Why it's time to put women's issues at center of foreign policy
May 16th, 2014
01:16 PM ET

Why it's time to put women's issues at center of foreign policy

By Janet Fleischman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Janet Fleischman is a senior associate at the CSIS Global Health Policy Center. You can follow them @CSIS. The views expressed are her own.

The international outrage over Boko Haram’s abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria has grown since the story first hit the news; mothers in Nigeria took action and celebrities from Angelina Jolie to First Lady Michelle Obama have made their voices heard on the issue. With mainstream attention finally focused on why the education, health, and empowerment of women and girls matters to Americans, it is time for the Obama administration to reinforce its commitment to these issues and elevate them as central to U.S. foreign policy.

President Obama’s first term got off to a promising start for global women’s issues.  Within months of taking office, the administration launched unprecedented initiatives focused on women, girls, and gender equality.  This was reflected in important and concrete ways: policies designed to prevent gender-based violence were promulgated across U.S. government agencies; U.S. development projects were required to undertake gender analyses as part of the initial program design; and women’s engagement and protection during crisis situations were made part of peace and security deliberations.

These actions were based on a growing body of evidence demonstrating that investments focused on women and girls – maternal health services, voluntary family planning, access to HIV services, education for girls, economic empowerment, preventing and responding to gender-based violence – not only are critical to improving health outcomes, but also produce substantial positive returns in poverty reduction, development, and economic growth. That is why, even in a difficult budgetary environment, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has often said: “Investing in women and girls is not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.”

Yet the administration’s early momentum has begun to slow. Clinton’s departure from the State Department meant that the personal passion she brought to issues related to women and girls was no longer present in Obama’s second term.  Added to this was the challenge of implementation – it was always going to be difficult to move these bold ideas into practice – and without a champion to push for progress, it is even harder. The polarized political climate in Washington made bipartisan consensus increasingly elusive and undermined the administration’s enthusiasm to push this agenda. Meanwhile, foreign crises in Syria and Ukraine, as well as in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, sapped the administration’s focus from its earlier principles and goals for women and girls.

The tragedy of the Nigerian schoolgirls should bring us back to first principles. Promoting gender equality and advancing the status of all women and girls around the world remains one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time – one that is vital to achieving our overall foreign policy objectives.  These are the president’s own words, from the January 2013 Presidential Memorandum on Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls Globally.

The current tragedy in Nigeria is only one example of why these issues matter to the United States.  Around the world there are countless examples of how abuses of women’s and girls’ health and empowerment directly affect U.S. economic, security, and humanitarian interests. Let’s not forget the Taliban’s attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan designed to instill fear and prevent girls from pursuing an education. Such acts serve to destabilize the region. Or the violence against women and girls in South Africa that increases their risk of HIV/AIDS, weakening one of the United States' most important partners in Africa and undermining the huge U.S. investments in AIDS programs. Or the abuses against women and girls in Syria that contribute to the flood of refugees into neighboring countries.

To achieve successful outcomes in global health, economic development, and international security, the administration and Congress should take strong and concerted action on global women’s issues, building on the enabling policy environment from the first term. Such action requires creating and sustaining high-level and bipartisan U.S. leadership on women’s global health and gender equality; translating U.S. policies on global women’s issues into program implementation with adequate funding; and elevating a focus on women and girls in all U.S. health, development, and security programs. That means using all opportunities – including putting women and girls on the agenda of the upcoming African Leaders Summit at the White House in early August – to make the critically important issues of women’s and girls’ health and empowerment a political priority.

#BringBackOurGirls is first and foremost about the horrendous abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls.  But the international outrage that it has sparked reflects a broader and longer term imperative for the United States. In the words of First Lady Michelle Obama, "What happened in Nigeria was not an isolated incident. It's a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions.”

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Topics: Women

soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. marc

    We should only go in under an international task force.

    May 16, 2014 at 3:54 pm |
    • John Smith

      America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
      In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
      During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
      In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
      Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

      May 16, 2014 at 9:14 pm |
    • john03063

      All of these women bemoaning the Nigerian problem! All they are doing is complaining. What they're really saying is that they want men to do something. But you can bet that they will take credit (I'm not sure what for) if the girls are found. I guess they figure that lots of tweets and social discussion will help. Women want equality, so let them take up arms and search the Nigerian jungle....Women – you want to be equal, so maybe you should do something!!!

      May 16, 2014 at 11:18 pm |
      • Jeff Roem

        Get in the kitchen and make me a sammy, john. Chop chop.

        May 17, 2014 at 12:53 am |
  2. Profile Of The Typical Republican Voter

    1. Thinks they themselves are rich.
    2. Makes less than $100,000/yr.
    3. Has a net worth less than $200,000.
    4. Primary residence is on wheels or blocks.
    5. Still has a mortgage on that residence.
    6. Thinks republicans are conservatives.
    7. Benefits directly from the ACA but really, really hates Obamacare.
    8. Thinks they are religious but they should read the book, "How NOT To Be A Republican" (a.k.a. The Bible).
    9. Probably retired and depending on SS and Medicare or will be the person most likely to need SS and Medicare.
    10. Has a government job or job that is funded/subsidized by the government.
    11. Racist.
    12. Likes to vote against their own interests.
    13. Actually thinks republicans represent THEM!!
    14. Too stupid to understand this post.

    May 16, 2014 at 3:57 pm |
    • JDog96

      Profile of the Typical Democrat Voter
      1. Thinks the rest of the USA owes them
      2. Makes money from Government Handouts or a cushy Government job that they don't have to work at.
      3. Has a Net Worth that includes a free Obama Phone
      4. Primary residence is in foreclosure
      5. Doesn't believe they should have to pay for the house because they will never get a fair deal from the bank, and the bank expects to be paid back.
      6. Thinks Democrats are NOT Liberals
      7. Wants Obamacare because he or she will benefit without paying for any of it
      8. Are Athiest Christian Haters, but will not criticize Islam or Muslims
      9. Probably receiving a Government Check of some kind
      10. See your #10
      11. Intolerant of differing opinions
      12. Likes to think of themselves as superior
      13. Actually thinks Democrats represent THEM!
      14. Too stupid to think a Republican can understand his or her posts

      May 16, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
      • Epic fail

        Epic fail come back. You're poor. So why do you vote against your own interests? The democrats sure DO represent the poor way more than any republican ever has. You will need SS and Medicare (if you're not already on it). Why vote for the GOP that want to get rid of SS and Medicare?

        May 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm |
      • Scientists first believed

        Scientists first believed they had successfully cloned a Palin voter. But upon further investigation, it was just an amoeba.

        May 17, 2014 at 5:25 pm |
      • wake up America

        both these profiles are highly entertaining! how about we flush our support for BOTH political parties down the toilet, and then maybe we can start to think for ourselves again? if all our politicians do is argue in circles and raise our taxes, then this behavior is very similar to what the politicians in Rome were doing around 400-475 AD. FYI. Rome collapsed into a burning heap of rubble in 476 AD......... 🙁

        May 18, 2014 at 2:31 am |
  3. chri§§y

    Todays Quirky News: Researchers found that the average American thinks they're smarter than the average American. Oh, those researchers think they're SO SMART, huh? See posts 2 and 3!

    May 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
  4. chri§§y

    Agreed @ Epic fail! And whats troubling to me about the social security and medicare programs is those same people wanting to discontinue do not nor never will, have to pay into it even! Yet they feel its ok to borrow from those funds whenever! That money does NOT belong to the government, contrary to their belief!

    May 16, 2014 at 5:12 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©a

      @ Epic Fail:
      Strongly Disagree

      May 17, 2014 at 11:59 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©a

        I wonder how many young Americans know that, once upon a time, Republicans and Democrats were not forced into polarized positions by the need for simplistic statements for voters.

        May 17, 2014 at 12:41 pm |
  5. Judith Winkler

    I could not agree with Janet Fleischman more. Frontline health workers–the human face of the health system give people a chance for a healthy life and health is basic to all progress, personal, community, country and world. Frontline health workers are predominantly women and unless we take steps to make health work a job that works for women, the health workplace a decent safe place to work, the education system one that prepares girls and women for this valuable work, we will lose them-and in that, we all lose.

    My recent post Women on teh Front Lines of Care: Seven Ways to Show we Care on the VITAL blog makes some suggestions. http://www.intrahealth.org/blog/women-front-lines-care-seven-ways-show-we-care Women are not men. their lives are different. If we work with that simple concept in mind and ask women what would make a difference for them and put the funding and political will behind it, we show frontline health workers we care and make health and economic wellbeing possible for many more.

    May 16, 2014 at 10:15 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©a

      My primary care physician is a woman.
      The most important specialist I see is a woman.
      They compete very well with male doctors, without special requests.

      May 17, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
  6. chri§§y

    @ john 03063 Did you just awaken from a deep coma? Women have been part of the military for quite some time now! Also there are many female police officers these days as well! The fact that this article is based on is the gender inequality in OTHER countries!!!!

    May 17, 2014 at 12:45 am |
    • sixthromeo

      They aren't really, women have yet to serve in combat positions. Any that were chosen for their abilities and desires all failed in training. This isn't going to happen for quite a while yet.

      May 17, 2014 at 10:13 pm |
      • rockswiki

        uhhhh no. they were allowed to go into combat positions a whole year ago

        May 21, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
  7. Jeff Roem

    What about the boys? Doesn't anybody care about boys?

    May 17, 2014 at 12:55 am |
  8. GhengisJohn

    Ive always wondered what is it that women get out of following the Islamic religion? I have heard that men get to goto heaven and get like 99 virgins or something like that but whats the payoff for a woman? Do they get to be the virgins or do they get 99 d

    May 17, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
  9. GhengisJohn

    bleh or do they get 99 guys or what? I ask cause im curious not trying to be offencive

    May 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  10. chri§§y

    Lol and once upon a time there was no voting either...point? Also how can you strongly disagree with epic fails point? You wouldnt have a problem with the government taking away YOUR retirement money that YOU worked hard for and paid INTO your whole working life???? Thats just crazy and i dont believe you! In fact i dont believe you are the REAL Joey either!

    May 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
  11. sixthromeo

    This is not a women's issue, this is an issue where a political system that masquerades as a religion requires and demands human sacrifice to the egos of the men who run the political system. Islam needs to be outlawed the world over. It was done with the Thuggee, even England exiled the Puritans to the penal colonies because of their heinous crimes; eventually King George even had to step in the colonies to stop the Puritans from their wanton massacre of anyone that was not their religion in their little penal colony. Islam must be outlawed, stopped, hunted down and destroyed.

    May 17, 2014 at 10:11 pm |
    • wake up America

      sounds like you want to exterminate all the 2 billion Muslims on planet earth! are you from another planet? not very romantic of you, my dear romeo! Hitler exterminated 9 million Jews, and will be hated, reviled and judged for that heinous crime forever. it would be like saying: all 2 billion Christians on planet earth must be exterminated. quite ridiculous, don't you think? or maybe you are just a scared little boy, typing rubbish from his parent's basement?

      May 18, 2014 at 2:23 am |
  12. chri§§y

    @ sixthromeo, im assuming your last post was in response to my post about women in the military, am i correct? Youre correct women have yet to given combat positions. But...i did NOT say they had! I said they serve in the military.

    May 17, 2014 at 10:40 pm |
  13. USAPeasant

    This is a good article and a good idea for foreign policy approach. Now we have to accept that most the world will never see women's rights the way America does, that's just the harsh reality. However, there are many things America can be influential on to ease the plight of the women in the world. Good stuff that even the most misogynist of societies would be wise to embrace like basic education for women, better and fair payment to women, increasing maternal and feminine healthcare, and most importantly ending the abhorrent and evil female slave trade.

    Apart from those thoughts, very excellent article. Nothing else needed to say.

    May 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
  14. Abdallah Bin Faruqi

    Boko Haram is following Islam in its most pure form.
    Most Muslims will agree this pure form is not for them but will never say it aloud or admit it.
    We must leave alone people and there religion because it is up to Allah to sort this out.
    Islam means peace and Islam is the greatest religion in the universe.
    "One day every one will be Muslim" – the Holy Koran.

    May 19, 2014 at 5:09 pm |
  15. chri§§y

    @ Abdallah, while i do agree we must leave people alone and their religion, and respect individuals right to CHOOSE their religion...that is the only part of your post i agree with!

    May 19, 2014 at 5:32 pm |
  16. Keeegan Nunley

    The world shouldn't tolerate terrorism one bit. Fight fire with fire, the punishment should be as gruesome as the crime committed. this is that middle eastern b#@l S&#t that needs to stay in the middle east, for the basket case it is. exception being the Emirates.
    Africa has enough to deal with and doesn't have time for Islamic extreme meat heads. Sorry to sound ignorant, and I understand the general Muslim population are just living life. but I am not impressed with Muslim tolerance of the surrounding would. I mean come on! Muslims your a problem in Most of the Middle east, New York city, USA, parts of southeast Asia, parts of Europe, and parts of Africa, including Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, and the CAR, and Egypt and Sudan. You cant murder your way to greatness. Muslim extremists, you are repeating the mistakes of the very West you hate, arrogant, bloody takeover! so F! U! and get the f–k out of Africa. go P-s and Sh- on your own house.

    May 19, 2014 at 6:23 pm |
  17. Mal

    Utter nonsense. The author is just using the current news story of the week to push vacuous ideas.
    To get good results, you need wise people in government, ability is all that matters, not gender.
    Looking at recently prominent women politicians like Clinton, Nuland or god forbid Palin, Bachmann - America better pray that these people never get access to power.

    May 20, 2014 at 12:03 am |
  18. chri§§y

    Lol @ Mal...what about Michelle Obama??

    May 20, 2014 at 10:02 am |
    • Mal

      Re: Michelle Obama, first lady is not a real politician to me, and for this same reason I omitted people like Psaki, who I think is a tool, but not a real politician either, so not a fair target for this discussion.

      May 20, 2014 at 11:17 pm |
  19. chri§§y

    Lol @ Mal from the selection of "real" politicians weve been saddled with, i would think NOW would be the perfect time for something different! And @ rockswiki yes they were allowed too but have any gone?

    May 21, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
  20. georgex9

    Gobal warming is also driven by the rising population and those wanting the modern conveniences.
    From Population Connection:

    There's a simple solution to ongoing, rapid
    population growth: birth control.

    Access to affordable birth control is
    key to dealing with unsustainable population growth and the challenges it poses
    to people everywhere. It's also every woman's right.

    But today there are 222 million women around the world who would like to delay or end
    childbearing—but they don't have access to modern contraception.

    May 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
  21. chri§§y

    AMEN @ georgex9!!!! From your lips to those egotrippinmaniacs ears! The ones that think they need to interfere by passing laws that have nothing to do with them and EVERYTHING to do with US!

    May 21, 2014 at 9:37 pm |
  22. chri§§y

    And to those in Congress that added allll that garbage into the ACA making womens healthcare UNAFFORDABLE....SHAME on each and every one of you! And done purely out of greed for your bank accounts and spite because We The People dared to elect a black man as POTUS! Karma's a you know what! Remember that when it bites you...and it will...and we'll be watching for it! You can take THAT to the bank!

    May 21, 2014 at 9:43 pm |
  23. d

    Hillary Clinton:
    "We came, we saw, he (Gadhafi) died!"
    That's women in foreign policy.

    May 22, 2014 at 7:57 pm |
    • Chuck

      "We came, we saw, he (Stevens) Died"
      that's women in Foreign policy!

      May 23, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
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