Leading Democrats Sound Alarm on USAID 2020 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy

Leading Democrats Sound Alarm on USAID 2020 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy

“Far from advancing gender equality, this draft policy reads like a political document and reflects priorities that will undermine gender equality.”

 

WASHINGTON — Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today was joined by 14 of his Senate Democratic colleagues in rejecting the Trump Administration’s recently released draft proposal to change the gender policy for the United States Agency for International Development(USAID). 

“This policy, which supplants USAID’s 2012 gender policy in its entirety, is riddled with shortcomings and problematic characterizations of fundamental rights. It is a stark demonstration that politics have overtaken principle at USAID under this Administration and compromised the Agency’s mission,” the Senators wrote to USAID’s Acting Administrator John Barsa.  

In addition to voicing their opposition to the Trump administration’s removal of language affirming inclusivity and references to LGBTQI individuals, the Senators condemned the draft’s qualification of women’s and girls’ rights, its failure to focus on intersectionality, and its narrow and incomplete perspective of reproductive health, among other shortcomings.

“Understanding these issues is integral to designing effective, inclusive approaches that advance gender equality; ignoring them not only weakens our development strategies going forward, but also threatens to set back progress already made,” added the senators, calling on the Agency not to finalize the policy until it addresses the draft’s substantial limitations.

Joining Menendez in sending the letter were Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The Senators also raised concerns that the drafting process deviated from standard USAID practices and that USAID has arbitrarily accelerated the timeline for public comment.   

“According to information we have received, the draft was rushed through an internal clearance process which may have violated the Agency’s own rules pertaining to new policy development, largely circumventing the usual Agency-wide consultative process to ensure it would be guided and informed by technical experts,” the Senators added. “Furthermore, while the Agency took more than one year to draft the policy, it is providing the public and Congress little more than one week during the August recess to offer comments. This, again, suggests that this process is being driven by political, not policy considerations.”

A copy of the letter may be found HERE and below.

 

Administrator Barsa, 

We write with deep concern regarding USAID’s recently released draft 2020 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy, and to urge USAID to withhold from finalizing the policy pending further consultation, comment, and revision. 

This policy, which supplants USAID’s 2012 gender policy in its entirety, is riddled with shortcomings and problematic characterizations of fundamental rights. It is a stark demonstration that politics have overtaken principle at USAID under this Administration and compromised the Agency’s mission. 

The Agency’s new 2020 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy should reflect evidence-based approaches and identify appropriate Agency roles and resources to effectively leverage U.S. foreign assistance funds. Such a policy should be the product of technical expertise with minimal political interference, reflecting the latest data and best practices to ensure that USAID lives up to its stated commitment to advance gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment. 

Far from advancing gender equality, this draft policy reads like a political document and reflects priorities that will undermine gender equality. The Agency has walked back its prior commitments by removing critical language affirming inclusivity of all people, the definition of “gender identity,” the definition of gender-based violence, and all references to LGBTQI individuals. The draft similarly fails to give due emphasis to intersectionality – meaning the variety of factors such as age, disability, religion, race, ethnicity, and migration status – that impact women and girls layered on top of their gender. Understanding these issues is integral to designing effective, inclusive approaches that advance gender equality; ignoring them not only weakens our development strategies going forward, but also threatens to set back progress already made.

In addition, the draft policy reduces and qualifies rights for women and girls as “unalienable,” “basic,” and “legal,” all of which perpetuate a false understanding of fundamental human rights and allude to a controversial hierarchy of rights as outlined by the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Remarkably, nowhere in the document does it state that gender equality is in and of itself a fundamental right. Furthermore, the draft policy offers a narrow and incomplete perspective on reproductive health, never mentioning contraceptives and ignoring the fact that access to comprehensive reproductive health services is essential to achieve equality and empowerment. If, as has been suggested, the term “family planning” on the draft policy is intended to include access to contraceptives, that should be explicitly stated.

The draft policy similarly fails to integrate already-existing gender-related strategies that inform USAID’s work, such as those focused on addressing gender-based violence and empowering adolescent girls that the Agency has adopted or updated since the 2012 gender policy. This omission is both shortsighted and seems to be politically motivated, given that only new policy and legislation under the current Administration are referenced in the draft policy. 

Along with its deeply troubling contents, we are also concerned that the drafting process deviated from USAID’s standard practice, and that USAID has arbitrarily accelerated the timeline for public comment. According to information we have received, the draft was rushed through an internal clearance process which may have violated the Agency’s own rules pertaining to new policy development, largely circumventing the usual Agency-wide consultative process to ensure it would be guided and informed by technical experts. Furthermore, while the Agency took more than one year to draft the policy, it is providing the public and Congress little more than one week during the August recess o offer comments. This, again, suggests that this process is being driven by political, not policy considerations. 

Given the extraordinary challenges facing women and girls globally, including an alarming rise of sexual abuse and gender-based violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agency’s new policy should reflect evidence-based approaches that help advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. Instead the draft policy suffers from multiple fundamental flaws. With these concerns in mind, we urge USAID to withhold from finalizing the draft policy until these concerns have been substantively addressed in a participatory and thorough manner.

Thank you for your consideration.  We look forward to your response.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

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Press Contact

Juan_Pachon@foreign.senate.gov