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President Barack Obama has made it official: women and girls and gender equality are priorities for this administration and the country. With the stroke of a pen on 30 January 2013, the President signed a memorandum that will strengthen and expand U.S. government actions across multiple sectors to better promote gender equality and empower women and girls. While signing - in the presence of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - the President said, “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, and one that is vital to achieving our overall foreign policy objectives.”
For those of us who have spent the better part of our lives in the struggle for women’s rights and equality, this is a long time coming. We could be cynical and say, “We’ve been saying this for 30 years. What took you so long?” But we won’t. Instead we say, “Better late than never. Thank you” This would not have been possible without the tireless work of Secretary Clinton and Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Veveer. Over the past 4 years, both women have raised the awareness about the strength and experience of women and girls as successful catalysts for change in ways never before seen in this country. We are also heartened by incoming Secretary of State John Kerry’s commitment to carry on with Secretary Clinton’s work.
The Presidential directive calls for an interagency working group on international gender issues chaired by the National Security Advisor, directs the Secretary of State to designate an Ambassador-at-Large reporting directly to the Secretary to head the office of Global Women’s Issues and acknowledging the importance of women’s voices and actions to development, ensures that the Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will continue to play a prominent role in advising the USAID Administrator on key priorities for U.S. development assistance.
Now the real work begins, we must live up to the spirit of the directive and walk the talk in everything we do here in the U.S. and abroad. For starters we hope that:
- The U.S. gets its own house in order by passing the Violence Against Women's Act, which has been stalled in Congress because of Republican opposition to the act covering Native American women among other things
- Ratify The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Without ratification, how can the U.S. be taken seriously when pressuring other countries to improve their women's rights records?
- Pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), introduced by Sens. Kerry and Olympia Snowe (R, Maine) last year and also failed. IVAWA would provide funds for prevention and response work on violence against women outside the U.S.
- The Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment has real authority to shape policy and opinion at USAID
- USAID, government agencies and the White House are open to the perspectives of women's organizations like the Global Fund for Women to advise them on critical issues, offer solutions and connect them to women's organizations that can make things happen.
We stand at the ready to help and await your call.