Advancing Our Commitment to Gender Equality

July 3, 2014
Students Participate in a Classroom Activity in Rishikesh, India

The Obama Administration has made advancing the status of women and girls a central element of U.S. foreign policy, development, and national security objectives.  

We’ve made great progress.  From expanding gender training and tools for diplomats and civil service, to integrating a gender perspective into our strategies, budgets, and evaluation indicators, we’ve been making changes to ensure advancing the status of women and girls becomes part of our daily work.  We’ve helped bolster women’s participation in civil society and their leadership opportunities in local and national governments.  We’ve encouraged other governments to unleash the potential of women’s economic participation to ensure prosperity for all members of society.  We’ve worked with partners globally to draw upon the full contributions of women in all aspects of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building. The United States is also a strong supporter of a stand-alone goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which presents a significant opportunity for the global community.

But we can always do more.  Gender inequality, discrimination, and violence have been unacceptable realities in far too many places around the world. This is why this week Secretary Kerry released additional policy guidance directing all bureaus and embassies to continue to place women and girls front and center -- by boosting women’s economic and political participation and engagement in building peace and security, addressing the pervasive problem of gender-based violence, and investing in the future of adolescent girls.  It also directs us to continue working internally to expand the tools, training, and systems the Department needs to succeed in these efforts. 

I want to highlight two critical areas on which Secretary Kerry would like us to focus.  First is the prevention and response to gender-based violence.  I was privileged to work on the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally while serving at the White House, and was proud to stand with the Secretary in London last week as he called for increased accountability and an end to impunity at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.  Gender-based violence remains pervasive in both developed and developing countries, and during times of both peace and conflict, and the United States supports comprehensive and multi-sector efforts to address it in all its forms.  With Secretary Kerry’s guidance, we will continue to pursue the diplomatic and programmatic efforts necessary to protect women and girls from violence.

Second, we will expand our efforts to empower adolescent girls.  As recent events in Nigeria have demonstrated, girls’ rights to lead full, safe, and productive lives are under attack.  Globally, girls face particular challenges, including poorer educational outcomes; gender-based violence, and harmful traditional practices like early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting.  Too often they face a higher vulnerability to disease and infections such as HIV and are forced to take on a disproportionate share of household and unpaid work.  When girls are educated, healthy, and safe from violence, they can contribute to a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.  Intensifying our efforts to help girls worldwide realize their potential is a critical investment in our future.

With this new policy guidance, Secretary Kerry has renewed and strengthened our commitment to ensuring that gender integration and the advancement of women and girls remain integral to our diplomatic, development, and security objectives.  As he said in London, “Without the help and guidance of all members of society -- men, women, youth -- we will not be able to achieve the lasting peace and security that all people deserve and yearn for.”  Working together, we can make a difference and build momentum to advance gender equality and safeguard human dignity.

About the Author: Catherine Russell serves as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. You can follow Ambassador Russell on Twitter @S_GWI.

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