FACT SHEET: Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
“[C]ommunities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, they are more peaceful, they are more prosperous, they develop faster, they are more likely to succeed.”President Barack Obama, July 25, 2015
Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls is a priority for the United States Government. Under the leadership of President Obama, the United States is working to combat discrimination, eliminate violence against women and girls at home and abroad, expand access to women’s health care, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, support women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, and encourage women’s economic and political leadership. From creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, and an Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues, to appointing two women to the Supreme Court and a strong team of women leaders to his Cabinet and White House staff, President Obama has taken concrete steps to ensure that women of diverse backgrounds are involved in shaping policy at every level of our government and that their voices are heard throughout American society and all around the world.
As we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, a landmark event that brought together thousands of representatives from governments and civil society to advance gender equality, the United States government is committed to continuing to advance women’s empowerment, gender equality, and human rights. At home, the United States is dedicating additional resources to address violence against women and girls, including nearly $80 million to reduce the backlog of untested sexual assaults kits, and pushing for women to be able to fully participate in our economy and fuel job growth and prosperity. Globally, the Administration is protecting and empowering tomorrow’s leaders by helping to keep girls in school and safe from HIV/AIDS. Empowered women and educated girls are critical to achieving lasting peace, security, and prosperity across America and around the world.
Key Administration Accomplishments to Date
Improving Women’s Health:
- In March 2010, the President signed the Affordable Care Act, which prevents insurance companies from charging higher premiums solely on the basis of sex. Because of the law, most health plans must now cover preventive services, including well-woman check-ups, contraceptive services and screening and counseling for domestic or intimate partner violence, at no cost to the consumer.
- The United States response to global HIV/AIDS is saving lives and changing the very course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. PEPFAR and private sector partners are making significant investments in African countries through the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) partnership, which aims to reduce HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Combatting Violence Against Women and Girls:
- In March 2013, President Obama signed the third reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which enacted new provisions to improve protections for Native American women and LGBT victims, and strengthens protections for immigrant survivors and college and university students. VAWA 2013 integrated homicide reduction training into VAWA programs, and included reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
- In January 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, co-chaired by the Vice President’s office and the White House Council on Women and Girls. After 27 listening sessions with stakeholders across the country, the Task Force released its first report – Not Alone – with new recommendations for schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault and new steps by federal agencies to improve enforcement of federal laws.
- The Administration has sought to ensure workplace protections for victims by requiring Federal Agencies to develop policies to address the effects of domestic violence and provide assistance to employees experiencing it, including through President Obama’s Executive Order to establish paid sick leave for Federal contractors, which enables them to use paid sick leave for an absence resulting from domestic violence.
- In August 2012, the President issued the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence Globally and an accompanying Executive Order to enhance the Administration’s longstanding efforts to address gender-based violence (GBV) through its foreign policy, diplomatic, and programming efforts. USAID has reached more than five million survivors of GBV with vital, sometimes life-saving services in more than 40 countries worldwide, and has awarded more than $17 million in dedicated incentive funds to support innovative pilot programs, research, and scaled best projects to address GBV in 15 countries. And in 2013, the United States launched the Safe from the Start initiative, to better address the needs of women and girls and other groups at risk of GBV in emergencies, to which the U.S. government has committed more than $22 million.
Promoting Women’s Political and Economic Leadership:
- In December 2011, the Obama Administration released Executive Order 13595 and the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security to support women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity. Policies and programs work to strengthen prospects for peace and security in countries affected by conflict, crisis, insecurity, and political transition by empowering women in decision making and protecting women and girls from violence.
- In September 2012, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett launched the Equal Futures Partnership on behalf of the United States. The Equal Futures Partnership is an innovative multilateral initiative, currently chaired by the United States, that is designed to encourage member countries to empower women economically and politically. Equal Futures partners commit to taking actions – including legal, regulatory, and policy reforms – to ensure women fully participate in public life at the local, regional, and national levels, and that they lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth. Since 2012, the partnership has grown from 12 to 27 countries, and also includes the EU.
Combatting Trafficking in Persons:
- On September 29, 2014, President Obama signed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act into law, which includes provisions to strengthen the child welfare system’s response to sex trafficking by requiring states to develop policies and procedures to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for sex trafficking victims and those at-risk for becoming sex trafficking victims.
- The Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security co-chaired the development of the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States 2013-2017. The Plan outlines more than 250 action items for victim service improvements, including trauma-informed and gender-responsive actions to strengthen coordination, collaboration, and capacity-building across 17 Federal agencies.
Attracting and Retaining Women and Girls in STEM:
- The Administration has focused on building a pathway to high-paying high-skilled jobs, including for women and girls, through the President’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program; the 2013 Youth Career Connect grants, aimed at redesigning high schools so that students graduate prepared for college and career; and additional education reform programs. Federal agencies have deployed their STEM workforce and have partnered with the private sector to increase mentorship of girls and women in STEM: for example, to inspire the next generation of energy scientists and engineers, the Department of Energy has formed new partnerships with 100kin10 and US2020 to reach classrooms and mentors, respectively, with their Women @ Energy series, which profiles women in STEM careers.
- Supporting and retaining America’s female scientists and engineers was a focus of the June 2014 White House Summit on Working Families, where the National Science Foundation announced implementation – nearly a year ahead of schedule – of cost allowance policies for childcare at professional conferences that will lessen the challenges for working families.
Looking Ahead: Next Steps in Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls
Moving forward, the Administration will work to consolidate the gains of the last six years and will dedicate new resources to promote girls’ education around the world, redouble our efforts to address gender based violence both at home and abroad, and continue to work with our partners to advance women’s political and economic empowerment.
Promoting Girls Education
In March 2015, the President and First Lady launched Let Girls Learn, which brings together the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, as well as other agencies and programs like the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), to address the range of challenges preventing adolescent girls from enrolling, completing, and succeeding in school. Let Girls Learn is employing a new, holistic approach to support adolescent girls. Building on existing U.S. government investments and expertise, Let Girls Learn will invest in new programs and elevate existing programs—including in areas of conflict and crisis—leverage public-private partnerships, and challenge organizations, governments, and private sector partners to commit to improving the lives of adolescent girls worldwide. This initiative will place a particular emphasis on community-led solutions to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing their education.
- As part of this effort, additional funding will be made available through the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund, which connects Peace Corps Volunteers in the field with members of the public and private sector to fund small, community-initiated, sustainable, grassroots projects. Additional funding will also be made available through a Challenge Fund that will bring together stakeholders from the private sector, academia and civil society to help design and implement innovative programs to ensure that girls are able to both remain in and succeed in school.
Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls
The United States will dedicate more than $80 million in new funding to help communities accelerate testing of the estimated hundreds of thousands of sexual assault kits that have been backlogged in law enforcement storage rooms and crime labs across the country. The Administration has identified $45 million in the FY2016 budget to address the sexual assault kit backlog.
President Obama and Vice President Biden launched the “It’s On Us” campaign, which has transformed the conversation around sexual assault. In the last year alone, students have launched “It’s On Us” campaigns at more than 300 schools and have hosted more than 650 “It’s On Us” events. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a resource guide to support the efforts of students, faculty, administrators, and communities around the country to prevent sexual violence and improve the response to it at colleges and universities.
The President’s 2016 budget request calls for more than $470 million in funding for the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice to reinforce efforts to combat and respond to violent crimes against women. This includes funding for STOP Grants to Combat Violence Against Women, the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP), and to reduce violent crimes against women on campus. The Budget also provides funding for the VAWA 20/20 initiative, a new grant program aimed at closing identified gaps in the fight against violence against women, and for a new Tribal Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction grant to strengthen tribal criminal justice systems, provide indigent defense counsel, develop appropriate jury pools, and assist victims. Additionally, the Budget funds the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide approximately 5,000 new housing vouchers for survivors of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking requiring an emergency transfer from their current assisted housing.
- The Administration is also redoubling efforts to address GBV overseas. In July, President Obama announced Tanzania and Malawi as the first-ever GBV pilot countries in which a holistic, multi-sectoral approach will be implemented to prevent and respond to GBV, including early and forced marriage, while also advancing girls’ access to education and addressing their health needs. The United States is committed to working in partnership with other stakeholders to eliminate all forms of GBV, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). For example, through partnerships with the Government of Guinea, UNICEF, Guinea’s First Lady, and 26 local civic and human rights organizations, U.S. Embassy Conakry is working with health care providers, the general public, and others to abandon FGM/C. More than 265 villages have publicly renounced the practice since the beginning of 2015.
Advancing Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship
This year, the United States is conducting a comprehensive review of its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and will use the information from that review to update the National Action Plan to ensure that our diplomatic, development, and defense agencies are best prepared to promote the essential role that women play in international peace and security. Working through the Equal Futures Partnership’s International Steering Committee, we will seek to double membership in Equal Futures from underrepresented regions by 2017.
The Department of State’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), Caterpillar Inc., Caterpillar Foundation, and StartUp Cup will open the third new Women’s Entrepreneurship Centers of Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE), in Mali this year, in addition to the centers already open in Zambia and Kenya. The centers are expected to create 7,194 new jobs and 630 certified female mentors by October 2016.
Here at home, the Small Business Administration will support the operation of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers to provide counseling and training to more than 120,000 entrepreneurs looking to expand or start small businesses. The Women’s Business Council will serve as an independent source of advice and policy recommendations on issues of economic importance to women business owners.
- In partnership with Microsoft, the Small Business Administration launched the 2016 InnovateHER Business Challenge, a nationwide prize competition to find the most innovative products and services that help impact women and working families. Universities, accelerators, incubators, SBA Resource Partners, and other organizations will host local InnovateHER competitions around the country and the Top 10 finalists will compete for $70,000 in prize money.
As the world adopts new Sustainable Development Goals to drive the next 15 years of development outcomes, the United States recognizes that none of these goals can or will be accomplished without putting women and girls at the center of our efforts. The United States remains committed to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a central part of our domestic and foreign policy.