Remarks Type: Remarks as Prepared
Speaker: Donald Steinberg, World Learning CEO
Speech Date: September 11, 2015
Speech Location: College Station, TX

Honored Guests:

I’m delighted to participate in this groundbreaking conference on National Security and Women’s Insecurity: Why Women Matter in Foreign Policy at the Bush School at Texas A&M, and to share the podium today with such beacons in this arena as Gloria Steinem, Michele Flournoy, and Swanee Hunt.  My thanks as well to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and in particular Dr. Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl for their work to bring us together here in College Station to examine our mutual efforts to ensure the full participation and empowerment of women in resolving deadly conflict and building strong, just, and effective post-conflict societies.

As we look to the future, and in particular to the practical steps that a new Administration should take to consolidate and further this agenda, it is important to recognize the considerable progress that has occurred over the last decade.  Within the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), there is now a critical mass of people, programs, and policies that reflect the reality that an effective American foreign policy needs to be fully engendered.  Having spent my career focusing in large part on these issues in South Africa, Haiti, Angola, Brazil, Malaysia, and beyond, it was with great satisfaction that I saw the constellations align in 2009.

The Dream Team on Gender Equality

During President Obama’s first term, a “dream team” was assembled that included Secretary Clinton, Melanne Verveer, and Cheryl Mills at the State Department; Samantha Power and Gayle Smith at the National Security Council; Tina Tchen and Valerie Jarrett at the White House; Susan Rice and Elizabeth Cousens at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations; Michele Flournoy at the Defense Department; and Carla Koppell, Caren Grown, and Sarah Mendelson at USAID.  In her earliest comments, Secretary Clinton provided a powerful critique of a male-dominated national security framework.

I joined the Administration in 2010, and within the first month, I was privileged to be in New York with Secretary Clinton as she spoke before the U.N. Security Council on the 10th anniversary of U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. The Secretary committed the United States to prepare a government-wide National Action Plan under this resolution. Ten years too late, perhaps, but it was exciting that all parts of the U.S. government–not just State and USAID, but Defense, Justice, Treasury and others–were going to identify time-bound, measurable goals for empowering and protecting women in the context of armed conflict.

Shortly thereafter, I had the privilege to work with State Department Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter to put the finishing touches on the State/USAID Quadrennial Diplomacy and Defense Review (QDDR). This document is the game plan for how these two agencies will work together to promote American national security and foreign policy interests in the future. As Valerie and Patricia have pointed out, the QDDR included 133 reference to women and gender in a 242-page document. Equally important, it set out a coherent four-pillared approach toward this agenda.

First, it called on the two agencies to develop and enhance specific programs and projects to empower women and women’s organizations globally, backed by the investment of considerable financial resources, clear time-bound goals, provisions to take successful projects to scale, and tough accountability provisions. Second, it mandated that the two agencies mainstream and integrate gender into all programs, recognizing the role of women in ensuring the success of programs in health, food security, energy, humanitarian relief, and even infrastructure development. Third, it called on the agencies to serve as thought-leaders and public spokespersons for these issues within the U.S. Government and with our international partners. And finally, it insisted that we “walk the talk” by removing employment barriers and hidden biases that limit the women’s contributions in our agencies.

Progress at USAID

While the challenges remain and progress is still tentative, I am proud of the steps we took at USAID.  Recognizing the need for ownership from throughout the agency and the importance of well-considered policies, we created working groups with political appointees and career staff to develop new policy documents. In 2012 alone, we finalized and disseminated five such documents: an Implementation Plan for USAID on the National Action Plan on women, peace and security; a strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally; the policy on countering trafficking in persons; a policy to end child marriage and meet the needs of married children; and our basic Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy. Each of these policies was home-grown, intellectually rigorous, and ambitious yet realistic in its goals.

Another important step was to require gender impact statements for all projects proposed for funding by USAID. We instituted mandatory training for all officials to ensure that this requirement was taken seriously and to develop a common base of understanding on the importance of this agenda.  Beginning with new entrants into the agency, this multi-day training has now reached some 60 percent of the agency’s permanent staff. We also set up mechanisms, working with affinity groups of key internal constituencies, to combat bias in employment, hiring, training, assignment and promotion practices, and took affirmative action programs to expand diversity and inclusion within the agency.

One effect of these action in the gender field was to highlight the need for broader inclusivity. The same principles that led to gender inclusion also mandate that we take similar steps and approaches to empower and protect other historically marginalized groups, including people with disabilities, racial and religious minorities, the LGBTI community, indigenous populations, the young and elderly, and other groups. Together, these groups make up 80 percent of the population of any country. So if it is true that women hold up half the sky, these groups hold up four-fifths of it.

The View from World Learning

Two years ago, I became president of World Learning, a global NGO working through education, exchange and development programs to build peace, prosperity, inclusion and good governance around the world. I am pleased to highlight the full engagement of World Learning in this agenda in dozens of countries. We are part of a consortium that is training tens of thousands of teachers in Pakistan to create an education system that provide quality basic literacy skills instruction, that is open to girls, and that can compete with the rote, often biased and ideological education in the country’s madrassas.

Similarly, we are working in Egypt to provide girls and boys with STEM education at the high school level. This spring, I saw 17-year-old Egyptian girls using digital fabrication labs, 3D printers, hackathons, datapaloozas, and crowd sourcing to address Egypt’s most pressing economic and social problems.

We are also working in Kosovo to help reform the higher education system, including through a focus on gender studies. And we are using our capacity development expertise to strengthen women’s civil society institutions working in such countries as Ethiopia, Burma, Malawi, Jamaica, and Sudan.

In each of these programs, we are guided by the expertise, ground truth, and priorities of our local partners.  We go to learn as much as to teach; we are quick to observe and slow to judge; and we work under the banner, “Nothing About Them Without Them.”

Some Simple Steps for a New Administration

The previous speakers have outlined the current gaps and failures in our efforts to draw on the talents of women as peacemakers and engage women in rebuilding their countries. Let me build on this discussion by presenting specific steps the United States, international organizations, host governments, and civil society can take to bring this agenda to reality.

First, the United States, the United Nations, regional bodies, and other sponsors of peace negotiations should require at least 30 percent women’s participation as a pre-condition for their engagement in peace negotiations themselves and their subsequent support for peacekeepers and post-conflict reconstruction assistance. This is not just a question of fairness, equity, or human rights. Processes that exclude women are two-thirds more likely to fail and thus result in loss of resources, credibility of the sponsors, and potentially peacekeepers’ lives.

Second, talented woman peace-builders face discrimination in legal, cultural and traditional practices, and threats of violence that make even the most courageous women think twice before stepping forward. The mandate for every peace process and peacekeeping mission should include provisions for training, financial stipends, and physical protection for women. International teams should walk their own talk by ensuring leadership and participation of women in their own delegations to peace processes and post-conflict commissions.

Third, post-conflict recovery packages must prioritize issues related to basic human security, including reproductive health care, infant and child mortality, girls’ education, and psycho-social support for survivors of violence. We need to change the current system, where only 3 percent of money pledge in donors’ conference are focused on these challenges.

Fourth, donors must strengthen women’s civil society organizations, both directly and by using them to implement aid projects. The role of civil society institutions in peacebuilding is essential to inform the process with ground truth, provide a safety valve for redress of grievances, and bridge political, ethnic, religious and regional divisions among populations. Women and women’s groups must be engaged as planners and implementers of projects that go beyond traditional “women’s issue,” such as distributing humanitarian assistance, establishing dispute resolution mechanisms, and monitoring elections

Fifth, the United Nations should establish a permanent UN Security Council working group on women and armed conflict to monitor implementation of UNSC Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1889, and others. A working group exists under Resolution 1612 for children and armed conflict, and has made a huge difference in elevating this agenda. This group should issue a watch list of countries and non-state actors failing to meet their obligations in order to name and shame them into improving their records.  The Security Council should require periodic reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council on these issues, and impose sanctions on governments and non-state actors that abuse or fail to protect women. Similar measures should be adopted by regional organizations, such as the African Union, OAS, OSCE, and ASEAN.

Finally, even as we focus on these broader institutional changes, we must “follow the buck.” There must be a quantum leap in financial resources dedicated to these efforts, provided through both assessed and voluntary contributions. At the level of the United Nations, we need to see a three-to-four-fold increase in support for women in the context of armed conflict, up to $1 billion per year–which is still only about 30 cents per woman. The United States should propose that the UN commemorate the 15th anniversary of UNSC Resolution 1325 in late 2015 by hosting a global pledging conference at the presidential or ministerial level. Member states would challenge each other to come forward with formal commitments on concrete actions they will take over the next three years to promote the Resolution’s agenda. Partnerships could be encouraged linking new resources from donor countries and new political will from conflict-affected countries, on the model of commitments made at the Clinton Global Initiative.

A National Security Agenda

This is a broad and ambitious agenda, and some would ask whether we can afford it. My response: we can’t afford not to make these investments. Women’s empowerment is inextricably tied to our own national security. Societies that engage, empower, and protect women are less likely to engage in trafficking of drugs, people, and weapons that threaten their citizens and our own. They are less likely to send off huge numbers of refugees across borders and even oceans. They tend not to incubate and transmit pandemic diseases, and to harbor and grow terrorists, criminal networks, and pirates. And they do not require foreign military assistance or boots on the ground. It sounds like a great investment to me. Thank you.