countries — are already successful. The purpose of the IVLP, and their exposure to what is happening here in U.S, is to ensure that they become force multipliers. From my viewpoint, I have little doubt that will be the case.
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Economic Empowerment
- Empowering Girls
- Foreign Policy
- Gender Equality
- Human Rights
- Open Government
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
- Sustainable Development Goals