Women's Rights & U.S. Foriegn Policy

By Verveer, Melanne | Americas Quarterly, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Women's Rights & U.S. Foriegn Policy


Verveer, Melanne, Americas Quarterly


When I attended the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994, only two female heads of state represented their countries: Dominica and Nicaragua. This past April at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, five of the presidents and prime ministers representing the 33 participating countries were women: from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Their presence was an important example of the progress the hemisphere- and its women-have made.

In fact, the region continues to make progress in a variety of areas. Latin America and the Caribbean are tackling ongoing challenges head-on, including promoting girls' education, improving women's and girls' health, facilitating women's political participation, and expanding women's economic opportunities. Governments throughout the hemisphere are increasingly recognizing that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind.

U.S. POLICY

The United States has made women and girls a cornerstone of our foreign policy. We know that investing in women and girls is the moral thing to do, and also the smart, strategic thing to do-for development; for social, economic, and political progress; and for advancing U.S. interests.

In March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the first Secretarial Policy Guidance on Promoting Gender Equality to Achieve our National Security and Foreign Policy Objectives.1 The policy requests embassies and bureaus to bolster participation and leadership opportunities for women in local and national government processes, civil society, and international and multilateral forums; to unleash the potential of women to spur economic development by addressing the structural and social impediments that prevent women from contributing to their fullest extent to formal and informal economies; and to draw on the full contributions of both women and men in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building.

This guidance complements the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security that President Barack Obama released in December 2011.2 The goal of these policies is to empower half the world's population as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened by war, violence and insecurity. Achieving this goal is critical to our national and global security. Evidence from around the world shows that integrating women and gender considerations into peace-building processes helps promote democratic governance and long-term stability.

These policy initiatives, and the activities and programs they have sparked, demonstrate the U.S. government's commitment to a foreign policy that empowers women and girls.

AND IN THE AMERICAS

As the U.S. integrates this theme into our foreign policy, we also see changes throughout the Americas. It's no coincidence that many of these changes track with measures that have increased women's political participation and leadership.

Most countries in the Americas have made tremendous strides by closing the gender gap in education-achieving near universal primary school enrollment for girls. In secondary schools, girls are now surpassing boys in education enrollment and completion rates. Yet the goal should be for every boy and girl to complete secondary school.

Fertility rates are dropping and maternal health is improving. According to a recent report by the World Bank,3 the decline in maternal mortality rates has been most dramatic in places that suffered some of the worst rates in the past, such as countries in the Caribbean and Andean regions.

However, challenges remain. The obstacles to progress and opportunity are especially acute for rural and Indigenous women, who do not share the same access to education or to health services. Women and girls continue to represent the vast majority of internally displaced persons in the region. Despite some of the improvements in political representation, women remain grossly under-represented at the local and municipal levels. …

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