printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

State Department/USUN Report to the White House Council on Women and Girls

Women's Issues
May 28, 2010


Agency Overview

A. Executive Summary: The State Department is firmly committed to promoting women’s empowerment and human rights around the world. The Department’s main office for coordinating its policy and programs on issues affecting women and girls is the Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI). S/GWI works with bureaus and offices within the Department and across the U.S. government to ensure that programs and initiatives related to combating violence against women and girls and for women’s political, economic, and social empowerment are efficiently and effectively deployed. In the multilateral sphere, S/GWI works with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) to advance women’s rights, freedoms, and opportunities.

Within the Department, S/GWI and USUN work with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), and Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP), as well as with the regional bureaus and the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R). Other key foreign affairs partners from both within and outside the Department include the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC); and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI, through the State Department).

S/GWI and USUN’s approach to women’s issues stems from the fundamental principle, expressed during the 1995 Beijing UN World Conference, that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. As part of our mandate to help women and girls around the world reach their full potential, we work for their political and economic inclusion, for equal access to quality education and healthcare, and freeing women from the threat of violence. To achieve these goal, we (1) integrate and mainstream women’s issues into U.S. foreign policy decisions and State Department practices; (2) create programs and partnerships, bilaterally and multilaterally, to protect and empower women; (3) work to expand legal reforms and strengthen the international framework for protection of women’s rights; and (4) engage in sustained and comprehensive public outreach and public diplomacy.

B. Programs Which Improve the Lives of the Federal Workforce: A division within the Department’s Human Resources Bureau, Work/Life Programs (HR/ER/WLP), operates as the central coordinating authority on work/life issues. Its policies and programs apply to all personnel serving at the State Department, USUN, and overseas missions and posts. The WLP Division runs dependent care programs, including the Childcare Subsidy Program, an Eldercare Support group and emergency visitation travel for officers posted overseas; manages the Department’s policy on reasonable accommodation services, offers various health, life, and long-term care insurance, and manages a program called IQ: Information Quest.

IQ:Information Quest is the Department’s program name for LifeCare, a confidential resource and referral service. Since May 2000, the Department has contracted with Federal Occupational Health (FOH) to offer IQ at no cost to all Department employees, (full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary), overseas Family Member Appointees, and their family members. IQ provides lunchtime informational sessions, monthly e-newsletters, and referrals for child or elder care, personal health/wellness, legal, and financial counseling specialists, as well as educational materials. The usage rate for State Department employees runs slightly higher than average among Federal agencies and within the Department, more women than men request personalized services (63% in Q3 FY2008). During the same timeframe, the categories most requested by women in descending order were: Special Needs (100%), Academics (86%), Moving and Relocation (75%) Financial (70%), Prenatal (67%), Health and Wellness (62%), Childcare (60%), Legal (58%), Adult Care (56%), and Convenience and Community Resources (50%).

Date: 05/28/2010 Description: Chart showing InfoQuest Service Use for Q3 FY2008. categories most requested by women in descending order were: Special Needs (100%), Academics (86%), Moving and Relocation (75%) Financial (70%), Prenatal (67%), Health and Wellness (62%), Childcare (60%), Legal (58%), Adult Care (56%), and Convenience and Community Resources (50%). - State Dept Image

Since the beginning of the Eldercare Emergency Visitation Travel (EVT) Program in January 2001, over 1600 overseas employees or spouses have traveled to assist an elderly parent who has suffered a recent decline in physical, mental or emotional health and who was in need of their adult child’s assistance. Other categories of EVT exist for overseas employees facing emergencies such as Medical EVT (when a parent is facing imminent death), Death EVT (when a parent or sibling dies); Unusual Personal Hardship EVT, (self-explanatory), and Unaccompanied Post EVT (which provides travel for immediate family members, domestic partners or agents when an employee at an unaccompanied post is critically wounded or falls critically ill).

Another division within the Human Resources bureau, Employee Programs (HR/ER/EP), administers and develops policy for leave programs including the Family Medical Leave Act and the Family-Friendly Leave Act. The EP Division administers and develops policies for flexible workplace programs including telework, alternate work schedules, job-sharing and part-time work schedules. Telework is currently an option on either a “core” basis, at least one day a week, or irregularly on a “situational” basis, for all employees who meet eligibility requirements and can obtain supervisor approval. Almost 1200 Department employees are participating in the Telework Program, on a core or situational basis.

The Department also contains an Office of Medical Services (MED), which has as its stated goal “to safeguard and promote the health and well-being of America’s global diplomatic community. The Employee Consultation Service (ECS), within MED, assists Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, who may contact the ECS staff for private and confidential discussions on concerns of an individual, couple/marital, family, or workplace nature. For Foreign Service employees, ECS offers consultation and support to families with children who have special educational needs which includes coordination of the post approval and medical clearance recommendation process; administrative review and assistance with compassionate curtailments, breaks and extensions of service.

The Department established the Family Liaison Office (FLO) in 1978 to improve the quality of life for Foreign Service families serving abroad through identifying issues, advocating for solutions, providing client services, and managing the worldwide Community Liaison Office (CLO) program. The CLO works at posts overseas to maintain high morale through orientation activities, cultural and recreational programs, dissemination of information, counseling and referral, and assistance with security, education, and employment for family members. FLO manages the program worldwide, providing training, program and staffing guidance, resources, and advocacy.

C. Programs Which Improve the Lives of Women and Girls Around the World: Within the State Department, the Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) is the lead office charged with advancing programs and policies affecting women and girls. Collaborating with USUN’s work through multilateral mechanisms, we focus on (1) advancing women’s human rights and equality (2) preventing and combating violence against women (3) fostering political participation, (4) promoting economic empowerment, (5) increasing access to healthcare, (6) improving education access and quality, (7) building leadership capacity, and (8) emphasizing the gender dimension – women’s particular vulnerabilities but also their unique positioning to contribute to solutions – in foreign policy challenges such as food security and climate change.

1. Human Rights and Equality
S/GWI and USUN are key advocates for U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Ambassador Rice has said that ratification of CEDAW is an “important priority” for the Administration and that it is “past time” for the treaty to be ratified. USUN and S/GWI provide leadership and support to the U.S. delegation to the annual Commission on the Status of Women, the premier multilateral normative body for advancing women’s empowerment. USUN and S/GWI also play a leading role in supporting, within the UN system, the realization of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #3, to promote gender equality and empower women.

In partnership with the broader State Department, USUN and S/GWI also play an active role in developing and implementing the U.S. strategy for the Human Rights Council. The USG is committed to strengthening UN mechanisms to advance the rights, protection, and empowerment of women, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. With the Administration’s successful election to the Human Rights Council this year, we will be able to work from within for a more effective Council.

USUN, in collaboration with S/GWI, is actively engaged in intergovernmental negotiations to streamline and strengthen the UN’s gender architecture. The UN currently has four separate offices (UNIFEM, DAW, OSAGI, and INSTRAW) that focus on aspects of women’s issues, and there is poor coordination among them and no common line of authority. USUN leadership in coordinating support for more effective gender architecture is helping advance women’s human rights and equality.

Additionally, USUN is a leading voice in support of increasing the number of women serving in posts in the UN system, including in UN peacekeeping missions. Currently, women comprise about 37 percent of all posts in the UN Secretariat, and about 26 percent of the top tier professional posts (director level and higher). In the civilian sector of peacekeeping missions, some 24 percent are women. USUN engages with the UN Secretariat, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and other member states to increase the number of women across the UN, and especially at the professional and higher categories.

Finally, USUN and S/GWI support the work of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which works to support women’s empowerment and gender equality worldwide. For Fiscal Year 2010, the Administration requested $1.5 million to support UNIFEM’s activities.

2. Violence
Addressing and preventing violence against women is a priority, because no program designed to increase women’s participation in civic life will fully succeed as long as women are subject to domestic violence, so-called “honor killings,” child marriage, rape, human trafficking, and other forms of assault and abuse. Preventing violence against women requires strategies that incorporate legal, educational, health, and infrastructural reforms. Women in regions affected by conflict are particularly vulnerable, and require special and urgent attention. We believe it is essential to pursue a multi-sectoral approach with the cooperation of strong partners, including NGOs, multilateral organizations, and private groups that are well-positioned to advocate for reform, the protection of victims, the prevention of violence, and the prosecution of perpetrators. We also believe that women’s unequal status around the world is the root cause of the different manifestations of gender-based violence, as well as its endemic nature. We are currently working with the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff to develop a comprehensive strategy within the State Department for tackling all forms of violence against women and girls, regardless of where and how it occurs, in a way that recognizes that long-term solutions to violence require, fundamentally, redressing the power imbalance and enhancing the rights and respect due to women as human beings.

S/GWI and USUN work closely with the Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office to support countries that have passed legislation aimed at preventing violence against women, and to support the efforts of the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime, the lead UN agency working to address and prevent human trafficking . Many countries have enacted forward-looking laws supporting women’s rights but have poor records on implementation and enforcement. S/GWI aims to help NGOs and their partners develop the capacity to ensure these good intentions are realized into action, including measures to support judicial training, public awareness programs in rural areas, and grassroots capacity-building.

Leadership by – and at – the UN is key to fostering the progressive actions of countries that have taken initial steps to address gender-based violence, as well as to demonstrating the economic, political, and social costs of inaction to those that have not. In 2006, the United States negotiated and actively supported UNGA resolution 61/143 on intensifying efforts to eliminate violence against women, and remains active in the subsequent UN working group on this issue. USUN and S/GWI are working together to advance the priorities outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which addresses the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women and promotes increased roles for women in conflict prevention and resolution, peace-making, and peace-building. USUN engages with the UN Secretariat and key member states to make the provisions in UNSCR 1325 real and tangible to women all over the world.

Another key priority of S/GWI and USUN is the implementation of the landmark Security Council Resolution 1820 on sexual violence against women in conflict situations. Negotiations on the one-year follow-up to UNSC 1820 are expected to take place in late summer 2009. USUN and S/GWI will lead interagency efforts to build upon our efforts to prevent of acts of sexual violence, identify and punish perpetrators, and enhance UN attention and action to address this humanitarian crisis.

3. Political Participation
In many regions of the world, women still lack a political voice and a seat at the decision-making table. The United States has sponsored initiatives to advance the political participation of women and to promote democracy around the globe. These efforts have included support for UN General Assembly Resolution 58/142 on “Women and Political Participation,” as well as programs such as the Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative (IWDI), and others in Afghanistan aimed at increasing women’s political participation.

S/GWI coordinates with State’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) on the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which focuses on women’s empowerment, and particularly on civil society and political training programs, women’s economic leadership, and legal rights. These programs in this region are crucial, particularly as we ensure that the ideas the President introduced in his speech in Cairo are brought to fruition. We continue to work with the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, now based at Georgetown University, in order to promote the economic, social, and political rights of women in Afghanistan. With the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), we work on additional programs that focus on enhancing rule of law, building judicial capacity, and providing training to female emerging leaders and women’s advocates.

The United States was a leader in the creation, and continues to be a supporter, of the UN Democracy Fund, which supports projects to strengthen civil society and encourage democratic participation for all. Since its creation in 2005, the UN Democracy Fund has contributed to a number of projects focused on increasing the ability of women to play leading roles in the democratic process and strengthening women’s participation in governance and political decision making in Nigeria, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sudan, Uganda, Ecuador, Nepal and Morocco. USUN and S/GWI support the Administration’s Fiscal year 2010 request for the UN Democracy Fund of $14 million.

4. Economic Empowerment
Women’s ability to participate in the economic sphere of their community and nation provides a foundation for progress in other areas. Investing in women also represents “smart development” and offers a cost-effective way to stimulate global economic recovery. Mentoring partnerships, whether in person or over the internet, between U.S. businesspeople and women around the world are vital. In India and elsewhere, we are working to increase the role of the local business community in mentoring and extending economic opportunities to women. MEPI has an impressive program working with women’s business associations across many countries in the predominantly Muslim world. This is a model that can potentially be scaled up. Moreover, through public-private partnerships and the leveraging of existing initiatives, we can promote and expand programs like Goldman Sachs’ “10,000 Women” initiative, which provides women with business and management training. We will also continue to work with the Fortune All Powerful Women’s Summit on mentoring partnerships within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

Access to microcredit, and other tools such as training, is critically important for countries in which economic growth is hampered because of the lack of women’s participation in the workforce, or where the aftermath of the global economic crisis or conflict and warfare has disproportionately affected women. S/GWI is working with organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and with regional initiatives such as Pathways to Prosperity, to nurture women’s microbusinesses around the world, help grow their small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and promote their economic success.

Multilaterally, USUN and S/GWI support progress toward UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #1, to halve the number of people in the world living on an income of less than one dollar per day. As women comprise a disproportionate percentage of the world’s poor, economic empowerment of women is key to achieving this goal. The United States is also a key supporter of the United Nations Development Program, for which promoting women’s equality and economic empowerment is a key pillar. The UNDP works to expand employment opportunities for women, improve access to finance, property and land rights, and to include women in economic decision-making. The Administration requested $75 million to fund UNDP in FY 2010.

5. Access to Healthcare
The state of women’s health around the world is dire, particularly in the developing world. Every minute of every day, a woman dies from complications – most of which are preventable – related to pregnancy and childbirth, and others suffer from the long-term debilitating consequences of unattended difficult births, such as fistula. Too many women lack access to family planning. As one of his first official acts, President Obama repealed the so-called Mexico City Policy, which prohibited NGOs working abroad from using U.S. funding to provide – or to offer counseling about – the full range of available family planning options. One of this Administration’s top priorities is empowering women to gain access to the health information and services they need to maintain their own well-being and the health of their families. Another early act of the Administration was to restore U.S. financial support ($50 million ) to the U.N. Population Fund, which promotes reproductive health and safe motherhood.

S/GWI is coordinating the women’s health portions of the President’s recently-announced Global Health Initiative, which provides funds to combat the high rate of maternal and child mortality and prevent millions of new HIV infections, among other goals. Within the State Department, we are ensuring that this initiative is implemented in a way that prioritizes women’s health and focuses on women’s healthcare as an entry point into integrated, family-centered care. We will continue to work with partners at State and other agencies to ensure this new initiative will target countries with the highest maternal and child mortality rates. We are also exploring ways to scale up existing health infrastructure to incorporate maternal and reproductive health care services into existing programs.

In addition to our work on the President’s Global Health Initiative, we are collaborating with other bureaus and NGO partners to pursue improvements on a full range of global women’s health needs, including mental health, breast cancer, and other frequently neglected areas.

Work at both S/GWI and USUN fosters a multi-sectoral approach to health care and explores the ways in which the overall status of women and girls in society affects their physical and emotional health, and examines the links among women’s health and access to education, economic empowerment, and the legal status of women.

All of these efforts by USUN and S/GWI support the achievement of UN Millennium Development Goal #5, to improve maternal health, which aims to establish a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality by 2015.

6. Education Access and Quality
Education, especially for girls and women, is the most powerful tool available for the developing world. It is a key driver of economic growth. According to the World Bank, educating women increases their wages by as much 20 percent for every additional year of schooling. Education also results in gains in women’s agricultural productivity and helps ensure food security. Despite the high-yield returns that come from educating girls, more than half the countries in the Arab world, in South and West Asia, and in Sub-Saharan Africa have yet to achieve gender parity in education. Two-thirds of the world’s unschooled are girls, and girls and women significantly lag behind boys and men in basic literacy and numeracy.

We are working with USAID and other partners to focus on fundamental investments in girls’ and women’s education. President Obama has pledged to create a Global Fund for Education and to invest $2 billion in order to “erase the global primary education gap by 2015.” We are formulating programs that will not only ensure girls’ equal access to educational opportunities, but also the teaching of equality, and are working with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to bring in experts who can “train the trainers” on identifying and eradicating bias – subtle and otherwise – in the classroom. We are working with other offices and bureaus in increasing girls’ access to, and training in, science and technology, making sure they have the tools to excel in the information economy. Specifically, we plan to support and expand MEPI’s “Women in Technology” program, which leverages a public/private partnership with Microsoft to provide business and technology training in nine countries to disadvantaged women and girls throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The United States is the largest donor to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, with a Fiscal Year 2010 request of $128 million. UNICEF leads the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, to “transcend barriers to girls’ education and narrow the gender gap in primary and secondary education,” a mission that USUN and S/GWI strongly support.

7. Building leadership capacity
It is crucial to provide women with the means to develop their leadership skills in a way that is targeted to their areas of engagement, whether in politics or business development or NGO effectiveness. We are investigating the feasibility of holding a Women’s Leadership Summit in the Middle East, sponsored by the United States and local partners, to advance women’s progress through practical workshops. This Summit would bring in international experts to work with women who are in political, business, or NGO leadership roles, to help them ensure their effectiveness in these top positions and further their roles as democracy-builders. We are also partnering on a Women’s Leadership Summit for Asia, as the Secretary announced during her recent visit to India.

8. Emphasizing the Gender Dimension
S/GWI not only leads the coordination of existing programs and policies on women’s issues, but, in collaboration with USUN, also works to ensure that women’s needs are addressed bilaterally and multilaterally within topics not traditionally considered to be part of “women’s issues.” For example, food security has an important gender dimension: in rural parts of Africa, 60 to 80 percent of small-scale farmers are women. But the role that women play – and could play – in ensuring the stability of the global food supply is often overlooked. S/GWI is addressing this problem in our coordination of the White House Food Security Initiative. Similarly, global climate change has a disproportionate impact on women, due to women’s greater representation among the world’s poor, lack of access to resources including information and training, and lack of equal legal protection. Women are, however, under-represented among decision-makers crafting policy on how to respond to climate challenges.

We are working throughout the Department, and with our partners in the UN system, to ensure the inclusion of women’s needs and perspectives on these issues, as well as on every issue in which there is a distinct gender dimension or in which a potentially disparate impact on women mandates a focus on their particular roles.

Other offices with which we coordinate include:

Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL). DRL addresses women’s issues through their annual Human Rights Reports. DRL also supports programming on topics including gender-based violence, women’s economic empowerment, and reintegration of former female child soldiers. DRL grantees also implement political party training, political and civic participation, and media training programs that are tailored and targeted specifically towards women.

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP). G/TIP coordinates submissions for the Department’s annual country rankings and report on all forms of trafficking, from indentured servitude to the sexual exploitation of women and girls, who comprise the majority of victims of trafficking. They also advocate for, and administer, programs on (1) prevention through the development of economic alternatives for women, (2) protection of, and assistance to, trafficked victims, and (3) prosecution of the traffickers.

The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). PRM supplies funding and expertise to UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and directly to NGOs for multi-sectoral programs on refugees, migration, and health that usually have a significant women’s issues component.

The Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO). IO pursues, through multilateral diplomacy, human rights and humanitarian issues, including the advancement of women’s rights through rule of law.

The Economic Bureau (EB). EB includes in its jurisdiction the advancement of women in business and also advocates for women’s increased access to credit and economic empowerment.

The Bureau of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R), and its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). ECA has international programs in place that bring over emerging female leaders for training and high-level meetings. The Bureau also sends out U.S. speakers to embassies and consulates on topics that include women’s rights and civic and political participation, and girls’ education.

The regional offices within the Department – Africa (AF), East Asia/Pacific (EAP), European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR), Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA), and Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). These offices also include women’s issues as part of their missions to cover the totality of their geographic area, and often support embassy-based programs for women’s empowerment.

D. Overarching Recommendations:
S/GWI is working to establish a Global Women’s Leadership Fund, which would combine the expertise of the private sector with the broad reach of the public sector in partnerships for women’s empowerment programs and projects around the world. We are also seeking resources for a Rapid Response component to the Fund, which would enable us to swiftly and effectively address the most urgent needs of women and girls in countries experiencing conflict or facing other types of immediate threats and challenges.

Multilaterally, USUN and S/GWI are working to:

  • Achieve an effective and tangible follow-up Resolution to Security Council Resolution 1820 during discussions in the Security Council in fall 2009.
  • Pursue the successful implementation of women’s gender architecture reform in the UN system by the end of 2009.
  • Send CEDAW to Congress for ratification in 2009.

Although S/GWI and USUN coordinate efforts on these and other goals within the State Department, potential avenues of further collaboration exist within agencies such as the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Small Business Administration, Department of Commerce, Office of the Trade Representative, and Department of Agriculture. We would welcome assistance in identifying key overlapping areas of programmatic focus and in establishing new cooperative interagency relationships.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.