Our Hope for U.S. Leadership on Global Gender Equality

Our Hope for U.S. Leadership on Global Gender Equality

Publication info

Michelle Nunn and Dr. Sarah Degnan Kambou

Originally published on Facebook and Medium

Millions of women and men gathered in Washington, D.C. and cities around the world over the three-day Inauguration weekend to show their support for human rights and freedoms here and abroad. Now days later, President Trump has issued an executive order reinstating the Mexico City Policy, limiting access to life-saving health care for women abroad.

Prior to the Inauguration, the Trump transition team released a statement saying the new Administration would “ensure that the rights of women across the world are valued and protected” while “finding ways of improving” existing programs and promoting women’s economic and political participation. In light of this statement, we urge President Trump to continue the nation’s long-standing, bipartisan support of women and girls around the world.

Continued U.S. leadership in human rights and humanitarian assistance efforts that include health care, economic development and gender equity are critical because investments in women and girls pay big dividends – for individuals and for nations, including the United States. It is intimately important to women like Salamatou.

When she was 13, Salamatou Dagnogo of the West African nation of Côte d’Ivoire was forced to marry. By 20, she had five children with her 60-year-old husband, who regularly abused her. “I had one dress, which I washed every night,” she says. “I didn't know how to write and I couldn’t go to school. I had no life and no future.”

That changed when someone knocked on Salamatou’s door and invited her to join a CARE community micro-savings program. Salamatou used her first $2 loan to buy salt. She paid it back within two weeks, took out another loan and bought more. Everything sold quickly in the local market and soon Salamatou was a salt wholesaler.

From this small $2 loan, she was able to build a thriving business, buy her own home, send her children to school and help her son start his own taxi service. “I’ve found a good place now,” Salamatou says. “My story is the same for lots of women. We help ourselves and we change our situation.”

Research substantiates Salamatou’s experience: The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has demonstrated that fostering economic empowerment keeps girls in school and fosters an enabling policy and legal environment. Empowering girls with training on their rights and how to exercise them is not only effective in ending child marriage, but also in advancing larger social and economic development.

Moreover, McKinsey Global Institute studies found that a “full potential” scenario, in which women and men play identical roles in labor markets could add $28 trillion, or 26 percent, to the global annual GDP by 2025.

Knowing that women’s empowerment and gender equality are associated with peace and stability in society, both Republican and Democratic administrations have seen the wisdom of investing significant resources and diplomatic capital in women’s health, economic opportunity, rights and education.

There has been a growing focus on the rights of women and girls as fundamental to our diplomacy and foreign policy. In 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act, which invests in women’s health and education. His emergency AIDS relief initiative, PEPFAR, recognized the particular vulnerability of women to HIV and their essential role in prevention.

Knowing that “countries with more girls in secondary school tend to have lower maternal and infant mortality rates, lower HIV/AIDS and better child nutrition,” President Obama launched Let Girls Learn in 2015.

But there is a great deal more to do. United Nations’ data show that a girl under 15 gets married every seven seconds. Today 130 million girls are out of school.

The Trump Administration should expand these kinds of investments. Imagine the possibilities if, for instance, the U.S. government and private sector set a goal to equip 125 million more women with savings programs like the one that changed Salamatou’s future. A program like this could generate $12 billion in savings and allow 24 million additional children access to education.

With the Inauguration and Women’s March on Washington behind us, leaders in government, the private sector, citizen advocates and representatives of humanitarian, faith-based and nonprofit organizations must continue working together to ensure that U.S. global investments in women and girls grow and achieve their intended impact.

President Trump, we urge you to stand by your statement that you will “…ensure the rights of women across the world are valued and protected.” We are deeply concerned that your reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy will have exactly the opposite effect. Evidence shows that blocking health services and counseling to vulnerable women in countries affected by this policy puts them at increased risk and has dangerous and even deadly consequences for women, families and communities all over the world.

We hope you will reconsider the scope of your order and invite you to join our efforts to support girls, women and families who are living in poverty. Making gender equality and women’s empowerment central to your efforts to promote America’s prosperity and security around the world is the smart thing to do.

Dr. Sarah Degnan Kambou is the president of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

Salamatou Dagnogo with CARE CEO Michelle Nunn in 2016. Forced to marry at 13, Salamatou's life was transformed when she joined a women's group that gave her a microloan to start her own business.