Voices from the Field features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This article is authored by Ambassador Cathy Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.
On Tuesday, the White House Council on Women and Girls will convene the first-ever United State of Women summit in Washington, DC. The event will celebrate the progress we’ve made to advance gender equality both here at home and abroad—and, importantly, it will chart a course for the work that remains.
This event easily could have focused solely on domestic issues. But it doesn’t—for two very important reasons.
First, we can go farther if we go together. It takes collaboration and commitment, not just across communities but across countries, to address the range of challenges facing women and girls around the world. And many of those challenges are shared.
I’ve traveled to some thirty countries in my job, and seen first-hand that the issues on the agenda this Tuesday—from gender-based violence to economic and leadership opportunities for women—aren’t just American issues. They’re global issues.
Second, the United States has learned a tremendous amount about women’s empowerment in our 240 years, including in the last eight years of this Administration.
Obviously, we don’t have all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t need a United State of Women. That said, the United States has worked hard to expand opportunities for women in the economy and has changed the way our country views violence against women. We’ve seen the benefits that come from women and girls who are empowered to reach their full potential. We’ve seen that, as President Obama says, when women succeed, the United States succeeds.
Under the leadership of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Kerry, the State Department shares these experiences with other countries. We ask governments, leaders, and civil society organizations to partner with us to support women and girls around the world.
In the past seven years, we’ve built the foundation to not only protect women and girls but promote their full participation through three important policy initiatives:
The National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security is our blueprint for making sure women are equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace. In communities and countries dealing with conflict, we’re working so that women are on the team and at the table when decisions are made about peace, security, and their future.
The U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence lays out goals and actions for government-wide efforts to address what is truly a global pandemic: an estimated one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. From domestic violence and rape in conflict to female genital mutilation/cutting and early and forced marriage, we’re taking a comprehensive approach to combat gender-based violence in all its forms.
The U.S. Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls was launched by Secretary Kerry just a few months ago. It reflects our growing understanding that adolescence is a critical moment in time for young women. To empower women, we need to invest in girls.
These strategies are proof that the United States understands how the barriers facing women and girls relate to one another—and that we’re committed to breaking them down.
Building on these policies, our diplomats have pushed forward on gender equality around the world. We’ve supported women in Sudan and South Sudan to be a part of peace negotiations. We’ve partnered with the private sector to help women fully participate in Pakistan’s economy. We’ve renovated a run-down shelter for domestic violence survivors in Georgia and worked with experts on how to best respond to family violence in China. We’ve signed on to be a part of Let Girls Learn— a presidential initiative championed by First Lady Michelle Obama—and partnered with USAID to address the range of challenges facing adolescent girls in Malawi and Tanzania.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and I’m confident that it will continue long after this administration ends. U.S. leadership makes a powerful difference for women and girls around the world. And our efforts to advance gender equality advance our big-picture foreign policy goals of peace, security, and prosperity.
As the United State of Women will make clear, we have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. But since day one of this administration, we’ve worked hard to advance these issues at home and abroad—and the progress we’ve made is worth celebrating.
Learn more about the United State of Women summit on June 14th: