WASHINGTON—A White House initiative to promote women’s global empowerment has attracted strong bipartisan support and will soon become a priority of U.S. foreign policy, said President Donald Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, who leads the initiative.
“We will be introducing bipartisan legislation in the Senate to promote the empowerment, development, and prosperity of women globally,” Ivanka Trump said at an event to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Women’s Global Development Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative.
“This legislation will permanently authorize the W-GDP and establish women’s economic empowerment as a core facet of the United States foreign policy,” she said.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who joined the event, are leading the legislative effort. Both senators have been instrumental in the creation of the White House initiative.
In February 2019, President Trump launched the W-GDP program to promote women’s economic empowerment across the globe. As part of his national security strategy, the initiative aims to help women advance in the workplace, succeed as entrepreneurs, and fully and freely participate in the economy.
Ivanka Trump said that the W-GDP legislation is a “long overdue goal” as there have been continuous efforts to try to codify the role of women as a foreign policy priority since the Bush administration.
She added that Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) would introduce the companion House legislation.
50 Million Women
The W-GDP’s goal is to reach 50 million women in the developing world by 2025, through U.S. government activities, public and private sector partners, and a new fund housed and managed by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The initiative helps women gain access to vocational education, technology, and capital in developing countries. It also helps address societal and legal challenges that impede women’s economic progress.
“We have reached over 12 million women in the last year alone,” Ivanka Trump said.
The W-GDP will be housed within the State Department going forward and led by Ambassador-at-Large Kelley Currie.
Speaking at the event, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted the initiative “is a historic and tangible expression of our founding values.”
He said an Ethiopian small business owner, through the U.S. government help, has expanded her local business to 500 employees, “a true testament to the effectiveness and the goodness that comes from the W-GDP programs. If we succeed, there can be many stories like hers.”
Trump prioritized the funding for the W-GDP in his new budget proposal, doubling the support to $200 million in the fiscal year 2021.
In his budget released on Feb. 10, Trump proposed a 21 percent reduction to financial aid within the State Department and the USAID budget.
The administration wants international programs to focus more on national security priorities and combating Chinese and Russian influence. Hence, expanding the W-GDP’s fund is in line with these objectives, helping “bolster core diplomatic efforts,” according to the budget report.
Legal and Societal Barriers
Despite making up half of the world’s population, women remain one of the most underutilized resources for growing economies, according to the White House.
Research by the White House Council of Economic Advisers showed that fully addressing the legal barriers to women’s economic activity could increase annual global gross domestic product (GDP) by $7.7 trillion, or 8.3 percent. And fully eliminating restrictions to women’s employment could boost GDP by $1.5 trillion.
“Though the lives of women and girls in developing countries have improved dramatically in the last 50 years, women’s access to economic opportunities remains constrained,” according to a Brookings Institute report.
Women’s economic participation and empowerment are crucial for economic growth and poverty reduction, the report added.
However, it’s hard to tackle some of the barriers to women’s economic empowerment, the report noted, such as “soft skills gaps, social norms, informal institutions, and household dynamics.”
For example, in many underdeveloped countries, the gender gap is driven by social norms about the roles of women and men, which have proven remarkably resistant to change, the report stated.
According to a factsheet provided by the State Department, one in two women in low-income countries doesn’t have official personal identification cards as proof of legal identity.
In seven sub-Saharan countries, women can’t legally open bank accounts in the same way as men. And 36 countries don’t allow women to apply for passports.
These cultural and social barriers hinder women’s access to critical services and participation in political and economic life.
As part of the W-GDP, Trump signed in December 2019 a presidential memorandum addressing legal and societal barriers to women’s ability to sign legal documents, access to courts and administrative bodies, access to credit, and ability to own and manage property, travel freely, and work in the same jobs and sectors as men.
“In 75 countries, there is at least one law that prohibits women from owning, managing, or inheriting property. We can and we must address these discriminatory laws and regulations,” Ivanka Trump said.
She added that the governments of Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco last year amended laws to address women’s property and land rights, thanks to the W-GDP initiative.