Women and girls make up half the world’s population. Yet far too often, their voices and experiences go unheard or unheeded. They are underrepresented in the halls of political and economic power and overrepresented in poverty. Barriers from discriminatory laws and policies block the path to progress.
The unequal status of women and girls has serious political, economic, and social implications. It can limit the ability of communities to resolve conflict, countries to boost their economies, or regions to sustain peace and prosperity.
That’s why the State Department has an office devoted to advancing the status of women and girls globally. With origins dating back to 1994, the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) has a mandate to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls through U.S. foreign policy. Headed by an Ambassador-at-Large, the office leads the Department’s efforts to integrate gender equality into U.S. policy, diplomacy, partnerships, and programs.
As a policy office with a focused portfolio of innovative programs, the office serves as a resource for U.S. diplomats in Washington and around the world. It also leads on the Department’s priorities around women and girls’ equality, including women’s economic security, women’s participation in peace and security, and gender-based violence prevention and response.
Gender Equity and Equality
Promoting gender equality is a longstanding cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, and foundational to the promotion of free and fair democracies; inclusive economic growth; international peace and stability; and gender-responsive climate action and COVID-19 recovery. The Biden-Harris Administration reaffirmed this through (March 2021), and the release of the first-ever (October 2021) – which aims to achieve gender equality through an equity-based approach. As required by E.O. 14020, the Department submitted its NGS Action Plan to the White House in July 2022.
Consistent with the NGS, the Department’s Action Plan centers on promoting respect for the human rights and empowerment of women and girls, mindful of the deep-rooted societal and institutional systems of power that impede their rights and empowerment. And when women and girls can meaningfully participate in social, political, and economic life – it results in more peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nations – to the benefit of all individuals. Advancing gender equity and equality is a critical component of the Administration’s broader equity agenda, including on racial equity, the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, international religious freedom, and the rights of persons with disabilities. The Department’s NGS Action Plan builds upon and complements these priorities by emphasizing the importance of an intersectional approach – understanding and addressing how different aspects of women and girls’ identities shape their ability to lead safe, dignified, and empowered lives.
Furthermore, the Department has positioned the NGS as an overarching framework for existing legislative and policy mandates on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS); Gender-Based Violence (GBV) prevention and response; and Women’s Economic Security (WES). The Department’s NGS Action Plan groups the ten interconnected NGS priority areas into four envisioned outcomes aligned with existing policy priorities – with a fifth management outcome focused on internal processes and capacity. Given the breadth of the Department’s diplomatic and foreign assistance initiatives on gender equality, our Action Plan is not intended to reflect the entirety of the Department’s efforts on gender equality, but rather identifies seven distinct high-impact goals designed to close persistent gaps between gender equality commitments and practice.