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Why should U.S. foreign policy include a focus on women in international development?

Question submitted by Cassie Morgan, from Washington, DC, July 22, 2013

Answered by: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy


The first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), a strategic and planning blueprint for the U.S. State Department, as well as other development strategies reflect mounting evidence that empowering women is vital to international development. Many initiatives in the QDDR and similar strategies are built on the idea that empowering women allows them to make decisions that improve the well-being of their families and communities, drive social progress, and stabilize societies. For example, a 2010 study in the Lancet estimated that 4.2 million children's lives were saved between 1970 and 2009 due to increased education rates among women of reproductive age.

There is a strong economic case for investing in women. Encouraging female workforce participation and entrepreneurship helps lift women and their families out of poverty, generates innovation, and grows economies. In its World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development (2012), the World Bank reviews how "under-investing in women puts a brake on poverty reduction and limits economic and social development." The report highlights that women comprise more than 40 percent of the global workforce and estimates that empowering women can increase labor productivity up to 25 percent in some countries. The APEC Women and Economy Forum, World Economic Forum, and other global conventions also make an economic argument for investing in women.

U.S. foreign policy that focuses on girls' education, maternal and child health, female workforce and political participation, and other women's empowerment programs will accelerate progress towards international development goals. As Secretary of State John Kerry wrote on International Women's Day 2013: "No country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. This is why the United States believes gender equality is critical to our shared goals of prosperity, stability, and peace, and why investing in women and girls worldwide is critical to advancing U.S. foreign policy."