Virtual Roundtable: International Trade and Women’s Rights

Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters
Bob Casey

U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, U.S. Senate

Catherine Cortez Masto

U.S. Senator from Nevada, U.S. Senate

Heather Hurlburt

Director, New Models Of Policy Change, New America

Jamille Bigio

Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Roundtable Series on Women and Foreign Policy and Women and Foreign Policy Program

BIGIO: Welcome, everyone. I hope you and your families are safe and healthy. And thank you all so much for joining us today. My name is Jamille Bigio. I’m a senior fellow with the Council’s Women and Foreign Policy Program. Our program has worked with leadings scholars for fifteen years to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives, including prosperity and stability. I want to take a moment before we begin to thank the Compton Foundation for its generous support for today’s discussion, as well as members of the Women and Foreign Policy Advisory Council. We’re thrilled to be joined today by Senator Bob Casey, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, and Heather Hurlburt to discuss why and how U.S. trade policy should protect and promote women’s rights and opportunities.

Now, there’s been extensive research identifying how closing the gap in the world—the gender gap in the workforce could add $28 trillion to global GDP, but that many women continue to face significant legal, structural, and cultural obstacles that limit their participation and restrict their potential contributions to their families, communities, and economies. We do see that more and more countries are starting to invest in removing those barriers and to fostering women’s economic participation. This is part of a growing effort to institutionalize gender equality and women’s empowerment as foreign policy priorities in the areas of diplomacy, defense, aid, and trade, which we’ll be focusing on today.

In a new CFR report, we review how nations are adopting action plans, creating funds, appointing envoys, and setting aid targets to advance gender equality through development cooperation, diplomatic, and security activities, and trade agreements. And this is something that we’re seeing, you know, since 1990, the number of trade agreements with gender-related provisions has steadily increased. We see now that seventy-four regional trade agreements reference gender. There’s now a broader Buenos Aires Declaration on trade and women’s economic empowerment that over 120 countries have endorsed. And we see more countries taking an ambitious approach of even including a dedicated chapter on gender equality and trade agreements.

In the United States, we see Congress now taking steps to ensure that U.S. trade policies enable opportunities for women, including through new legislation introduced by Senators Casey and Cortez Masto. So we’re thrilled to have the opportunity now to look more at what the U.S. government can do to address these issues.

So first question, to start with, is looking at how do women’s rights and leadership relate to international trade? So let’s start with Heather Hurlburt on this question.


HURLBURT: Thank you, Jamille. And congratulations to you and to the Council for hosting this event, and congratulations to Senators Casey and Cortez Masto on their game-changing legislation, which we’ll hear about in a little bit.

The reason to think about women’s rights and leadership in trade together is that it gives us a key to help knit together two really big questions that our nation is struggling with right now. And one is, what is international trade for? What should it be about? Why should we do it? And the other is, how do we do a better job at making our policies in all areas of public life actually match the ideas about equity, equality, and justice that we say we subscribe to? Survey after survey shows that large majorities of Americans favor the idea of international trade and economic interconnectedness, and the idea of doing well by doing good. U.S. international economic policies that allow workers in the U.S. and other societies to grow and thrive together, rather than pitting one against the other.

So you would think that there would be an enormous opportunity to figure out how to make sure that people who need to benefit from trade at home and abroad actually do. Which brings us to your question of why women, because women, of course, are a majority of the global population, but also a marginalized group. And you ran through very quickly, and I’ll add some more data, from the very basic point of women’s equality we’ve seen everywhere from the United States to Afghanistan, and everywhere in between, that the drive for women’s full participation in national life falls short where women don’t have economic power. So if you care about equality as a political or as a social matter, then you have to care about it as an economic matter.

Second, from the equally basic point of maximizing economic growth, the data are very clear that women’s economic energy and talents are a vastly under-tapped resource. OECD studies have estimated that the gender gaps that exist all over the world cost the global economy 15 percent of its GDP, which we could certainly use right now to help get us out of the recession that we’re in. The global challenge is massive. As of 2018, more than half of the world’s women in 189 economies still lived under laws that prevented them from holding all the same jobs as men. Women are less likely to be entrepreneurs, have access to capital, or even a bank account, or benefit economically from higher education and training.

They’re more likely to be unemployed, employed in the informal sector, bear inequitable burdens of unpaid care works, and subject to violence in the workplace—again, all things that we’re seeing in the U.S. right now and that we see around the world. So if what we’re doing with international trade is to build stronger economies and trading partners in ways that benefit both our businesses and workers and workers and businesses in other societies, we want to be unleashing the power of women.

And finally, we know—as you said, there’s very hard evidence that empowering women produces better results in economic, political, and social life. Whether you want to reduce your portfolio of non-performing loans, increase the durability of peace agreements, improve child health and education outcomes, getting women at the table is one of your best methods to do that. And we know that women with economic assets and an economic stake in their societies are going to have a much easier time winning a place at the table, wherever they are.

At this moment, where frankly it’s very difficult to imagine large-scale new U.S. initiatives on gender, development, or international cooperation, asking how we can work gender considerations and equal rights and opportunities into policies that we already have in place is a really innovative and creative approach that gets at both our values and our economic interests at home and abroad.

BIGIO: Great. Thank you, Heather, for laying out those issues.

Senator Casey, can you—would you like to add to this question of what we see as the relationship between women’s rights and trade, from your perspective?

CASEY: Well, Jamille, thanks very much for this opportunity. I’m honored to be with you and others in the audience from the Council on Foreign Relations. I want to thank Heather for not just the answer she just gave, but also her scholarship and expertise in this area. It’s been very helpful to me and to Livia, who works very closely with on these issues. We’re blessed to have that help. And I want to thank Audrey and Nick for getting us connected today. We’re never sure if that will work.

But let me start with some fundamental questions. And I want to leave plenty of time for Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, and great to work with on so many issues, domestic, and international, and otherwise, but especially on this issue of what more we can do in the United States to make sure that we have a trade policy that reflects our values. And I’ll start with some basic concepts on equal opportunity, and trade, and what we hope any country would want for their economic system.

Starting with the fundamentals that men and women should have equal opportunity to reach their full potential, and to be able to have the same opportunity to contribute to society. That’s, I think, self-evident. But in this context, we have to say it over and over again. And our trade policy should support those objectives, should support and affirm those values. The point on trade is simple as well. Trade touches every aspect of our economy, and the economy, I think, of any country. Third, if you want an open economic system, which most countries should see as a goal, you cannot have that same kind of open economic system if half, as Heather pointed out, half of the country’s population is denied full economic participation.

So when we consider what the United States does, specifically what the U.S. does regarding the design of trade preference programs, or in the—maybe in the broader context of trade agreements, when we do—when we engage in those kinds of activities with countries that discriminate against women, what we are doing—whether we like to admit it or not—what we are doing is we’re granting preferential market access to nations that restrict access to, again, what Heather said, half of their population. Now, that not only doesn’t make sense, but it’s particularly offensive, I think, to our values, and it’s just dead wrong. And our trade policies and our—the policies that undergird our preference programs should reflect that.

The second major point I’d mention is just some data that many of you already know, but, again, it’s worth repeating. We know that when women participate in the labor force, the economies enjoy so much greater economic growth. We’ve seen that domestically, and on the world stage. We’re told by McKinsey that when you consider the impact it could be a $12 trillion positive impact on global GDP in just ten years. That is remarkable—a remarkable assessment of what greater rights for and greater opportunities for women around the world could bring to global GDP. So that kind of $12 trillion outcome aligns with our broader development objectives, the objectives we have, but is also, again, the right thing to do. And every once in a while, there’s an alignment between the right thing to do and what makes sense for the economy and the world.

Just a couple more points about the impact. This is obviously to a large extent often a workforce question. And we know that women are disproportionately challenged in the workplace and in the workforce. Legal barriers to full and free participation in the labor market, restrictions on the ability to engage in unions, discrimination and gender-based violence and harassment, and lack of decent work and educational opportunities—all of those are self-evident. But when you itemize them, we get a better sense of what women are up against in a lot of countries. So the lack of laws in these countries that protect women’s rights, the lack of basic labor rights in those countries, and the failure to enforce even the laws that are on the books, perpetuate the risks and also harm workers everywhere. So it becomes a worker issue.

Just a side note here on some of the work that I’ve done over the years when I was a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and since that time, in the particular context of women and girls in Afghanistan—and I know that’s still the subject of real concern, because as much as we can articulate some progress on that, we know that in the negotiations or the prospects for negotiations there’s real hazard there for women and girls. I was blessed to have those opportunities, as I know Catherine has had, to be able to visit foreign countries, whether I was going to a theater of war like Afghanistan and engaging on some of these issues.

I remember meeting with a group of women parliamentarians in the—in Afghanistan. And one in particular, I remember, who had lost her—who had been elected, but prior to being elected she—I think, as I recall, her brother and her father had been murdered because of their political participation. So the risks that some women around the world take just to engage, just to try to be involved in public life is substantial. And I’ll leave a story about Saudi Arabia for later. But just a couple more points because I want to leave some time for Catherine.

I think it goes without saying that the rights of women are central to a free and fair society. They’re also central to the right to own property, or form a business, or open a bank account, or access institutions of government, or to get an education and to work. So there’s a lot that we can point to in terms of the reason why we’re having this discussion. We have the bill which I know we’ll talk about. And, in conclusion, I just think that when you consider that the fundamental nature of the rights of women, it’s fundamental in terms of both development and as well as a free and just society.

BIGIO: Thank you, Senator Casey.

Senator Cortez Masto, would you like to add on why you see women’s rights as being central to U.S. trade policy and to international trade more broadly?

CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah. Very briefly, because I think Heather and Senator Casey, they both did a very good job about addressing that. Let me just say also, Jamille, thank you so much. Thank you to everyone who’s participating today. And I think it’s just very simple. You know, we as a country—and I think Bob said this—our trade policy has to reflect our values. Not to say that we are not struggling still in this country, right, to bring equality to women and so many others. But if we are going to force this discussion, because we know that by bringing this equality—it really ends up being better economic and societal outcomes for everyone. We know it, we’ve seen the data, it’s there. We don’t have to study it anymore. It’s there.

But here’s what I do know. And at the end of the day, too many of our—of the countries that I travel to or I have met with women leaders from those countries, there’s still barriers to women to even getting into the workforce. And I don’t think that is talked enough about, right? We know it. And what I mean by that, as somebody who’s worked in domestic violence prevention for most of my career, many women are wanting to get in the workforce, but if you can’t get out of a situation in your home where there’s domestic violence, and you’re constantly being berated or held back emotionally or physically, there is no way you’re even going to be thinking about or being able to move into that workforce, right? So that’s where it starts, is how do we empower women? How do we give them the tools? How do we start opening those opportunities for women for this equality?

I think here in the United States we have to look at it from all perspectives, from not only in government and the advocacy that we do, but now there’s a perfect example with what we’re talking about today and the legislation that my colleague has put forward. And I have to give every credit to Senator Casey, who has led the discussion on this, and this act of women’s empowerment—economic empowerment trade act was his idea. And I’m so grateful that he invited me to join him. But this is another example of the various things that we should be doing, and tools, and resources that we should be taking on to bring forward this equality for women, not just in the United States but around the world.

BIGIO: Thank you.

You have all done really helpful job, important job of articulating the broad barriers that women face in engaging in the economy, including in trade, which I think, you know, you see then reflected in the bill that you’ve introduced of really looking at women’s rights and workers’ rights broadly in countries that are receiving U.S. trade preferences. So I’d love to hear more from you both about what the bill would accomplish, and why you think this matters to U.S. trade policy.

So, Senator Casey, with you first.

CASEY: Well, thanks very much. And to describe this bill as an upgrade may seem like not much of an opening line, but it is an upgrade, which I think would be transformative in terms of what broadly our trade policies are, but in particular in this case it’s a badly needed update to the—to the generalized system of preference. And those preferences have been on the books for a long time, but rarely will have—they will have received, if we pass this bill, and I think we can, the kind of upgrade that they will get.

The basic outlines of it is to incorporate maybe four basic elements. One is to have measures on the rights of women, just something as fundamental as that, to be able to articulate that in legislation, but also to flesh it out. Number two, to focus on nondiscrimination. Three, to focus on violence and harassment in the workplace. And fourth, of course, in a broader sense, to focus on human rights. We would create a new supplemental review mechanism, which would be designed by—worked on by the U.S. trade representative and the Labor Advisory Committee. This mechanism would conduct annual reviews on country-level statutes that are related to women’s rights and labor rights.

We’d establish clear guidelines and standards for countries, and also we have a stick. Sometimes it’s good to use carrots and sticks, but in the international arena sometimes a stick is the only thing that will work. This may be one of them. After five years of review, this act would give the U.S. Trade Representative the authority to reduce GSP benefits by an amount deemed appropriate if countries don’t meet these defined standards. Pretty—fairly basic. In terms of the rights granted to women, some GSP countries are doing well, when you consider some of the metrics—the World Bank metrics, or the Council on Foreign Relations. Those indices. And some countries are obviously not doing that well. So we have to make sure that we’re focused in a real way—and also, have to remind ourselves that at times we don’t do real well on those—in those rankings or those metrics.

Another aspect of the bill involves data collection. We don’t want to just gather, accumulate, and analyze data to single out countries. We’ve got to be interested in focusing on gathering that data so that we can the considerations for measurable outcomes, and therefore to bring about real change. As Livia on my staff has reminded me in this context, what gets measured gets managed. And that’s a pretty good summation of how the metrics—or, I should say, how the data can help us.

We also know that money talks. I won’t use an old Philadelphia politician’s expression for that, but money does talk even if the international arena. And we can cajole, and suggest, and push, and set a good example, all of that can be part of this. But we need a bill that imposes consequences, especially for not just bad actors, but maybe actors that just don’t want to change. Look, it’s human nature that change sometimes doesn’t come unless it’s either imposed or the incentives are so substantial that the change comes.

So we’re telling the world that we’re going to give you clear goals and clear objectives. We’re going to provide help where we can, even technical assistance. But if you don’t improve, we’re cutting your benefits, countries who want to do business with us, want to benefit from our trade and trade preferences. And when you consider the year we’re in, 2020, this is remarkable that we have to even initiate this kind of a conversation and have a piece of legislation to get this done, because it should have been done before this.

And as I said before, and I’ll it probably several more times, often the right thing to do, the best thing to do for women around the world, is perfectly aligned with economic benefits for men—(laughs)—men all over the world, here in the United States, and beyond. So the right thing to do is the economic smart thing to do.

BIGIO: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Cortez Masto, can you please add, from your perspective, how you see this bill being important for U.S. trade policy?

CORTEZ MASTO: Oh, I—as Senator Casey said—I think it is important because it really identifies the metrics and guidelines now that our trade partners have to follow, very clear. It improves the standards, identifies the—you know, creates a definition for when we’re talking about women’s rights and equal protection. So to me, the importance of this was no longer can our trade partners say, yeah, I’m doing it, but we don’t have the metrics to see what they’re doing, that they’re actually making progress. This really sets that bright line, and I think it’s important.

I will say this as well, Senator Casey and I both sit on Senate Finance together. And as he has really kind of shepherded this and spearheaded this fight, we had Ambassador Lighthizer before us. And Bob and I both asked him about this bill and is this something he would be interested in working with us on. And he was very complimentary. Hadn’t read the bill but said yes he would be willing to work with us. So I think that’s a positive. And I think that’s—from my perspective, that’s where we need to go. We need to be working with all of our colleagues, and figuring out how this makes sense, and then just really making sure that our trade partners understand there’s bright line here that they have to follow.

BIGIO: Heather can you add to that from your perspective?

HURLBURT: Sure. I’ll just add a couple of things based on how this looks from outside government. And first is just, you know, on the point—Senator Casey’s point about carrots and sticks, where the rubber really hits the road is with activists in the countries that we trade with, who are already on the ground trying to improve their own societies, and their own lives, and fight for women’s rights, and women’s access to capital, and jobs, and safety.

And one of the things that it was really interesting, even when we’re having our most vicious fights at home over trade policy, what I’ve seen both opponents and supporters of free trade agreements notice is that when the U.S. is on the ground thinking about doing an agreement and interested in conditions in a country, it’s easier for advocates in that country to make progress. That in a way, we are—we are making ourselves available to be used as a stick, or a carrot, by women and their allies fighting for more rights in these places. And so that’s I think a thing to think about in how this actually works in practice.

A couple of other things that I just want to say, is that it’s—this is a really wonderful moment to reestablish the idea of the United States international economic policy as being about something bigger than naked short-term self-interest. And this bill, and particularly the idea of bipartisan support for this bill, is a really wonderful signal of that, that we remember that our country is big enough, and wealthy enough, and sometimes even forward-looking enough to be able to think about doing well and doing good at the same time.

Very pragmatically, also we don’t want other countries and other businesses competing against American businesses and workers on the backs of women and other disadvantaged groups who aren’t getting even the decent amount of wages or treatment within their own country’s context. So there’s that very pragmatic aspect to it. And then finally, you know, a subject that’s near to Jamille’s and my heart, and a lot of the work that the Council has done in this area recently, this bill is a very practical step toward the idea of making U.S. foreign policy prioritize gender equality, and the rights of all, and use research and consultation to understand and think about how policies affect different groups differently.

And you can put a label on that. We call it feminist foreign policy, and that tends to get people very excited. Or you can just say it’s practical, pragmatic, looking at the world that we have and who is in it. But either way, this emphasis on data and making decisions based on actually what works and what doesn’t is a wonderful, pragmatic step forward that we could replicate all across trade policy and in other areas as well.

BIGIO: Thank you, Heather.

And I think, as you point to, thinking about how to replicate this across trade policy more broadly, I know that’s something that the senators are both thinking about. And would love to hear from you on that. What do you hope to accomplish more broadly on the issues of women’s rights and international trade? Senator Cortez Masto, if we could start with you.

CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah. You know, I’ve always—I think there still needs to be work—of course, always worker’s rights in general, and women. But there still is the issue, and it’s something that I have been passionate about combatting at a local and federal level, is the issue sex trafficking, labor trafficking, human trafficking. I think there’s still a lot of work that we need to tackle, not just here in the United States but internationally. This dovetails right into what we’re talking about. By empowering women, giving them opportunities to succeed, if we don’t treat them as equals then they’re never going to get there. And we see it playing out in that space. And I think there definitely—there’s a number of bills that I’ve worked on, my colleagues and I have worked on together. But there’s more work that we need to do internationally around that space.

BIGIO: Thank you. And some very important trade elements to tackling human trafficking issues, as you’ve noted.

Senator Casey, can you speak about what you hope to accomplish more broadly in pushing for women’s rights in international trade?

CASEY: Yeah, I think Catherine said it well, that this—that some of the recent engagements and debates we’ve had on trade provide an opportunity. And her work is, I think, testament to that, whether it’s on combatting sex trafficking or other horrible outcomes for women in a trade context. One of the—one of the things that we’re trying to do is to articulate a broader policy beyond even the bill, and to think about it more broadly. We’ve engaged the GAO to do some analysis for us. They’re going to do it in two stages or two rounds. But just some of the guiding principles for this would be—I won’t mention—I won’t go through all of them—but just focusing on what we expect from partners, that they’ve got to meet some basic—or, baseline, I should say, standards on the rights of women and labor rights before the United States engages in talks.

I’ve long believed, and we got much closer to this ideal or this concept ultimately in USMCA, I would say in a matter not at all partisan, that wouldn’t have happened if Democrats didn’t push as hard as they did in that engagement. But the idea that we’re going to put off to the side labor rights, or environmental mandates, or goals, or outcomes, and just get the trade deal done and hope for the best—hope that we can nibble around the edges on these issues, I think those days, I hope, are over. But we have to add to that an insistence that these countries are meeting these baseline standards. So we shouldn’t even engage. I don’t think we should even begin the conversation, being the negotiation, with countries that don’t have adequate—you know, an adequate legal framework, that don’t have enforcement provisions in place. So that’s one broad point.

We need to be focused on binding and enforceable commitments in any future trade agreement. Binding commitments as well on nondiscrimination, and violence, and harassment in the workplace. We need to focus on strong enforcement and capacity-building. And that requires—that’s going to require some dollars, putting dollars behind monitoring, and putting dollars, funding, so that we can enforce and build capacity. So lots to do. And I know that one thing Catherine has emphasized is making sure that when you’re setting up the table, so to speak, that there’s adequate representation at that table for women and civil society groups when the decision-making process starts. So we’ve got some work to do on that as well.

BIGIO: Heather, from your perspective outside of government, what would you hope to see kind of U.S. trade policy address when it comes to women’s rights?

HURLBURT: Well, I have, as you would expect coming from a think tank, a list of ideas. And some of them, I believe, the senators are already working on. So I will confess that I’m hoping to provoke some follow-up comments. To start where Senator Casey left off with this question about—(inaudible)—as viewers may or may not know, most of the labor rights and environment standards that currently exist in trade deals are in parts of the deals that are not subject to enforcement. So there’s an enormous amount that can be done to change that.

And continuing in the nonpartisan spirit, USMCA actually included much stronger sexual orientation and gender identity protections than had ever featured in the binding section of a U.S. trade deal before, but then were sort of undermined with a footnote added at the last minute. And I would love to see people thinking about what could be done, particularly Congress, to go back and indicate that it was the view of the United States that we would abide by a more expansive view of what the language in the agreement means.

Related to the point about enforcement that Senator Casey made, there’s an enormous amount that we could do to make it easier for the U.S. government or for private sector, or advocacy groups to bring cases on labor rights and environmental issues, including gender rights issues, under existing trade agreements. The way the process works right now tends to be that outside groups do investigations, bring them the executive branch. They sit for years. Maybe the administration changes. Maybe the offending factory is sold. Maybe the law is changed. And I know there are—there’s some interesting thinking on the Hill going on about that.

And there were at least two of the many Democratic candidates for president this past cycle, Beto O’Rourke and Senator Warren, who both had really interesting proposals about different ways you could revise and beef up the enforcement mechanisms, again, both inside the U.S. government, but also in partnership with nongovernmental organizations. And since Congress has the power of the purse, there’s a lot that, I think, could be done there in the near term.

Going to something that’s near and dear to Senator Cortez Masto, we had a really amazing global achievement last year in the International Labor Organization Convention on Workplace Violence. I’m not naïve enough to think that Congress is going to ratify that anytime soon, but it would be great to signal that the U.S. will abide by it, and that we will expect to see its provisions included in trade agreements or worked into our reform efforts at the World Trade Organization. So I think there’s an enormous amount on workplace violence, which is a huge problem which affects women disproportionately and which is dramatically worse during COVID, where we could do a lot more.

I’m going to brag a little bit about Jamille’s recent work, that she’s not allowed to do that as our chair, but a new report that CFR has out on what the U.S. could do around gender has what I think is a very interesting idea to create a congressional commission, drawing on the models of the 9/11 Commission, and the Carlucci and HELP Commissions, to explore what is and isn’t working in gender equality efforts. And I think the model of data-driven policymaking that this bill puts forward is a great starting place for that.

And I do—Senator Casey mentioned briefly the GAO report that his office has pushed for. And there’s a lot of reform that could be done, both through GAO and also asking the executive branch to really change the way it does or doesn’t collect data on gender on all of these issues. I mean, it reminds me always of the saying in health policy about women not just being small men. But we’re really still laboring in international policy, and international economics in particular, in the kind of small men place.

BIGIO: Well, thank you, Heather, for all of those really important and valuable ideas, and for your support of some of the ideas that we’ve put forward. And thank you, Senators, for your ideas that you’ve shared on how we can move this agenda forward.

One last question, then we’ll open it up to the audience. When it comes to talking about international trade, it’s important to talk about what this means in the United States as well. And here I would really welcome your thoughts on how you think protecting women’s rights in international trade affects workers in the United States. Senator Cortez Masto, if we can start with you.

CORTEZ MASTO: Sure. I think it’s—of course, it’s a benefit to workers in the United States. One, it shows the value. But most importantly, two, it really reflects for women and workers here that we have to provide those protections as well. And listen, we still have a ways to go in the United States. We know that, right? I mean, pay, there’s not enough diversity just in the board room here. Women are half the population, but they are not—we do not see that reflected in government or our board rooms. And the reason why I say that is because I also know that, as I sit in the room now making policy, it sure would be wonderful to have the community that we represent reflected in that board room, so that the policy represents all of us, and it affects and impacts us all equally.

And I think that’s true here. I think we’ve got to make sure that as we focus outward with our partners, and liquidity, and looking at how we open that equality in all issues with our trade partners, we got to focus it here in the United States as well.

BIGIO: Thank you, Senator. Senator Casey?

CASEY: Jamille, when I think about this issue in the context of what we do, and how it affects our workers, I guess I often think about just that one word, justice—worker justice, in this case. We’ve had a national roiling and painful but also inspirational debate recently about criminal justice, in the context of what’s happened across America in debates about policing and our justice system, and now—frankly, how racist it is, and how little we’ve done about that. But in the course of considering bills, in the course of trying to articulate what people on the street were marching and protesting and proclaiming about, I thought about that line from Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

And I think the same is true here, in the context of workers and worker rights, but also particularly in the context of what happens to women in countries around the world. I mean, if we’re going to—if we’re going to allow this to continue over time, to allow a country that we’re doing businesses with, in a sense, allow them to repress wages and, in a sense, thereby holding down the cost of production by engaging in discrimination or any other action or inaction that hurts women, that ultimately is going to harm not only women around the world but workers around the world. So I think we have to think about it in that—in that context.

So when we write rules to address either labor rights or environmental standards in trade laws, we do that precisely because we want to ensure that workers can compete on a very level playing field. How many times have you heard that phrase in the context of trade? But it seems to be ever-elusive as a—as a goal. We should also think of that level playing field with regard to women. If we’re going to say that women are going to be equal and be provided a kind of, I guess you might even call it, equal protection under trade laws, we’ve got to think about this in that—in that context.

So workers have to have the ability to—if we’re going to think about women’s rights in the context of workers’ rights, they have to be able to have freedom of association, they have to have the right to organize, bargain collectively, have to be free from forced labor, and free from discrimination itself. I think that’s fundamental. I think it was interesting, back in 2018—and I know many people have seen this but I had not until recently, missed it at the time—Christine Lagarde in a presentation at CFR, she was making a lot of the same points. But at one point she talked about the percentage of countries that have in law, in statute, and constitutionally provisions in place that are harmful to women. And that’s not an exact, verbatim quotation.

But it wasn’t 10 percent of countries. It wasn’t 40 percent of countries. It was 88 (percent). So it’s also—it’s not simply pushing these countries to do more to enact new statues, or to bring about reform by way of statutory changes, it’s dealing with the existing—you know, the lawyers would call it de jure, meaning legal impediments in place right now, constitutional or otherwise. So lots to do, and we’ve got not enough time to complete all of them. and I know we’re getting a note about a vote that started. So we’ve got some time, but I think we’re going to have to run to this vote in probably five or ten.

BIGIO: Great. Thank you, both. Heather, do you want any quick thoughts before we open to Q&A?

HURLBURT: Yeah. I will add one very quick thing, which is that what I hope is that we look back and this bill and its combination of a gender lens and data-drive policymaking, actually turns out to have been the beginning of a new way that we do international economic policy, where we get comfortable with putting multiple lenses on our policies and say: OK, who is this helping? Who is this hurting? How do we fix that? how do we make sure that the people and groups who need the most help are getting it?

And we’ve had two chances in recent memory to learn that women are particularly affected by economic shocks, to use an example. And again, I know there are some other really interesting opportunities coming up, like senators looking at trade adjustment assistance reform, where I think there are also opportunities to put gender lenses and other kinds of regional, or racial, or historical lenses. And I think that it’s going to turn out that what’s good enough for women is good enough for everybody, as was said earlier. So that’s my—that’s how I see this having a long-term positive impact for American workers.

BIGIO: Great. Thank you, all. We’ll use our last few minutes with the senators to take a few questions, hopefully.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Let’s start with Advocacy ICRW. You can introduce yourself, please.

Q: Yes. And I apologize for not having my name visible. I was restricted in webinar. My name is Lyric Thompson. I’m a senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women. And we are just delighted to endorse and support this legislation and this effort. We’re delighted, thank you for your leadership.

My question is returning to Heather’s point about this is a step forward toward a feminist foreign policy, which is something that we’re very interested in, and note that for other countries trade has really been the area where it has been, I’d say, one of the laggards on—for countries that do have feminist foreign policies. To my knowledge, gender doesn’t end up in binding sections of trade agreements. So I was grateful to Senator Casey for mentioning that thaw as on his sort of wish list for the future.

I wanted to know if you could opine a little bit more in terms of specific next steps for that. And particularly given the conversations with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, where I believe those parties did want to include a focus on gender, and now both of those countries do have feminist foreign policies. Would you be interested in thinking about what a feminist foreign policy would look like? And would that be helpful to your goals for next steps in this area? Thanks.

BIGIO: Great.

CASEY: Well, I’ll start. And no question that it would be of great interest to me, and I’m sure to Senator Cortez Masto as well, because it would inform the work that we do, it would inform the next steps that we take. And I don’t—I don’t see—I don’t see our legislation as an end, but really a beginning for a broader—not just a broader conversation, a broader engagement, but part of a broader action plan to make sure that we do have due consideration of that kind of a feminist approach to foreign policy, trade policy more broadly. But I think the—well, one thing we’re trying to do, and I know for me it’s—it’ll be helpful to have not just engagements like this but also to have the—some of the analysis that we’ve asked GAO to conduct. Yet, we’re waiting on one—the first report, which should be by the end of this year, and then they’ll take on a second part of that project.

Just to give you a sense of some of the objectives of what we’ve asked them to focus on, the first phase is three objectives. Objective number one is: How are women’s rights and interests protected and promoted through and by U.S. trade preference programs, connected to the bill. An assessment of—number two objective is an assessment of the extent agencies are monitoring and reporting on areas related to women’s rights and economic participation that are pertinent to the trade policy arena. Objective three, GAO will analyze and draw conclusions for comparison between U.S. agency policies and practices against those of multilateral entities and allow—this will allow GAO to provide suggestions and ideas for additional factors or indicators that are pertinent to women’s participation in the trade arena.

And then the second phase, which we hope to have done in the early part of next year, would be to focus on trade agreements to take a broader view on some of these issues. So obviously a lot to consider there, but we would—we would benefit greatly, I would, from that kind of scholarship and feedback.

BIGIO: Thank you. Senator Cortez Masto, do you want to add on this?

CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah, very quickly. I agree with Senator Casey that for anyone who is listening or participating, if we can’t get to a discussion today with you, my door’s open. I would absolutely welcome any white papers, or discussion around this space. I think it is so important. So many of you have done thorough research or are on the front lines. And I would welcome your counsel as we look at these issues. So please, don’t hesitate to reach out.

BIGIO: Well, and I think collectively those working on gender equality and foreign policy are truly grateful your leadership, your commitment, and that open door.

If we have time for one more quick question? Let’s see, Elizabeth Cafferty.

Q: Thanks so much. I will try to be quick. Elizabeth Cafferty, United Nations.

Thank you very much for this really interesting conversation. I apologize for the echo that is here. I wanted to sort of emphasize comments about seeing this holistically, so the points about sex trafficking and violence against women, about how violence against women inhibits women from even being able to take part in the income generation opportunities, to open bank accounts, you know, all those basic things that your legislation will hopefully encourage companies—countries—excuse me—to move forward on. I also wanted to emphasize what Heather said about this will create a great tool for women leaders and women civil society in those countries to be able to further push their governments on this, enable work on holding them to account on this as well. And I wouldn’t underemphasize that point.

And that one, I was particularly wondering if you had reached out to any parliamentarian colleagues or women’s organizations on that, or any thinking around that I would love to hear more. And of course, this is very similar to work that the U.N. is doing pursuing. And so we, of course, would be delighted to learn more about it through other channels. Thanks so much.

BIGIO: Thank you. Senator Cortez Masto, should we start with you on this, and any final thoughts?

CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah. And I know—and this is a larger discussion. So let me just say this, I welcome to have this offline with you. This is a space for me, even when I was attorney general, I actually was invited as a group from the U.S. to go to the U.N. in Switzerland and really talk about the rights of women and children. And what I realized is there’s still a lot of work to do. I also realize that the United States has not signed off on a number of protocols and policies that we probably should have. And so as a new senator here, I’m going into my fourth year, I welcome—listen, I welcome that discussion with all of you, and figure out how we turn it into something positive through the work that we can do here, that I can do in the Senate. There’s a lot to it. And happy to explore that with all of you offline. I just thank you for keeping up the fight, and thank you for your advocacy, and not forgetting that this is an issue that is so, so important, not just for this country but around the world. And so thank you.

BIGIO: Thank you so much. And Senator Casey, have reflections on this, or final thoughts?

CASEY: Yeah. Just in answer to the question, it’s a very good one. And I welcome further dialogue on it as well. In terms of our current engagement, we’ve had some good, deep, very substantial engagement with labor unions who are active on the ground a lot of different places. We have not yet engaged, at least I haven’t directly, parliamentarians, but that’s something we can consider.

BIGIO: Great. Thank you.

Heather, any final thoughts, or thoughts on this question?

HURLBURT: I mean, I guess just a small piece of evangelism, which is to say that kind of the next place for all of this to go is bringing in more and more people who didn’t necessarily get on this call because it had the word “women” or “gender” in it. And so I think that, to me, is really the next big hurdle on this to get, frankly, the senators’ really fantastic efforts in front of larger audiences and thinking even bigger about what we can do with it. So that, in a way, is my evangelical charge to all of our very distinguished and impressive audience. And just thank you, again, and congratulations to all of you for this work.

BIGIO: Wonderful. Well, please join me, everybody, in—virtually in thanking the senators, Senator Casey, Senator Cortez Masto, and Heather Hurlburt from New America, for joining us today. And thank you all. Be safe. And have a good evening. Thank you.

CASEY: Thanks very much.

CORTEZ MASTO: Thank you. Thank you so much.


Top Stories on CFR


U.S. Presidents Trump and Biden have both turned to tariffs to support local industries amid economic confrontation with China. Here’s how these taxes work and how they’ve been used historically.



The new defense treaty demonstrates a growing closeness between the two pariah states that is likely to make the rest of the world uneasy.