It is with mixed emotions that we are announcing the closing of Smash Strategies at the end of September. We have had a great time building Smash and working with all of you to advance women’s leadership, gender equality and equity, and the opportunities available to all. We are immensely proud of the work we have done via Smash. We have decided to use other platforms to continue our work on gender equality. We are excited to co-author a book on Feminist Foreign Policy, due out next year.
In the short-term (at least), Stephenie will continue to work on behalf of Afghan women and girls. Susan will focus more on international security and foreign policy. A formal announcement will be made soon.
Thank you for your collaboration over the past 5½ years and your ongoing passion for the issues we care about.
Stephenie and Susan
There are currently two main frameworks regarding gender equality and women’s participation in international policy and conflict resolution: the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) framework, codified in the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in 2000, and the feminist
foreign policy framework (FFP) that became prominent in 2014 when Sweden became the first government to formally adopt a feminist foreign policy. Over the past decade, tension has existed between the civil society advocates who were/are involved in the development, passage, and implementation of UNSCR 1325 and those academics and practitioners who favor the newer feminist framework. Surprisingly (or not), an unpublished mapping exercise in 2019 between the two groups
found very few people who worked on both frameworks or who were using the WPS framework as a foundation for the newer FFP. We argue here that the goals of both frameworks—gender equality and peace—are the same and that the tension largely rests on differences in approach. This piece provides
background on both frameworks, what they have in common, some critiques, how they might approach current events, and recommendations on the way forward. We suggest that while these differences in approach are not insignificant, both frameworks would benefit from the greater acknowledgment
of and closer coordination with each other so that more progress can be made within the gender equality movement.
Women, Peace and Security
The opening for ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Political Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),both in 1966, represented the heyday of human rights activity at the United Nations. Unfortunately, however, it was quickly realized that many of the countries that voted for those treaties had not assumed and did not recognize that the treaty provisions would also apply to women. Human rights were not inherently considered women’s rights. The United Nations subsequently followed up with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Though, as of 2015, 189 countries have signed and ratified CEDAW (the United States signed but never ratified), many have done so with qualifications that render their commitments toothless. Hence, when First Lady Hillary Clinton declared, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, she stated what many had thought decades ago but had since come to understand as a continuing
Civil society groups continued to carry on the battle for gender equality through the United Nations, doing so not “just” as a matter of social justice but as a security issue. An increasing amount of case studies and empirically-based research demonstrated women’s multiple roles in security related affairs, the gendered differentiated effects of conflict on men, women, boys, and girls, and the linkage between
gender equality, stability, and good governance. Regrettably, social justice issues are often considered “desirable” though expendable issues on governmental agendas or “just too hard.” Security issues, however, tend to resonate more strongly with decision-makers. Ultimately, through the efforts of civil society groups, UNSCR 1325 was unanimously passed in 2000.
Implementation of UNSCR 1325 was left to states through National Action Plans (NAPs). As of 2021, 98 countries have adopted NAPs. Many of the early countries to adopt NAPs were Scandinavian countries already strong in gender equality. It took the United States 11 years to do so, finally accomplished while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Of those countries with NAPs, only 36 percent have budgets attached, evidencing that the Women, Peace and Security framework has seen much more rhetorical than actual support in many countries.
The first iteration of the Women, Peace and Security Act in the United States was introduced in 2012. It was again initiated by a coalition of civil society organizations that championed the cause to bi-partisan congressional members and staffers. The Act was revised and reintroduced in both the 2013-2014
and 2015-2016 sessions of Congress, eventually gaining bipartisan sponsorship in both the House and the Senate. In 2017, the U.S. Congress passed the Women, Peace and Security Act. It was signed by President Donald Trump, making it the law of the land. Passage of the Act in 2017 was symbolically
important as it provided support for those in government seeking to take action regarding gender equality. It gave them a “hook” on which to hang actions. The Act also required the president to submit a government-wide implementation strategy to Congress. Initially, however, the Act was passed without funding attached. For a president who was confronted at the White House in 2017 by a crowd of protesting women estimated at three times the number who attended his inauguration, signing the Women, Peace and Security Act was a no-cost act of support for women.
After an implementation strategy for the Women, Peace and Security Act was delivered to Congress in 2019, the federal agencies charged with its execution (the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Homeland Security) began working on their own implementation strategies. The Defense Department, for example, outlined three objectives: 1) to exemplify a diverse organization that allows for women’s meaningful participation across the development, management, and employment of the Joint Force; 2) that women in partner nations meaningfully participate and serve at all ranks and in all occupations in defense and security sectors; and 3) that partner nation defense and security sectors ensure women and girls are safe and secure and that their human rights are protected, especially during conflict and crisis. Regrettably, in many instances support has been slow and often more rhetorical and performative than actual, as indicated by budgets, policies, and women’s representation in decision-making roles. In performative allyship, those with privilege and position profess solidarity with a cause or policy, often to distance themselves from potential scrutiny or position themselves for praise. This vocalized support is disingenuous and potentially harmful to marginalized groups by signaling to subordinates that real action is neither needed nor sought and that no one will be held accountable for inaction. That makes active oversight by Congress imperative.
Feminist Foreign Policy
Feminist foreign policy theory was born of the theoretical ideas of ethical foreign policy and feminist international relations. It gained prominence in 2014 when the Swedish coalition government, led by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, adopted a feminist foreign policy. In this first practical application, feminist foreign policy is posited on the conviction that sustainable peace, security, and development cannot be achieved if women, who comprise half the world’s population, are excluded. As the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s website states, “The policy is a response to the discrimination and systematic subordination that still characterizes everyday life for countless women and girls all over the world. Feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change to strengthen the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls.” Regarding rights, the Swedish Foreign Service promotes all women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights, which includes combating all forms of violence and discrimination that restrict freedom of action. Regarding representation, the Swedish Foreign Service promotes women’s participation and influence in decision-making processes at all levels and in all
areas, and seeks dialogue with women representatives at all levels, including in civil society. With respect to resources, the Swedish Foreign Service works to ensure that government resources are allocated to promote gender equality and equal opportunities for all. In the first three years of implementation, Sweden worked to raise the visibility of and combat destructive masculine norms and to strengthen countries’ capacities to prosecute perpetrators, assist crime victims, and reintegrate soldiers. Sweden also contributed to a growing body of knowledge about the link between the uncontrolled spread of weapons and sexual violence against women.
Since 2014, several countries have announced different versions of a feminist foreign policy. Norway has developed both an Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020 and a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Canada’s feminist International Assistance Policy, announced in 2017, targets gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at its core: “This is a matter of basic justice and also basic economics. We know that empowering women, overseas and here at home, makes families and countries more prosperous.” The French government’s feminist foreign policy, adopted in 2019, says that gender equality should be considered in all issues, from poverty reduction to sustainable development, peace and security, defense and promotion of fundamental rights, and climate and economic issues. Other countries have followed suit (Mexico in 2020, Luxembourg in 2021, Spain in 2021, and Germany in 2022).
In addition, there are discussions about incorporating a feminist approach to foreign policy taking place in the European Union, Chile, Denmark, Malaysia, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Governments, however, are many-armed creatures, sometimes with activities of one arm having no relation to another. Interest in or adoption of a feminist foreign policy
does not inherently mean a gender-equal society or even full government support of women. Mexico, for example, has expressed interest in a feminist foreign policy, though it has one of the highest global rates of violence against women. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), a non-profit center headquartered in Washington, D.C., hosts both the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States and the Global Partner Network, which consists of more than 30 governments and leading civil society groups who are working to advance the field of feminist foreign policy. The working definition the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States uses for feminist foreign policy: “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 peace, gender equality, and environmental integrity; enshrines, promotes, and protects 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 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.”
In 2020, ICRW separately released a global framework for feminist foreign policy that was developed following more than a year of research and global consultations with over 100 organizations in more than 40 countries. In order to inform the fledgling field of feminist foreign policy, this framework attempts to provide an outline, including five key ingredients necessary for countries considering a feminist foreign policy: the purpose of the policy within the government’s specific context; the definition of feminist foreign policy for the government; the scope or reach of the policy (what parts of the government will be impacted?); the intended outcomes of the policy and benchmarks to achieve over time; and a government plan to operationalize it.
Commonalities and Critiques
While there are differences in the WPS and FFP frameworks, both seek to expand global peace and security, increase women’s participation and leadership, integrate gender into humanitarian responses, and change the political and governance structures that reinforce gender inequality.
Peace and Security
One significant commonality between the WPS and FFP frameworks is a redefinition of the concepts of peace and security. Norwegian peace activist Johan Galtung first differentiated negative peace and positive peace in the 1960s. Negative peace is defined as the absence of violence without a society’s tendencies toward harmony and stability, whereas positive peace is more lasting and built on sustainable investments in economic development and institutions and characterized by societal attitudes that foster peace. WPS exemplifies positive peace through inclusiveness and consideration of gendered perspectives of policies and programs that lead to increased stability of all political orders. Yet a critique of the WPS framework is its focus on the protection of women and girls. The argument is that the WPS framework not only solidifies the militarized state but, in some cases, provides justification for conflict. The U.S.-led War on Terror, for example, was at least in part framed as a “fight for the rights and dignity of women.” University of Sydney Professor Laura Shepherd argues that multiple logics behind the “prevention” pillar—a logic of peace, a logic of militarism, and a logic of security—creates a paradox that “collapses back into a logic of security” contrary to the ultimate goal of peace. That is, in order to have peace, security must be obtained and retained through a heavy military presence and potentially military action, thus justifying such.
In a similar vein, feminist foreign policy seeks to change the very definition of “security” to go beyond the absence of armed conflict to include economic and political security, freedom from a fear of a global pandemic and climate change, and the feeling of safety within one’s community and home. The “security” issues discussed in FPP would be broadened to include access to drinkable water, the ability to walk home at night safely, the number of weapons in a country outside of the military, and many others. Likewise, the solutions considered would be more diverse. Data used to make those decisions would include information about human rights abuses, rates of child marriage, levels of gender-based violence, and other issues that Texas A&M Professor Valerie Hudson and other scholars have pointed to in several publications that show the connection between gender equality and state stability. Decisions made to protect the interests of a country would cover not only military personnel but civilians on all sides. The voices of those impacted by military activities, sanctions, or other actions would be included. In response, WPS advocates argue that working first on the protection of women, girls, and other vulnerable groups is a necessary precondition to inclusive gender equality and diversity. Women’s safety—the goal of protection—is necessary to ensure that women and girls have the ability to work toward other goals of economic and political power and can use their agency to shape their lives.
To reach the goals of gender equality and peace, both the WPS and FFP frameworks aim to increase the representation of women in country and global policy-making processes and activities. One of the four core pillars of the Women, Peace and Security framework focuses on the increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making in conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and in post-conflict relief and recovery efforts. But the WPS framework works within conventional peacemaking and post-conflict governance structures that accept conflict as inevitable. Subsequently, this framework has been criticized by Melbourne Law School Professor Dianne Otto, who argues that “the WPS agenda has served to refocus feminist attention from … making armed conflict impossible, to making armed conflict safer for women … as an end in itself.” Thereby, WPS can be perceived as a more incremental approach to positive peace, whereas FFP is more transformational. Like WPS, the goal of FFP is to increase the number of women serving in elected and non-elected political and government positions, in peace processes, in military and peacekeeping missions, and in development and humanitarian activities. FFP seeks to increase the number of feminist voices that will advocate for gender equality in all sectors, beyond peace and security, such as in the economy and climate adaptation, including a country’s own government as well as its government partners. A critique of this approach is that feminist foreign policy is too broad; it can’t just add more women and change everything all at one time—change requires incrementalism. The real-world implications of executing a feminist foreign policy are complicated. For instance, in Sweden, even with female leadership and a feminist foreign policy, the government has struggled to find a balance between human rights and its own arms industry.
Post-conflict and Humanitarian Settings
UNSCR 1325 urges local actors, Member States, and UN agencies to adopt gendered perspectives in peace operations, negotiations, and agreements, in acknowledgement that policies and programs affect men, women, boys and girls differently, and to include women in the resolution and recovery phase of conflict. It identifies women as active agents rather than passive recipients. This is important because it
identifies women’s participation as a right, not something that men are giving women out of goodwill, and as a post-conflict benefit to all parties. Research has shown that including women in peace negotiations increases the potential of peace agreement lasting two or more years by 20 percent, and
increases by 35 percent the probability of peace agreements lasting 15 years or longer.18 Additionally, including women starts to erode the idea of women as weak, meaning that the feminine will no longer be synonymous with weakness and fragility. The resolution empowers women and allows them to demand that they are heard and incorporated into processes at all levels.19 The critique here is that the considerations of women and girls are rarely included in peace negotiations and simply haven’t been taken into account, and that there is no mechanism for holding countries or other implementing
organizations accountable for including women and gendered perspectives in peace negotiations.
Similarly, the FFP framework calls for a feminist approach to humanitarian response that at its core centers the experience of women and people subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This focus highlights a wider array of concerns than considered in traditional paradigms, including the threat of gender-based violence, access to sexual and reproductive health, access to education, and the burden of unpaid care responsibilities in times of crisis. It urges the U.S.
government to take steps to change its humanitarian approach and push for change throughout the global humanitarian system.
Both frameworks agree that reframing the discussion of peace and security involves shaking the very foundations of the patriarchy, a system that until recently was the exclusive purview of men and that deploys decision-making power through warlords, political elites, government, security communities, and the intricately linked military-industrial machine. Within the WPS framework, protection does not inherently or exclusively refer to women being physically (or in any other way) protected by men. It does, however, recognize that there are individuals made vulnerable through cultural, political, legal, economic, gender-related, and sexual orientation structures. It creates agency because it is only through agency that women will have the opportunity to participate in the kind of preventive actions that can lead to positive peace.
In response, FFP advocates would argue that this approach is too focused on the individual rather than the system. The FFP framework seeks to change the institutions and processes themselves. It wants to diversify more than just the voices in the room; it wants to expand the information collected, analysis conducted, and solutions considered to go beyond the traditional decision-making process. This strategy covers defense, development, and diplomacy programs conducted in other countries and how governments operate internally. Resources, both in terms of budget allocations and human investments, would be redistributed to reflect governments’ different priorities. Less would be spent on weapons and more would be spent on human infrastructure; more would go to multilateral organizations and those focused on global goals. WPS critics would say that even with provisions for structural agency, the entrenched nature of those in power through cultural norms and expectations forces a process of slower, more incremental change.
Applying WPS and FPP to Current Challenges
In 2021, the annual Democracy Index found that less than ten percent of countries worldwide were considered “full democracies” and rated the United States a “flawed democracy” for the fifth year in a row. Though countries leaning toward populism and authoritarianism vary in many aspects, what they share are leaders who identify as rebels, bullies, and tough guys who flaunt authority, disregard civility, and encourage others to do so as well, such as Presidents Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Further, as American journalist Peter Beinart pointed out, authoritarian leaders “use gender to discredit one political order and validate another.”20 Many have targeted women, individually or as a group, as their evil-elite punching bags.
To address this issue, the WPS framework would return to concepts within UNSCR 1325 that have been fleshed out through nine additional security council resolutions: participation of women in all levels of decision-making, protection from sexual and gender-based violence, prevention of violence, and advancement of relief and recovery measures. Within this context, FFP would go beyond a focus on increasing individual women’s political participation to disrupt the colonial, racist, patriarchal, and
male-dominated power structures. It would support human rights activists and civil society organizations engaged in women’s rights movements globally, alter patriarchal political institutions, including parties and parliaments, and address issues such as violence against women in politics that serve as barriers to women serving in public life.
Five years ago, the United States was considered a global leader in women’s reproductive rights, considered a critical aspect of women’s agency, but during the Trump administration became a global outliner with deep regression in that area. The Biden-Harris administration took several key actions to
advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in its first year, trying to reverse the Trump administration rollback. In his second week in office, President Biden issued an executive
memorandum on women’s health at home and abroad which stated that it is the policy of the U.S. government to support sexual and reproductive health and rights. It rescinded the global gag rule, withdrew the United States from the so-called Geneva Consensus Declaration, and directed the U.S. Secretary of State to restore funding for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).2 But, based on the leaked Alito-authored draft court decision, Trump-appointed conservative Supreme Court justices appear ready to take American women’s reproductive rights back to the 1970s by overturning Roe v Wade (1973). The implications are staggering, not just regarding reproductive rights but further indicating the U.S. is moving away from democratic rule to populist authoritarianism.
The WPS framework does not address reproductive rights or abortion in UNSCR 1325 or in any of the subsequent resolutions or in the U.S. Women, Peace and Security Act. Feminist Foreign Policy, on the other hand, includes bodily autonomy and freedom from discrimination, violence, coercion, exploitation, and abuse as a key tenet. And while the current U.S. administration has taken steps to stop or reverse U.S. government backsliding on the issue, including potentially after the judicial demise of Roe v Wade, FFP advocates continue to push for more, such as a permanent repeal of the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy.
While differences in approach for WPS and FFP are not insignificant, both frameworks would benefit from closer coordination with the other.
Five years after the passage of the WPS Act in the United States, with the subsequent government-wide 2019 strategy and departmental strategies now in place, incremental progress in implementing the WPS framework is evident. Funding is being approved and allocated, for example, to offer meetings, workshops, and courses on Women, Peace and Security to members of security communities from many other countries, both in the U.S. and abroad. Those who participate in these events (men and women) say that attendance, and the gender push for gender empowerment from U.S. organizations, including the military, are making a slow but positive difference in their militaries and countries. A Women, Peace and Security Congressional Caucus was formed in 2020. Its focus is “to ensure that progress towards women’s empowerment and inclusion is a strong priority of U.S. foreign policy.” Efforts of the Caucus have included receiving briefs from various departments on their efforts to implement the Women, Peace and Security framework and expressing support for women in Afghanistan during the evacuation operations in 2021. Ensuring progress of the WPS Act, at home and abroad, requires proactive measures and holding those responsible for implementation accountable.
As this work continues, those pressing the U.S. government to adopt a feminist foreign policy need to acknowledge the work of those who developed and implemented the WPS Act. That legislation took more than a decade to be created and passed in a bipartisan fashion. Newer actors in this space might benefit by engaging with the activists who started their work around the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and then focused on the UN Security Council before turning to country-specific NAPs and legislation. There must be lessons learned about Hill staff and member relationships, allies in non-traditional departments and offices, effective messages, and budget strategies that have worked.
Moreover, the combined community can work together to increase women’s representation in U.S. foreign policy through the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS), WIIS, the Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, or the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States. Research and advocacy must continue to make the link between both frameworks
and the promotion of democracy. And both WPS and FFP advocates can continue to push for the integration of the needs of women and girls in humanitarian and post-conflict settings and programs.
So far, however, Women, Peace and Security framework implementation seems to have remained focused on work done or to be done “over there,” wherever outside of the United States that happens to be, neglecting the important point that there are internal as well as external components to WPS. Similarly, one of the core principles of FFP is that there is coherence across all aspects of foreign policy that extends across domestic and foreign policy, with both realms embracing the same feminist values. That means structural and cultural constraints to gender empowerment within U.S. institutions must also be addressed. For example, while women in the military are no longer denied access to combat positions, they still do not receive the same encouragement and support necessary for success to join those previously prohibited positions as men do.
While differences in approach for WPS and FFP are not insignificant, both frameworks would benefit from closer coordination with the other. There are many opportunities to support the work of the other, as much progress is still needed in the United States and globally to reach gender equality, women’s empowerment, and a safer world.
As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden has vowed to continue support for Afghan women and girls “by maintaining significant humanitarian and development assistance.” Further, on a visit to Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken firmly stated that the U.S. will continue to advocate “for equal rights for women, including their meaningful participation in the ongoing negotiations and their equal representation throughout society.” The importance of this focus is highlighted by the recent horrific attack on a school in Kabul, killing 50 people, many of them women and girls.
The Women, Peace, and Security Act (WPS Act), enacted in 2017, commits the United States to increase the participation of women in peacekeeping and security operations, and to support the inclusion of female negotiators, meditators, and peacebuilders around the world.
The WPS Act is critical to fulfilling the U.S. commitment to women and women’s rights in Afghanistan. It is important for the United States to use all possible tools in this regard, given the difficulties and uncertainty of a lasting and equitable peace with the Taliban. That includes continued support for the four women who are part of the Afghan government delegation to peace negotiations: Habiba Sarabi, former governor of Bamiyan province; Fatima Gailani, president of the Afghan Crescent Society; Sharifa Zurmati Wardak, a journalist and former member of the Afghan Independent Election Commission; and Fawzia Koofi, a member of the Afghan Parliament. They are emblematic of women leaders and advocates in Afghanistan: smart, committed, and dedicated to building a strong future for all Afghans.
There is ample evidence that when women participate in peace talks, outcomes are more sustainable. When women are engaged in peace processes, peace agreements are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.
I have seen firsthand the impact of women’s leadership across Afghan society. From 2012 to 2013, I served at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, where I focused on women and civil society, and traveled extensively to work with individuals and organizations advancing the role of women in Afghan society. I met women and girls all over the country, working to build a stronger and more equitable society. They were teachers, businesswomen, journalists, civil society activists, health care workers, students, and government employees. Afghan women have been key players in reshaping Afghan society, building on their history. These women have been advocates throughout the lengthy process of engaging with the Taliban for a ceasefire and for protecting fundamental rights.
However, the presence of the four women alone in the Afghan delegation is not enough to protect women’s rights.
Two more actions can demonstrate the seriousness of the U.S. commitment. First, officials at the highest levels must be laser-focused on the end result of peace negotiations: an agreement that preserves women’s rights. The Biden administration must ensure that any accord has strong provisions that guarantee Afghan women a role in shaping their society. Without such a framework, it is unclear how the United States and other international actors could support an agreement. This means continued diplomatic and development support for women in civil society, media, the private sector, and the public sector. It includes continuing work to ensure that legal frameworks are respected and that policies ensuring the rights of women and girls — whether about access to finance, education, or health — are implemented.
Second, every plank of a proposed agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban must be analyzed with a gender lens. Amid a process that will reshape Afghanistan’s policy and legal framework for years to come, it is essential to understand the differential impact policies have on women and men, girls and boys.
Using a gender analysis on all aspects of any agreement is important. We often think about access to education or health as the only issues that impact women and girls, but every issue that is the subject of such a negotiation has an impact on women and girls, whether in terms of security, access to services, or demobilization of radical fighters.
Gender analysis looks at quantitative and qualitative information to identify, understand, and explain differences in impact between people because of an individual’s identity. It can examine such differences that exist (or do not) on:
- access to and control over assets, resources, opportunities, and services, including education;
- access to and control over technology and the internet;
- constraints, opportunities, and entry points for leadership roles and decision-making;
- prevalence and impact of violence; and
- potential differential impacts of development policies and programs, including unintended or negative consequences.
This type of analysis takes into account how women and men live and work, how they support their families and communities, and the constraints that they are under in doing so. For example, a 2012 study by the U.S. Agency for International Development with the Afghan Women’s Capacity Building Organization found that 80 percent of Afghan women have access to a cell phone, almost half owning their own, many of them having acquired it recently and many of them younger women, indicating access was increasing rapidly. But of those who didn’t own a phone, more than half cited “lack of permission from family members as a major obstacle to acquiring one.” That means it is still harder for women to access information. According to a recent gender analysis conducted by CARE, , 45 percent of Afghan women cannot access adequate information about COVID-19, thereby reinforcing existing health disparities.
One way to ensure that this gender analysis is completed in a systematic manner is to embed at least one gender advisor in the U.S. and Afghan delegations. Gender advisors are essential to effective policy and program development. Effective gender advisors have the technical skills, competencies, and experience necessary to provide appropriate, in-depth guidance to integrate a gender lens, and a gender analysis, throughout the process of policy formulation and program development.
Afghan Women Negotiators Urge Representation and Aid Conditions
Afghan women negotiators like Fawzia Koofi and others have asked the U.S. and other international partners to vigorously pursue at least two specific objectives that could at least provide some measure of security and empowerment for women in Afghanistan’s future. First, that they press both the Afghan government and the Taliban to reserve at least 30 percent of elected seats and appointments in Afghan political institutions for women. Second, that international aid to Afghanistan be conditioned on protecting the constitutional role of women in Afghanistan’s governing institutions. Conditioning aid to the Afghan government might provide a very real incentive to ensure women’s rights are protected both on paper and in reality. These are key demands.
In the United States, there is a bipartisan commitment on Capitol Hill to protect the hard-fought gains that women and girls have made since the fall of the Taliban government 20 years ago. Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Risch (R-ID), the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both expressed their concerns about the impact of the U.S. decision to withdraw on women and girls.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) just introduced a bill to protect Afghan women and girls after the U.S. military withdraws. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has consistently raised the impact of U.S. policy on Afghan women and girls. She was instrumental in the declassification of a National Intelligence Council memo that sets out concerns about the continued rigidity of the Taliban’s views of the role of women and girls, though it also suggests possible opportunities for internal and external pressure that might moderate its policies.
As the process of U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan continues over the coming months, it is essential that the Biden administration ensures that Afghan women are part of the peace process and that every issue in the negotiations is analyzed with an eye towards gender equality and women’s rights.
This column originally appeared in Just Security.
Successful companies not only meet their customers’ needs, they invest in innovation and new markets, build communities, and ensure they have a diverse staff. In today’s marketplace, companies play a critical role as corporate citizens and can be trusted partners with the public sector. A focus on gender equality, diversity, and women’s leadership is not just a philanthropic goal, it is central to business success and must be integrated into business operations.
Companies that are committed to equality and sustainability — both internally and externally — can expand market share, and burnish their reputation as good citizens, as consumers look for products reflecting their values. Globally, almost two-thirds of consumers prefer to buy from companies that reflect their personal values and beliefs.
Diverse teams increase profitability, innovation, and the ability to identify new markets and opportunities. A McKinsey and Co study found that companies in the top 25 percent for gender diverse executive teams were over 20 percent more likely to exceed average profitability. Diverse teams help companies benefit from different viewpoints and avoid missteps, such as Gucci’s launch of a sweater during Black History Month that reinforced racial stereotypes and Apple’s programming of Siri to respond inappropriately to user questions about sexual harassment.
There are other concrete steps that companies can make to achieve meaningful success through their equity strategies. Companies should buy more goods and services from women-led and other diverse businesses. Companies should identify barriers in their own systems, such as cumbersome and lengthy application processes, that prevent diversity in supply chains. For example, Walmart leverages its size and scale to source more from women-owned businesses, but this type of supply chain diversification doesn’t have to be limited to large organizations.
Companies can also partner with the public sector to develop strong enabling and legal environments critical to women’s success, including skill development and laws that make it easier for women to access quality education, child care, and health care. Legal frameworks that ensure non-discrimination, and protect against sexual harassment, assault and violence are good for business as they help attract and retain talent.
Enhancing enterprise-wide equality and diversity are not only the right thing for organizations to prioritize, but this effort is foundational to business success.
As the Biden-Harris administration begins to develop and implement gender-focused policies across the federal government, it is a good time to deepen commitments to gender equality in policymaking, and fully empower the White House Gender Policy Council. In foreign policy and national security, this means both implementing existing requirements for gender analysis across the relevant agencies and ensuring that those requirements apply to all government decision-making.
Current Legal Framework for Gender Analysis
There are currently three laws that mandate gender analysis as part of foreign and/or development policy. These laws, however, are agency- or issue-specific, and do not provide an overall government requirement to use gender analysis. The laws are:
- The Women Peace and Security Act of 2017 (WPS Act) ensures that the U.S. promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict. To accomplish this, among other things, the WPS Act mandates the use of gender analysis to improve program design in four key national security and foreign policy institutions: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)
- The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018 (WEEE Act) mandates that U.S. international development-cooperation policy shall be gender-focused, and affirms women’s right to own and control land and property, to live free of violence, and to access the financial tools they need to start and grow businesses. It also requires that all international development work done by the U.S. government (with a focus on USAID) is subject to a gender analysis from planning and project design to measurement and evaluation.
- The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) references the gender analysis requirements of both the WPS Act and the WEEE Act. It also mandates the participation of women in the capacity-building activities of security-cooperation programs in several ways, including incorporating gender analysis and women, peace, and security priorities into educational and training programs, and integrating gender analysis into security sector policy, planning, and training for national security forces involved in such partnerships. With regard to post-conflict engagement on human rights in Afghanistan, the NDAA further mandates that activities use gender analysis and rigorous monitoring and evaluation methodologies.
While these laws provide guidance to departments with regard to specific activities — gender and conflict, gender and economic opportunity, and gender and development — they are far from an overarching mandate to employ gender analysis across all national security and foreign policy agencies in the U.S. government, and they have yet to be fully implemented.
What is Gender Analysis?
Gender analysis is a socioeconomic analysis of quantitative and qualitative information to identify, understand, and explain differences in access, opportunity, and impact between people because of an individual’s identity. Such an analysis includes looking at a variety of factors, including gender, sex, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age, economic status, education level, ability, and other factors.
In the context of foreign and/or development policy, a gender analysis examines the differences that exist (or do not) between women, men, girls, and boys in terms of:
- access to and control over assets, resources, education, opportunities, and services;
- access to and control over technology and the internet;
- norms on how people divide their time between paid and unpaid work;
- constraints, opportunities, and entry points for leadership roles and decision-making;
- prevalence and impact of violence; and
- potential differential impacts of development policies and programs, including unintended or negative consequences.
This type of analysis takes into account how women and men live and work, what they do to support their families and communities, and the constraints that they are under in doing so. Gender analysis should also include conclusions and recommendations to inform national security policies and interventions to 1) narrow these differences based on gender, 2) increase gender equality, and 3) improve the lives of women and girls.
While these mandates for gender analysis exist, and the White House announced the formation of the White House Gender Policy Council, it’s unclear how gender analysis will inform U.S. government policies. In order to ensure impact, we recommend the Biden-Harris administration take the following steps:
- Empower and fund the White House Gender Policy Council: While previous iterations have focused on domestic issues and departments, the new council needs to ensure a partial focus on foreign policy and, more importantly, ensure that the United States is consistent across domestic and international policies regarding women, girls, and gender equality. U.S. values at home must match the values we promote across the globe, whether it is preventing gender-based violence or providing access to comprehensive reproductive health care or economic opportunity.
- Embed gender expertise in each department at the highest level: All departments should ensure responsibility for the gender portfolio and agenda at the highest possible level by designating a full-time point person on these issues, reporting to the secretary or agency head. These gender advisors should play a critical role in effective policy and program development and should have gender expertise. While the White House Gender Policy Council is a great first step, this is not enough to develop and implement government-wide, gender-focused policies.
- Ensure gender training for all staff: All national security and foreign policy entities should create at least one entry-level course on gender analysis for staff. In addition, a gender focus should be integrated into all courses at the Foreign Service Institute, USAID University, and military schools and academies. This includes training for incoming Foreign Service officers. Additional, ongoing gender training should be available by sector, in the field, and online. This is in addition to the requirement of the WPS Act that “appropriate” personnel receive training in conflict prevention, protecting civilians, and international human rights law.
- Require gender analysis: The president should mandate gender analysis in every decision memo that comes to him and that goes to the heads of foreign policy and national security entities. The President’s Daily Brief should include a gender analysis of each issue presented. Further, gender analysis should be used to analyze the impact of government funding and resources, policy frameworks, and their implementation. There must be new ways to measure accountability regarding the participation of women in security, political, and economic processes, and to track U.S. government budget expenditures, as well as measure outcomes. Further, all relevant entities should collect sex-disaggregated data about program implementation and impact and make it available publicly.
This is a critical time for the U.S. government to focus on gender equality, as well as the rights of girls and women in the United States and around the world. As the Biden-Harris administration prioritizes issues such as COVID-19 recovery, economic relief, climate change, and racial equity, a strong White House Gender Policy Council and gender analysis will be key to ensuring the policy solutions are effective and have an impact.
This column originally appeared in Just Security.
While COVID has upended everyone’s lives, women have borne the brunt of the pandemic in so many ways. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated gender inequalities and many of women’s economic gains have come to a standstill. Women business owners and entrepreneurs have suffered more than their male colleagues, as have women workers who have absorbed 54 percent of job loss despite comprising 39 percent of the global workforce. The public sector, private sector and civil society can all act to halt these losses. This article focuses on the impact COVID has had on women entrepreneurs and policies to address these issues.
Globally, the over 250 million women entrepreneurs drive growth, creating jobs and economic opportunity. In the U.S., more than 25 percent of small businesses have closed since December. Among those still operating, many fear for their futures, with only half saying they could survive another year under current economic conditions. Women are more likely than men to own businesses in sectors hard-hit, such as restaurants, personal services, and retail. Further, women and people of color often lack the same access to capital as White men whose businesses are more established.
According to a survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, only 47 percent of American women business owners rated their business health as “good,” while 62 percent of male owners said the same. Just 49 percent of these women expect revenues to increase in early 2021, a 14 point decrease from earlier in 2020. Only 32 percent of women-owned small businesses plan to increase investments in the coming year, compared to 39 percent of their male counterparts.
Similarly, Babson College’s Diana International Research Institute conducted a series of surveys to understand the business challenges faced by women entrepreneurs during the pandemic. The surveys found 67 percent said revenue had dropped; 23 percent closed down their businesses permanently, while 26 percent reduced employees’ hours and 38 percent preferred low interest federal loans to assist their businesses.
Findings were similar globally. A Cherie Blair Foundation survey of women in entrepreneurship mentoring programs reflected that 93 percent were negatively impacted by COVID, with 43 percent reporting reduced or no access to customers. WEConnect International, a global network connecting women-owned businesses to qualified buyers, also surveyed its members. That survey found 82 percent negatively impacted by the pandemic between April and June 2020, with 84 percent reporting decreased sales/revenue. And similar to U.S. women business owners, these entrepreneurs reduced the amount of time spent on work due to increased caregiving responsibilities (25%).
Government programs to address COVID-related financial stresses did not reach firms owned by women and men equally. While women own 40 percent of U.S. businesses, just 16 percent of firms receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans are female-owned. Similarly, 24 percent of the women surveyed by WeConnect said they were unable to access needed additional resources.
But, despite these daunting statistics, entrepreneurship is up. As of December 2020, there were more than 1.5 million new business applications in the U.S., up 82 percent. Many of these businesses are being started by women, whether out of necessity or because entrepreneurship gives them more control.
Key Steps to Support Women Entrepreneurs
The Public Sector plays a unique role developing legal frameworks and setting policy.
- Because of this role, the leadership (and membership) of all government bodies and teams focused on COVID-19 response, recovery and future preparedness must be gender-balanced. This is fundamental to an economic recovery that is effective, inclusive and responsive to the needs of women and men, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds. Women’s organizations, often at the forefront of community response, must be consulted in this process.
- Since women face a disproportionate burden of caregiving, governments develop a stronger policy infrastructure for caregiving, including equitable parental leave, quality and affordable care for children and other family members, and policies promoting equal participation of men and domestic partners in unpaid care and domestic work. Government can also promote investment in the care economy, including increased quality of care jobs. The European Union, for example, directs its Member States to grant maternity leave of at least 14 weeks to self-employed women workers.
- Governments need to support closing both the gender and rural/urban digital divides by investing in needed infrastructure and enhancing digital skills development. The pandemic has accentuated the urgent need for connectivity and digital literacy for women entrepreneurs. Those lacking access to the Internet, smartphones and other vital technologies are falling further behind.
- With a tailored and gender-responsive approach, governments can also buy more goods and services from women-owned businesses through procurement of goods and services. Kenya’s public procurement policy, for example, reserves 30 percent of government contracts for women, youth and persons with disabilities.
The Private Sector can address challenges faced by women starting and running businesses in terms of access to financial and investment products as well as supply chains.
- Access to credit, including credit guarantees, is important for women entrepreneurs who are more likely to see substantially reduced revenue. Moreover, financial services companies can support COVID response and recovery by streamlining access to new financing for women entrepreneurs. The Tory Burch Foundation, in partnership with Bank of America, provides women entrepreneurs in the U.S. the opportunity to access affordable loans through community lenders.
- Like the public sector, corporations can commit to buying more goods and services from women-led businesses, and encourage the production of goods and services from the same. The private sector can identify barriers in their own systems, such as cumbersome and lengthy application processes, that prevent diversity in supply chains. For example, Walmart leverages its size and scale to source more from women-owned businesses, seeing this as the “right thing to do” and foundational to providing products and services their customers need. When buying from women-owned businesses is not an option, companies can source from companies offering fair pay and benefits for women employees.
Civil society non-profit and advocacy organizations, academia, business associations and program implementers can foster policy change through the use of research-driven and evidence-based insights and advocacy.
- Civil society can underscore the need for the private and public sectors to create a more enabling environment for women entrepreneurs. Where discriminatory laws remain, it can advocate for legal reforms regarding business ownership, access to capital, and non-discrimination. For example, WE EMPOWER, a project of the European Union, UN Women and the International Labour Organization advocated for sustainable, inclusive and equitable policies around women’s economic empowerment in the public and private sectors in G7 countries.
- Civil society organizations, business associations and academia can identify the needs of women business owners, create opportunities for sharing useful practices, and provide skills training. Women’s business networks can provide peer-to-peer learning and assist women entrepreneurs as they seek markets for their goods and services. WEConnect enhances the capabilities of women entrepreneurs to transact business globally, and has worked with the Royal Bank of Scotland to develop a supplier diversity code of conduct and concrete plan to increase gender diversity in supply chains.
Across All Sectors and initiatives, it remains important to collect and report data disaggregated by sex, age, ethnicity and race to inform policy. This intersectional data helps ensure that resources are provided to those that need it most. This data should include information about access to finance, access to networks, and ability to compete for both public and private sector procurement opportunities.
This article originally appeared on the Diana International Research Institute (DIRI) at Babson College membership platform.
President-elect Joe Biden has a history of advocating on behalf of women and girls in the United States and around the world. In 1994, then-Senator Biden co-authored and advocated for the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, landmark legislation to strengthen legal and community-based responses to domestic violence. Further, he introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, which provided a framework for the United States to address gender-based violence globally. During the campaign, the Biden/Harris ticket made strong and substantive commitments to gender equality and to the role of women as leaders. In the first 100 days, we urge the new administration to showcase this leadership at the next annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
What is CSW?
CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Established in 1946, CSW meets each March in New York, and brings together representatives of the U.N. and member governments as well as civil society to promote women’s rights. CSW is an important opportunity for governments to speak to their commitments on women’s empowerment and gender equality. At CSW, governments set out their overall approach to addressing gender gaps, outline relevant accomplishments, and make commitments to future policy initiatives. For example, in 2012, the U.S. government highlighted the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), the first comprehensive and standardized gauge to directly measure women’s empowerment and inclusion in the agricultural sector.
At each session’s conclusion, CSW issues a set of non-binding “agreed conclusions” related to pressing issues facing women and girls. Member States also submit reports tracking their progress toward the goals set out in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Current and emerging issues of women’s political, economic, and social rights are raised at CSW, and as such, that influences U.N. policy and national policies. CSW has provided a gender lens on many U.N. programs, including those focused on increasing property rights, ending sexual violence in conflict, and increasing access to education, health, and self-determination.
History of U.S. Participation with the Commission
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have used CSW as a platform to signal their approach to gender policies and programs and to announce new initiatives for women and girls. In addition, the U.S. delegation has highlighted individuals and organizations from outside government whom the administration sees as important allies in shaping those initiatives.
At the CSW annual meeting in 2010, for example, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed U.S. leadership on women’s rights and gave a major address on gender equality and women’s rights, with examples of how this approach would be incorporated into Obama administration initiatives on global health, food security, and climate change. In addition to Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, and senior White House and administration officials, the U.S. delegation included leaders from the private sector and civil society.
The Trump administration, however, utilized CSW to step back from global leadership on gender equality, which otherwise would ensure that everyone has equal opportunity and access to resources. In 2019, for example, acting Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Cherith Norman Chalet led the delegation and stated, “Let’s be clear – we are not about gender jargon. Today, here at the Commission on the Status of Women, we are about women. Women and girls.” According to news reports, during negotiations on the agreed conclusions, the U.S. sought to prevent the word “gender” being used as a substitute for “women and girls,” haggled over the definition of the word “family,” and tried to restrict wording on migration, technology, and climate change. The U.S. delegation included administration officials from the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Health and Human Services, but no list of public delegates was released.
The Biden Administration
The Biden administration should use CSW65 this March to reaffirm the importance of women’s leadership and gender equality to its foreign policy agenda. According to incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Biden has asked his national security team to “reimagine” national security to address global crises, including inequality in all forms.
As a first step, the 2020 U.S. delegation to CSW should be led by senior administration officials, such as Vice President Kamala Harris or the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (assuming she has been confirmed). The delegation should also include executive and legislative leaders, and representatives of like-minded partners from the private sector and civil society.
CSW speeches and events should be used to highlight policy or program announcements that reflect a commitment to gender equality at home and abroad. Such announcements should include the creation of a White House Council on Gender Equality, as the Biden-Harris campaign pledged to do, and the designation of key appointments across the government with responsibility for integrating a focus on gender equality into policymaking.
This includes the ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department and the senior gender coordinator at USAID. These are more than personnel announcements. These individuals spearhead and guide the work to embed and advance gender equality and women’s leadership across U.S. foreign and development policy. At the Department of State, the Office of the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues has a mandate to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls through U.S. foreign policy and leads these efforts in U.S. diplomacy, partnerships, and programs. At USAID, the senior gender coordinator provides guidance on a range of complex government programs and policies to the USAID administrator and other leadership, serves as a liaison internally between the Office of the Administrator and USAID bureaus, missions, and independent offices, and represents the agency both internally and externally regarding gender issues.
CSW is also an ideal backdrop for the United States to reaffirm Biden’s commitment to pursue ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has been ratified by 189 countries. CEDAW is often described as the international bill of rights for women, but while President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, the U.S. Senate did not ratify it. Only the United States, the Holy See, Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga have not ratified CEDAW.
In the U.S., ratification requires consideration and recommendation of the document by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and the support of two-thirds of the full U.S. Senate. The last time CEDAW’s ratification was recommended to the full Senate in 2002, then-Senator Biden chaired the SFRC. While ratification is likely an uphill battle, the landscape of women’s political and economic participation (and the U.S. Senate) has changed a great deal since 2002.
Taken together with campaign statements and recent Cabinet-level and senior staff appointments, these actions will demonstrate the U.S. government’s renewed commitment to meaningfully engage with other governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society organizations to further gender equality and women’s leadership.
It is imperative that those who make U.S. foreign policy reflect who we are as Americans. Today, most foreign policy and national security decisions are made in centralized and closely held processes. This is true across institutions. We recently reviewed the list of experts called to testify in Congress on foreign policy from 2017-2020 and found that most of them are men.
There are now discussions about what a feminist foreign policy would look like in the United States. Most recommendations have focused on the executive branch and, among other things, call for greater representation of women in the relevant institutions and decision-making processes. Yet, the legislative branch has a key role to play. As part of its constitutional responsibility, Congress holds hearings that include both government officials and outside experts.
In order to ascertain who is called upon for foreign policy expertise, we looked at 1,143 witnesses who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) in the 115th and 116th Congresses (between January 2017 and June 2020).
Overall, more men than women are called as non-government witnesses to testify about foreign policy. However, we are heartened by recent HFAC numbers outlined below and we expect that HFAC will continue to call witnesses at this rate. Further, SFRC should call at least this percentage of women to testify as experts going forward.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee: During both the 115th and 116th Congresses, the SFRC consisted of 22 men (96 percent) and one woman (4 percent). Of the 352 witnesses the committee called, 77 percent were men. Of the non-government witnesses, 75 percent of the experts were men and 25 percent were women.
House Foreign Affairs Committee: In the 115th Congress (2017-2019), the House of Representatives was controlled by the Republican Party; HFAC consisted of 38 men (81 percent) and nine women (19 percent). Since control of the House changed in January 2019, HFAC consists of 40 men (85 percent) and seven women (15 percent).
From January 2017 to June 2020, HFAC called 791 witnesses; 68 percent were men and 32 percent women. Of the non-government witnesses, 69 percent of the experts were men and 31 percent women. In the 115th Congress (2017-19), 76 percent of HFAC non-governmental witnesses were men and 24 percent were women. To date in the 116th Congress (2019-20), 58 percent of HFAC non-governmental witnesses were men and 42 percent were women.
In an effort to close this clear gap in representation, we recommend that the Senate and House leadership require a gender balance in witnesses called to testify. Informally, committee leaders should call equal numbers of male and female witnesses. At the same time, foreign policy experts who are often called to testify could pledge not to serve on a panel of three or more witnesses when no women are included.
Further, these committees must examine hearing topics with a gender lens and choose witnesses to include that point of view. Such an analysis will broaden and deepen an understanding of the policy landscape and the solutions considered. The committees must call more women to testify as foreign policy experts, on all subjects not just those related to gender. Policymakers need to understand that even “traditional” security issues, like force readiness, can be analyzed with a gender lens. Such an analysis will show how men and women are impacted differently by U.S. foreign policy interventions.
While increasing the number of women experts testifying doesn’t ensure a full gender analysis on foreign policy topics, it would be a great start to better ensure that policy is formulated and debated by a more diverse group of experts and policymakers with a broader range of expertise.
Molly Opinsky is an intern at Smash Strategies and a rising senior at Tulane University studying international relations and economics. She contributed to the research of this piece.
Analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing the role of gender in society sharply into focus. As we look at the impact of the pandemic in subjects as diverse as political leadership, violence in the home, caregiving and what constitutes “essential” work, we are confronting the role that gender plays across the world. As a point of reference, gender is the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and obligations of females and males in societies. While many gender norms have shifted, these norms still inform our actions and roles every day. These norms translate into women being viewed primarily as caregivers, while men are viewed as leaders. In most of our societies, we see family violence is a private matter, but COVID-19 is bringing these issues to the forefront as our public and private lives have become more intertwined.
We’re able to discuss gender differently during this global crisis because gender impacts are being discussed in “real time”—as they are happening—rather than analyzed months or years after the fact. Advocates and practitioners have been working to include this type of gender analysis for years but topics like foreign policy, crisis response, and trade have traditionally—and wrongly—been seen as gender blind or gender neutral. This new focus on real-time analysis of gender impacts provides us an opportunity to create lasting change.
Women’s Unseen, Essential Role in Labor
According to a recent New York Times article, one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, and nonwhite women are more likely to be doing essential jobs than anyone else. These women are core to a part of the labor force which keeps the country running and takes care of those most in need, pandemic or not. In health care, 77% of essential workers are women and in essential retail, 53% are women. According to the New York Times, 83% of those in health care jobs paying under $30,000 are women. We know that women are paid less than men, and this is more pronounced for women of color. In the U.S., women overall earn 81 cents for every dollar a white man earns, while African American, Hispanic and Native American women earn 75 cents. We must use this window to address the twin issues of pay disparity and how we value certain jobs and types of work.
Successful Women’s Leadership During Catastrophe
Women leaders like Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan are taking bold action to stem the impact of COVID-19. They are praised as “voices of reason” for their clear and effective communication, decisiveness and empathy in the face of this pandemic. We need more leaders like them. As of January 2020, women serve as heads of state in only 10 out of 152 countries (6.6%) and women serve as heads of government in 12 out of 193 countries (6.2%). Women hold about 25% of the seats in parliaments globally and 24% of those in the U.S. Congress. This is a time to rethink the way we view leadership and the traits we value in leaders. These women demonstrate that a leader should be both decisive and empathetic.
Domestic Violence Spikes Amid the Pandemic
With 90 countries in lockdown because of COVID-19, billions of people are now sheltering at home. While this has kept many people safe from the virus, it has put many women at risk of violent behavior behind closed doors. Stay-at-home orders put those in violent relationships in close proximity of their abusers, with little ability to leave home or reach out for help. In Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., sharp spikes in the incidence of domestic violence and concurrent heightened demand for emergency shelter have been raised by government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society organizations. It is critical that countries make the prevention and redress of gender-based violence a key part of national response plans.
Shelter-at-Home Highlights Need for Caregiving Infrastructure
Finally, COVID-19 has laid bare the reality that most caregiving is still done by women. Even when both parents work full-time, women do the majority of the childcare and housework. Recent calls to build an infrastructure of care in the U.S. have gone unanswered. But now, with schools closed and large numbers of family members at home, or when people with school-aged kids or dependent parents have to go to work, it is clearer how much care and household work is needed and who does that work. Before COVID-19, many families relied on others (often women) to formally or informally care for children or other dependents, clean their homes or cook meals. Now, many of those workers are unable to continue these roles. Once again, it is important that organizations and governments recognize that many workers have a full-time job outside the office.
Make no mistake, we are facing a global crisis. But, we can use this as an opportunity to reimagine a different future, one that values gender equality, women’s participation and women’s leadership. Women must be part of COVID-19 response and recovery planning and decision making. We must value work the unseen work done by women. We must use every tool possible to restructure caregiving systems and address the causes of domestic violence. We can do this, using everyone’s talent, skill and experience to inform our choices.
Like almost everything, the current coronavirus pandemic has a gender angle. Why? Because the gender roles that each of us play – the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and obligations of females and males – impact and are impacted by this crisis.
While it seems that men are more likely to die of this and other viruses because of genetics and chromosomes. But men may also be more susceptible because of gender norms that cause greater stress, higher rates of tobacco consumption and a reluctance to seek medical care. When we look back, research will give us a better picture of the outcomes for all of those affected and how it was divided by sex, gender, age and race.
At the same time, women are also bearing the brunt of much of the crisis. An April 3 U.S. Department of Labor report, shows the same unemployment rate (4 percent) for adult men and women. But, according to the National Restaurant Association, women account for 71 percent of all servers nationwide. Restaurants have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus. We will see in the coming weeks if a gender gap appears in the numbers due to the different kinds of jobs men and women hold.
The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by COVID-19, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing gender-based violence, in almost all countries. United Nations chief António Guterres put out a video statement on April 6 focused on the worldwide issue and the strains that institutions that often mitigate GBV – healthcare workers, police and support groups – are under.
Importantly, issues that are rarely part of a mainstream conversation, such as the issue of caregiving (for older family members and children) are being discussed. While women have traditionally taken care of the majority of care and other chores within the home, it has remained largely invisible. Calls from some like Anne-Marie Slaughter to build an infrastructure of care in the U.S. have gone unanswered. But now, with schools closed and large numbers of family members at home, or when people with school-aged kids or dependent parents have to go to work, it is becoming clearer how much care and household work is needed and who does that work. Once again, we will see how U.S. companies respond to the realization that many workers carry a full-time job away from the office.
COVID-19 has caused many parts of the U.S. and the world to slow down and take a look at our society. It has allowed us to examine what we value and what we have forgotten to value in our lives. After we get through the next uncertain and unhappy weeks and months, I hope the business, academic and advocacy communities, as well as individuals, take the opportunity to rebuild our institutions, like work and healthcare, in a way that is more equitable and remembers those things we valued during these dark days.
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Economic Empowerment
- Empowering Girls
- Foreign Policy
- Gender Equality
- Human Rights
- Open Government
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
- Sustainable Development Goals