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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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.
About the Authors: Stephenie Foster is a Co-Founder and Partner at Smash Strategies, Yeva Avakyan is Associate Vice President, Gender Equality at Save the Children, and Kristin Kim Bart is Senior Director, Gender Equality, International Rescue Committee. All three are recognized experts in this field.
We recently participated on a panel marking the launch of Save the Children’s Gender Equality Hub. The Hub is a cross-functional team that has been established to oversee the development and implementation of Save the Children’s Gender Equality Strategy through collaborative, cross divisional efforts.
Each of us brought unique expertise on how to promote gender equality and empower women and girls. Collectively, our work spans the government, business, and non-profit sectors. Each sector is different, but we identified overarching lessons learned to increase the effectiveness of this work across sectors.
Why a focus on gender equality? In business and development, we ignore gender equality at our peril. While the term “gender” is often used interchangeably with “women and girls,” the terms are distinct. In short, gender equality is not just about women or girls, but about the different ways women and men experience their lives, have access to resources and take advantage of opportunities. A focus on gender broadens our perspective, so that policies and programs reflect these differential experiences and concentrates work on structural constraints to gender equality. Importantly, this helps us create systems and structures to promote equal opportunity and outcomes for everyone: women and men, boys and girls. It increases organizational effectiveness and helps ensure we use all of the talent available to solve problems and address challenges in a sustainable and durable way.
Here are some key lessons:
- We must design, and operate, for change. Words aren’t enough. An organization needs to be purposeful in how it designs a gender strategy and implements it, and use this process to be clear about what success looks like. A gender equality strategy is relevant to both an organization’s internal operating environment and implementation of its outward facing work. It guides an organization’s substantive work to ensure that the differential impact of policies and programs is taken into account. Internal gender teams or working groups can help guide the work so that knowledge is shared within the organization, and the work isn’t siloed. These linkages between organizational and programmatic work ensure better coordination and implementation. Organizationally, gender mainstreaming across functions is important, but can dilute the focus on gender and decrease accountability for real change. It’s critical to ensure that there is a functional group (or person) that only focuses on gender, and helps hold the organization accountable. This helps ensure a sharp focus on gender equality doesn’t get lost along the way.
- Organizational leadership is key. Commitment from the top sends a strong signal to others at every level of the organization that paying attention to gender is fundamental to success. But, that’s not enough. Leaders are needed at every level who are committed, and have the resources, financial and otherwise to integrate gender issues into the way the organization functions and to do their jobs. The organization’s leader should refer to gender issues or gender equality in public comments, on social media and during internal meetings throughout the year – not just around International Women’s Day in March. Attention to gender should be integrated into annual (or other) job evaluations so that everyone in the organization is held accountable for implementing a gender policy.
- A vision about how a gender focus enhances organizational effectiveness is critical. In addition to a rights-based case for a focus on women and girls — and gender — it’s also important to make a case that focusing on gender translates into more effective policies and programs. In the economic sphere, the data is clear: When women’s participation in the labor force increases, GDP rises. When women start businesses, communities flourish. When women are promoted to senior management and appointed to corporate boards, companies do better. This compelling data is important to highlight and can provide an entry point to skeptics.
- Meet people where they are. As a corollary, you will encounter organizational and individual roadblocks and skeptics. It’s important to understand that not everyone prioritizes the issue the way gender experts do. We need to listen to what people say and the concerns they raise, and respond in a way that respects their views. We won’t convince everyone (and there are some who will never be convinced), but it’s critical to make sure we use every opportunity to have this critical conversation and frame it in a way that moves people. Using data and research, and continuing to build the case for why a gendered approach matters using stories, as well as sex-disaggregated data and metrics, helps with these arguments. Sex-disaggregated data is fundamental. It examines differing needs, constraints, and opportunities for women/girls and men/boys. It provides the information to see if interventions are reducing gender disparities in access to, and control over resources, wealth, opportunities, and services, or increasing capability of women and girls to realize their rights and influence decision-making in the public sphere. You won’t know the differential impact of your programs if you don’t segregate the data.
- Develop and customize training programs that are practical and help people do their jobs more effectively. Off-the-shelf tools and toolkits aren’t the only answer, but they help practitioners across disparate offices and locations get the start they need. More specialized, hands-on workshops where gender experts help the rest of the staff see how gender can be taken into account in their day-to-day tasks helps make the issue of gender manageable, and something that staff can relate to as they do their work.
Finally, we know it’s important to go beyond gender in recognizing that men or women are not homogenous groups. They have intersecting social identities of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, social class, physical ability among others. In doing a gender analysis, taking into account these intersecting inequalities is critical for understanding lived experiences, constraints and needs of different population groups. This is a long game, but worth every step. Making the case everyday — and in every meeting, forum and conversation — matters.
Businesses ignore women — and a focus on gender — at their peril. Everyone from startup founders to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies needs to promote women’s leadership, create safe and fair workplaces, support and engage women in the community, and ensure that their products and services reflect the differential experiences, and needs, of women and men.
When women’s participation in the labor force increases, GDP rises. When women start businesses, communities flourish. When companies have more gender diversity at the top, they are 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profits.
Startups founded by women are more profitable. According to the Vinetta Project, startups founded by women are 20 percent more likely to be revenue generating and there is a 35 percent higher return on investment (ROI) when financing a company founded by women.
Founding teams that include a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent, according to First Round Capital,comparing performance data in their portfolio over a 10 year period. Women founders create companies targeted at new market niches. Many of the most innovative and promising women-led startups focus on how to manage and ease the time burdens women face. For example, in 2014, Kate Ryder founded Maven Clinic, an online platform connecting consumers with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals with appointments in real time and a starting price of $18.
I spoke recently on a panel, “Women=Change,” held during DC Startup Week, a festival of programming for founders and entrepreneurs. The standing-room session addressed how focusing on women and gender can increase profitability and sustainability as well as how to concretely build this approach into business planning and development.
Four of my key takeaways:
- Good news: investors are looking to invest more in women-led companies. In 2017, only two percent of venture funding went to women-led startups and ventures. That needs to change. But, more funds are investing in companies led by diverse founders. The Helm plans to only invest in women-led companies, and Backstage Capital announced a $36 million fund investing exclusively in companies led by black women founders.
- Building a strong ecosystem is essential. Founders and new ventures need what is called an “ecosystem”: a supportive culture, enabling policies and laws, availability of financial and human capital, venture-friendly markets for products, and a range of institutional and infrastructural supports. In order to create such an ecosystem, government, business, financial institutions, investors and mentors must work together. More good news: there are groups bringing together these key actors, such as BEACON DC, a community-led campaign to make Washington, DC the most influential and supportive city for women entrepreneurs in the United States.
- Have tough conversations early. If you have issues with people assuming your male co-founder is in charge, or one of your male colleagues takes credit for your ideas, have that uncomfortable conversation early (and often). Discuss this with your co-founder (or employee) to ensure your leadership role is acknowledged. Be clear about who will represent the firm at conferences, and meetings, and how those presentations will be structured.
- Simple actions create a more inclusive culture. Rethink your recruitment and selection process. Job descriptions can be unintentionally biased by using phrases that emphasize an aggressive business culture. Use gender neutral titles, check the use of pronouns, and emphasize your commitment to diversity of all kinds. Hire people whose skill sets complement yours. Post jobs in multiple forums. Commit to the slate of candidates you interview being gender-balanced.
If you can embed this approach into your firm’s culture from day one, you are building for growth and sustainability. These actions can take time and thought, but in the end, will save you from playing catch up.
In many discussions, the term “gender” is often used interchangeably with “women and girls.” These concepts both get at gender norms and roles, but are different. Here’s a overview of these terms and how they differ. In short, we’ve learned that gender equality is are not just about women or girls, but about the different ways women and men experience their lives, have access to resources and can take advantage of opportunities. It broadens our perspective, so that policies and programs take into account those differential experiences of women and men, and address structural constraints to gender equality. Importantly, taking gender into account also encourages programs to include men and boys – political, business and religious leaders as well as husbands, brothers and fathers – because their gender or social roles will also change.
While “sex” refers to the biological characteristics that define us as female or male, “gender” refers to the economic, political, and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female. How gender is defined varies among cultures and changes over time.
Gender equality is the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal talents and abilities and make life choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, or prejudices. It does not mean that women and men are the same, but that their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities should not depend on whether they are born male or female.
The role of women and the idea of “gender equality” in development has changed over time. For a very long time, development programs did not take sex or gender into account. Commodities or services, such as food, healthcare or education, were provided by richer countries to developing ones without attention paid to the characteristics of the beneficiaries.
A few decades ago, discussions and program implementers began to take into account that women might have different needs than men and/or might prioritize assistance in a different way. An example — for a long time rice was distributed around the world in 50 lb bags. While most men could haul the bags onto their backs and carry them home, the weight made collection of this food almost impossible for women. A simple change, made at women’s request, made the bags of rice lighter so that women could transport them.
Next, development organizations began to consider how men and women benefited from their programs. For instance, asking if both boys and girls were able to attend school, and what the barriers might be if there weren’t equal attendance rates. Or, if an agriculture program was teaching how to improve crop yields, were both male and female farmers benefiting from that knowledge. If all of the intended beneficiaries were not being reached or the outcomes were not being reached as planned, implementers started asking questions.
In the last ten years, technical experts have moved from a focus on women to gender. What was acknowledged was that in order to “empower” women, their social or gender roles had to change. For example, if the aim of a program is to create more women business owners in order to increase her family’s income and move them out of poverty, then the program cannot focus solely on the female entrepreneurs-to-be. Training women about how to start and run a business is key, no doubt, but the program must also take into account the local laws that prevent women from having access to credit, and, very importantly, how her income will create a new balance of power within her home. We now know that when a woman, a wife, earns her own income it can change the gender roles of both the woman and her husband. If a women begins contributing to family income (when she didn’t before), this can make her husband feel shame that he cannot solely support his family and lead to an increase in violence against her. And the same is true when women learn more about how their bodies function, play a greater role in politics or even stay in school a few more years.
The United States government, particularly the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has kept abreast of this growing field of gender and development just as it has with other technical fields, gaining new knowledge and improving its programs to spend U.S. taxpayer dollars more efficiently as it ends extreme poverty. USAID collaborates with other governments, private companies and implementing partners to know more and do better for women around the world.
While the gap between the number of boys and girls in primary school has been eliminated, the number of women in elected office has increased and the number of women in the formal workforce is higher than it has ever been, now is a good time to remind ourselves about the importance of these issues, how we arrived at this moment and the need to continue this critical work.
Within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. For Goal 5, there are nine targets. In this blog post, we will focus on SDG5 Target 4, which focuses on the value of unpaid care and domestic work and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family.
The prevalence and invisibility of unpaid care work in the U.S. and abroad makes acknowledging and tracking data critical to developing policy solutions. UN Women’s “Progress of the World’s Women Report” acknowledges that “Domestic work makes all other work possible”—and this is true regardless of whether that work comes from domestic workers or unpaid family caregivers. The labor of domestic workers is critical to the function and growth of national and global economies.” (Source)
Unpaid care and domestic work are barriers to reaching gender equality as they reinforce discriminatory gender stereotypes that force women to stay in the home and limits participation in the public sphere, (Source) and contributes to the persistent gender gaps in labor force participation, activity rates, and wages. In terms of numbers, women comprise the majority of domestic workers, accounting for 80 percent of all workers in the sector globally; which means that approximately 55 million women participate in domestic work. (Source) There are at least two million domestic workers in the United States, and most of them are African American or immigrant women.
Around the world, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men. (Source) According to a 2014 OECD study, women and men in the United States also spend their time differently. While men spent an average of 19 minutes per day caring for a family member, women spent 41 minutes. While men spent an average of 82 minutes per day doing “routine housework”, women spent 126 minutes. (Source)
One way to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work is by creating more public services that can take care of the family care and household duties that are now disproportionately done by women. The United States remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Twenty-five years ago President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which included a provision giving eligible workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child. (Source) Because of the lack of support at the federal level, states and the private sector are now starting to address the issue. As of May 2018, twenty-one states had pending legislation for paid leave laws, in addition to the five states and District of Columbia that have paid family leave laws already. (Source)
Further, the U.S. Government also does not provide for child care, and quality child care is often very expensive. In a 2016 report, the cost of infant child care in 49 states plus the District of Columbia exceeded seven percent of the state median income for a two-parent family. (Source) Daycare is also often hard to find. A report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), found that 51 percent of the population in 22 states resides in “childcare deserts.” In those neighborhoods, the number of children under age five outnumber available daycare slots more than three to one. (Source)
Another way to reach this target of Goal 5 is through the provision of infrastructure and social protection and the prevention of abuse of those who work in the care sector. Of the 67 million domestic workers worldwide, 60 million are excluded from social security coverage. In the U.S., while the infrastructure for domestic work, such as access to clean water and availability of household appliances, generally exists, laws protecting domestic workers are often not enforced, or domestic workers are excluded from certain legal protections. (Source) As a result, beginning with New York in 2010, eight U.S. states (Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Nevada, Oregon and California and New York) have passed Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which protect workers from racial discrimination and sexual harassment, provides for one day off a week, and overtime and paid leave. Other states have yet to catch up. (Source)
Finally, in order to reach this SDG target, governments can actively promote shared responsibility for care and domestic work. From what I can find, the U.S. government has never had a campaign to increase the burden sharing for unpaid care and domestic responsibilities. There was a three- year “Make it Work” campaign centered around the 2016 U.S. elections that asked candidates to focus on child care, pre-Kindergarten and elder care; pay transparency and the fight for a higher, national minimum wage; as well as paid family and medical leave, earned sick days, fair scheduling, and workplace fairness for pregnant women. Family Values@Work is a network of coalitions in 21 states working to pass policies that value families at work such as paid sick days and affordable family leave. These policies are not only good for individual women and families, but provide support on a policy level for a more equitable division of labor and family responsibility.
Every day and in every way, we depend on technology. It helps us access information and each other, and organize our business and personal lives. But, there are increasing concerns about technology: how it impacts privacy; how the designers of tech tools (spoiler alert: mostly white men) embed gender and other norms in what they design; and, how technology perpetuates offensive and dangerous offline behavior.
Certainly, there is differential access to the internet. Women globally have less access than men, and even in the U.S., where overall internet access rates are fairly equal, women with fewer resources were 50 percent less likely than men to be online, and 30–50 percent less likely to use the internet for economic and political empowerment.
Technology is a powerful connector. 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 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. Women like these. 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. For example, a recent article documented that “smart speakers” like Alexa and Home have a hard time understanding commands by those who speak English with an accent.
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 Reviewsupports 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 U.S., 80 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs are in engineering and computer science, but women comprise only 12 percent of the engineering and 26 percent of the computing workforce.
How can we make progress? Here are three steps:
- Be purposeful in efforts to attract women: In the U.S., women earn about 20 percent of engineering degrees and 16 percent of computer science degrees. Key universities are increasing these numbers. According to a 2015 federal study, women earned over 40 percent of engineering degrees at schools like Franklin Olin, MIT, Yale, Howard, George Washington, Harvey Mudd, Brown, and Southern Methodist University. At Harvey Mudd, the percentage of women graduating with degrees in computer science increased from 12 percent to approximately 40 percent in five years. The school revised its introductory computing course and split it into two levels divided by experience, provided research opportunities for undergraduates after freshman year, and exposed young women students to the field by attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference.
- If you can see it, you can be it: Across the globe, STEM camps bring young women together to learn and to encourage interest in STEM careers. In the U.S., young women engineers have started a social media campaign #ilooklikeanengineer to change gender stereotypes about what an engineer should look like. Helping women succeed in STEM jobs is equally important. The U.S. State Department’s TechWomen program supports women from over 20 countries, and pairs them with an American mentor at companies across Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Promote STEM’s role in problem solving: When schools promote the impact that STEM jobs can have on solving problems, women are more attracted to those fields of study. Technology is more than a gadget; it’s a tool to solve pressing issues. To this end, Google Cloud’s Dr. Fei-Fei Li co-founded AI4All, an organization to cultivate diversity in the AI field through education, mentorship, and early exposure to its potential for social good.
Collectively, technology needs to help all of us. Taking these steps gets us closer to that goal.
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Economic Empowerment
- Empowering Girls
- Foreign Policy
- Gender Equality
- Human Rights
- Open Government
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
- Sustainable Development Goals