Summary

  • The United States’ Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS Strategy) responds to the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 This was the first legislation of its kind globally, which makes the United States the first country in the world with a comprehensive law on WPS, and thus the first with a whole-of-government strategy that responds to such a domestic law.  The WPS Strategy recognizes the diverse roles women play as agents of change in preventing and resolving conflict, countering terrorism and violent extremism, and building post conflict peace and stability.  The WPS Strategy seeks to increase women’s meaningful leadership in political and civic life by helping to ensure they are empowered to lead and contribute, equipped with the necessary skills and support to succeed, and supported to participate through access to opportunities and resources.  Key departments and agencies are releasing their implementation plans for WPS Strategy including the Departments of State, Defense (DOD), and Homeland Security (DHS); and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.  

MODERATOR:  Okay.  So, welcome, everyone.  My name is Doris Robinson.  Welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s videoconference briefing on the release of the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security Implementation Plans.  The meeting host will now mute all journalists’ microphones.  Please keep your microphones muted until you are called on to ask a question.  You may record this briefing by clicking on the record button on the menu at the bottom of the Zoom screen.  If you have any technical problems during the briefing, you can use the chat feature and a meeting host or one of my colleagues will try to assist you.  If the Zoom session fails or disconnects, please click on the link again to rejoin.  The ground rules:  This briefing is on the record.   

I’d like to go ahead and introduce our briefers.  Mr. John Barsa is the Acting USAID Administrator.  Prior to assuming his duties, he was Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.  Mr. Barsa brings considerable experience from decades of service in the public and private sectors, including significant leadership experience and roles in the Department of Homeland Security as well as working in a congressional office and as a member of the Army Reserves.  In the private sector, he has held positions with a premier defense trade association, small business and large businesses, including a leading Fortune 100 company. 

Ambassador Kelley Currie is the Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues for the U.S. Department of State.  Ambassador Currie was appointed Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues by President Trump in December 2019.  She served simultaneously as the U.S. representative at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  Prior to her appointment, she led the Department of State’s Office of Global Criminal Justice and served in senior roles in the U.S. Mission to the UN.  Throughout her career in foreign policy, Ambassador Currie has specialized in human rights, political reform, development, and humanitarian issues with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region.   

Each of the briefers will give opening statements and then we will turn it over to Q&A.  With that, I will start with Administrator Barsa.   

MR BARSA:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Mr. Barsa, go ahead with your opening statement. 

MR BARSA:  Sorry, that’s what one calls in the business a technical difficulty, so sorry.  That was – I am now un-muted, so thank you so very much. 

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for the launch of the United States Government’s Implementation Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.  For those who I haven’t met yet, I am the acting administrator for the United States Agency for International Development.  I’m honored to be here leading USAID’s efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, and foster prosperity, security, and stability worldwide.   

Here at USAID, we have a long recognized – we have long recognized the role and influence of women and girls to plan a country’s journey to self-reliance.  The United States Women, Peace, and Security Initiative, in conjunction with the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative and other efforts to support women’s prosperity, recognizes that societies that empower women economically and politically are far more stable and peaceful.  Studies show that when women participate in peace processes, resulting agreements are far more likely to endure than agreements without the participation of women.  It should come as no surprise that USAID is committed to making the women, peace, and security strategy a central tenet in our foreign assistance, from policy engagement, planning, to programming. 

In the past two years, the agency has invested over $200 million in programming aligned with the WPS strategy.  Through this work, we are already seeing the impact of including women in conflict prevention and resolution.   

We have seen women of different ethnic and religious backgrounds working together to raise awareness about the devastating impact of gender-based violence and conflict, and to hold perpetrators accountable in Burma.   

We have seen our efforts to foster deeper collaboration between the Colombian Government and civil society lead to new synergies in addressing gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment.   

We’ve seen women negotiate effectively to get armed actors out of schools and humanitarian aid into their communities in Syria.   

And in Mali, we’ve seen young women stepping forward to run for office, and once elected, working across the political spectrum to strengthen national unity and push for peace.   

USAID’s implementation plan advances the WPS strategy through effective, coordinated actions across our development and humanitarian assistance efforts.  It lays out concrete steps the agency is taking to expand and strengthen our work to empower women and girls in countries affected by crisis and conflict.  USAID senior leadership in Washington and in our missions will elevate and advocate for Women, Peace, and Security objectives in our policies and programs.  We’ll consult with local women leaders, civil society, faith-based organizations, and academia in countries affected by crisis and conflict to incorporate their diverse perspectives into USAID’s peace and security programming.  We will break down barriers to women’s participation in peace and political processes. 

In Burma, USAID programming addressed common barriers to women’s participation in the formal peace process by providing women with childcare, transportation, training, and other resources needed to enable them to attend and influence the national dialogue peace processes.  We will integrate women’s and girls’ perspectives into our policies and programs to counter violent extremism, and USAID has expanded its programming to address the needs of women and girls affected by violent extremism and to increase women’s participation in preventing and responding to radicalization in their communities.  

In Nigeria, USAID trained 150 widows of security personnel killed in the fight against violent extremism organizations.  The women were trained on microbusiness, management skills, and provided business startup kits.  This multifaceted support sought to empower women who now find themselves the heads of households with limited skills or opportunities for viable livelihoods, rendering them vulnerable to violent extremism organization influence.   

We will work to reduce the harmful effects of gender-based violence and increase support for survivors affected by crisis and conflict.  We have prioritized activities to protect women and girls from violence in humanitarian emergencies.  In FY2019, USAID directed approximately $85 million towards lifesaving gender-based violence programs around the world. 

In Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Venezuela, the DRC, Somalia, South Sudan and Burma, USAID-supported programming includes a core package of assistance to adult and child (inaudible) gender-based violence survivors such as safety planning and patrols, psychosocial support, women’s access to justice or legal aid, and mobile-based support to reach populations in remote areas. 

In closing, we look forward to continued collaboration with all of our partners, including the private sector, civil society, and faith-based organizations, to advance the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy.  Through coordinated action we’ll empower women and girls, strengthen societies, and improve the prospects for global peace and security.   

Thank you so very much for this opportunity.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And Ambassador Currie. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Thank you so much.  And it’s such a pleasure to be here with my great friend and co-conspirator on these issues, John Barsa.  It’s just – it’s an honor to serve with such a great partner and to know that I have such a wonderful partner in the interagency as we go forward in implementing this important issue. 

Today is a great day for us, because alongside USAID, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department is issuing our implementation plan for the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy of the United States.  And it’s the one-year anniversary of that strategy, which was released by the White House a year ago.  And that strategy followed on the signing of some very important legislation in 2017, the Women, Peace, and Security Act by President Trump that passed with tremendous bipartisan support.  And we continue to enjoy a just tremendous level of bipartisan support for the work that we are doing across these agencies to implement the Women, Peace, and Security agenda in our foreign policy and national security apparatus.   

So I really – and it’s just a super day for us, and we’re all really excited here in my office to be able to talk to you about the work that we’re doing.  These plans are going to take us from law to action to build on a history of 20 years of U.S. leadership in this area.  And I think that it is important to note that this is rooted in the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that passed in October 2000, which the U.S. is a strong supporter of and was instrumental in securing the passage of, and that is now the bedrock of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda globally. 

And I’m really thrilled that we’re – we now have such amazing tools to help us ensure that our work on the ground empower women, ensure their rights are respected and that their voices are heard, is going to be – we’re just going to continue to go from strength to strength.   

And here at the State Department, we’re focused in four particular areas where we do most of our work – policy, diplomacy, programs, and partnership.  And while our USAID colleagues carry a lot of the heavy lift on programs and we tend to do more on the policy and diplomacy side, what’s been really invigorating for me is to see the tremendous level of interagency cooperation that we enjoy with USAID and DOD and now DHS, which is a new partner for us in this implementation effort.   

And we’re – our goal as we all work together on these implementation plans is to weave the Women, Peace, and Security agenda into the fabric of our entire foreign policy and national security effort and get it to where it’s part of our DNA here at the State Department and the other implementing agencies.  We are working with our embassies at the most granular level on the ground to ensure that women have a voice in their communities and governments.  And we’re ensuring all State Department personnel are going to have the tools that they need and the training that they need to be able to implement this plan no matter where they’re based, what they’re working on.  So we’re building these relationships and we’re building these skill sets every day here at the department, but this such a monumental day that we now have this wonderful plan that helps hold us accountable, sets specific metrics and specific detailed commitments from our bureaus and our offices and our missions to work against.   

This is a real priority for the department, and I am very fortunate that in addition to having great partners like John, I also enjoy tremendous support from our leadership today in the department as well as from our leadership at the White House.  We’re very fortunate to have that.  And we’ve seen the results.  We know – we get this support because everybody from the top to the bottom of this agency increasingly recognizes, as John said, that when we empower women, we’re getting – we’re helping to improve not only the security in their countries and their communities, but our own security and our own prosperity.  And in fact, we know that we can’t secure our own security and our own prosperity unless other societies include women in their societies fully and give them every opportunity to participate.  From Afghanistan to Syria, from Sudan to Colombia, we’re working directly with women to make sure that they have an opportunity to lead change and to really transform their own societies in positive ways.  And we know that when they are involved in these discussions, when they have that voice, from – whether it’s from local issues all the way up to national peace negotiations, their countries will be more stable, they will be more peaceful, and they will be more prosperous.   

So it’s a real honor to be here, again, as I said, with John.  And when he was talking about how the agency is providing childcare for women involved in peace negotiations in Burma, it brought back a really funny memory for me from 20 – more than 20 years ago, when I was a much younger program officer working for the International Republican Institute.  And I was organizing the first women’s political party training in our Burma program that we had ever done, and IRI had had a long time programming in Burma working with the democracy movement, but as the first – I organized the first women’s political party training.  And I remember arguing with our grant administrators about trying to get money for babysitters because the women needed childcare in order to participate in the two-day training, and we had to really fight with our donors to get permission to use grant funds on childcare.  And to see that that’s now just built in, it’s just assumed that we’re going to need to do that, it shows the progress (inaudible).  It’s a small thing (inaudible) that we’ve seen over the past 20 years, and it shows how much more – but it also shows how much more we have to do, and we are ready to take on this task and we’re really excited about it.  So with that, I think we’re ready to take some questions from our media colleagues.  Thank you.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador, and thank you, Administrator.  So now we will turn it over to – for questions.  To ask a question, please click on the raised hand link at the bottom of the participant list, and I will call on the journalist.  And if anyone used a mobile phone to access the Zoom video link, the raised hand location is at the bottom of that list as well.  So it looks like our first question will go to Pearl Matibe.  She is with the Mail and Guardian.  And Pearl, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Administrator Barsa and Ambassador Currie.  I really appreciate your time today.  I’m going to lay the context for my question and then present my question so that hopefully you understand why I’m asking the question.  So I appreciate the fact that President Trump is laying out this strategy today.  I’m interested to know why specifically President Trump wants to lay this out – why now – but my audience is more South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.  And you’re speaking about seeking to increase women’s participation in peace and security.  You know already I’m sure that women are being used in the extremist crisis in northern Mozambique in Cabo Delgado, where the insurgents go behind the women so the women are in front of those insurgents.   

I want to understand maybe if you can lay out – I would like to hear from both of you if you could lay out logically what specifically you might be doing in terms of why they should – why should the populations in Mozambique care?  Why should South Africans care about this policy given at the moment that U.S. foreign policy is particularly under scrutiny after the George Floyd events?  In fact, it seems almost as if Africa might be playing China against the United States.  So why President Trump’s strategy now?  Why should we care?  Thank you.   

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  I’m happy to take that question.  Today, as I noted, is the anniversary of the release in 2019 of our government-wide Strategy on Women, Peace and Security, and one of the authorities within that strategy that was announced was that our four agencies were required to develop implementation plan.  So we – this – today was the anniversary, so it seemed like a fitting day to release our implementation plans.  It’s really that simple and there’s not much more – there’s not anything beyond that really as far as the release date.   

As far as some of the issues that you raised, I – one of the main priorities of our Women, Peace and Security work is the intersection between Women, Peace and Security and the need to work on countering violent extremism.  This is a cross-cutting issue across both our Women, Peace and Security work and our women’s economic empowerment work, because we know that there are serious intersections between economic privation, loss of economic rights and opportunities, as well as the kind of governance issues and other problems in countries and societies that lead them to turn on themselves violently, to embrace violent extremism, and for the kinds of things that are happening in northern Mozambique and across the Sahel and West Africa with violent extremism – that the doors are opened by societies that are poorly governed, where rights are not respected, where police and the security forces are abusive and themselves are a threat to women’s security.  So we do recognize the links across these things and we are working at multiple levels – again, through our policy efforts in these contexts, with our partners at the UN, the G5 Sahel, and with our partners in the interagency, across our agencies and different agencies that are working doing security work, aid work, and our diplomatic efforts in the region as well.   

So as far as the Mozambique and the countering violent extremism issue, we are – we just – I know that next door in Burkina Faso, for instance, we’ve seen a massive increase in kidnapping of girls and the migration of tactics that we saw ISIS deploy in Iraq and Syria.  Now ISIS-affiliated organizations are deploying similar tactics of sexual enslavement across this new – this particular arc of instability as they engage in violent activities there.  It is something we are deeply concerned about and working with our partners in those countries to attempt to address.  But if anything, South Africa is a country that we have a lot to learn from because of the leadership that the women in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, that women across the African continent have shown in the Women, Peace and Security space.   

This is such a huge priority for women, and we work with a lot of women’s civil society organizations – and USAID does too – to empower them to make sure that their voices are being heard in helping to build up those mitigating institutions that are essential to keep local conflicts from exploding into broader conflicts, to being exploited by violent extremism organizations that would like to take a local conflict and accelerate it into a religious – or link it up to global extremism.  We are doing a tremendous amount and I know USAID is as well in that space, and our partners at DOD are also doing a tremendous amount of security training.   

But one of the great things about what we’re doing on Women, Peace and Security is how the Department of Defense and the State Department working together are ensuring that our training for security partners overseas takes, again, this Women, Peace and Security agenda and puts it into the DNA of the training – everything from participant selection to the curriculum to what we expect to see coming out of it.  We are working to make sure that the gender advisors to our combatant commands and the gender advisors to our security operations on the ground are given opportunities to weigh in and have a significant voice in what we’re doing.  So again, this is a cross-cutting effort across our agencies, and we’re working really hard to integrate this.  And as – and African countries know, especially the governments that we work with as partners, know that we are a good partner on these issues, and we are continuing to listen to them to help support them as they move forward on their own journeys.   

And again, one of the – we – one of the things we love about Women, Peace and Security is how the lessons go back and forth across the transom.  We have things that we can share, including when we fall short.  That’s – those are powerful lessons from our own society is how we struggle and how we’ve not always lived up to our highest ideals despite everything.  And so we – we’re very conscious of that, but we also know that we can learn from our partners and their on-the-ground experiences, their lived realities in terms of how we can better improve our own training, improve our own preparedness for our people, and how we engage with our partners.  With that, I’m going to see if John has anything he wants to add.  

MR BARSA:  Thank you, Kelley.  What I would like to add is one of the benefits of having global, worldwide operations is that activities in one part of the world can inform others.  So certainly, what we see in Colombia, for example – after five decades of civil war, we saw to have a lasting peace not only do you need to have the full inclusion of women but other marginalized groups as well.  That is the only way you can have full, lasting peace, by having the participation of marginalized groups, indigenous groups, and women in electoral processes, in government, in full integration in the society.  And we certainly realize that when that happens, then you can have true, lasting peace which enables the private sector to come in, and all good things flow from that.  So we learned from these examples and so we were able to apply these lessons in Mozambique and throughout Africa and everywhere else in the world that we operate.  

So some of the examples I cited before in terms of what we’ve been doing with women, this builds upon the database of things that we know that we can do better, build upon, examples we can tie in and replicate in different parts of the world.  So we’re very proud of the work we’ve done, and we’re very excited about this new implementation plan, which ties it all together and gives us our ability to do an added (inaudible).  So we’re really proud of our work in this area.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  So our next question goes to Alex Raufoglu.  He is with the Turan News Agency.  Alex, go ahead with your question.   

QUESTION:  Thank you, Doris.  Great to see you.  And I appreciate our guests for making themselves available today.  Women’s participation in conflict resolution in my part of the world is a little bit limited by a number of factors, just name it, including cultural pressures, lack of resources, et cetera, right.  And as you pointed out, they have played prominent roles in peace process in the whole of Africa, such as in Sudan, in Burundi.   

But my question is about, given the cultural differences, is about particularly the post-Soviet countries that are – not always they are frozen conflicts, like, as they say, in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia-Georgia, Russia-Ukraine conflicts.  The U.S. is actually one of the moderators for the peace process in – between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  And my question is how can Washington ensure that women are running the show?  And they play a key role in designing and implementation of post-conflict resolution.  We never had, by the way, female U.S. moderator for the Minsk group.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate it.   

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  So women – in terms of the particulars of the Minsk process, I would have to defer to my colleagues who track that more specifically.  But I know that in this region, in both our Europe – our Eastern European and our Central Asian region, we are doing quite a bit to help train women, help support women’s organizations, and then to help ensure that we are trying to find ways to connect them. 

And I’ll give you a good example that is just one of our more recent ones.  This year, we – every year that our office manages – one of the – one of our favorite things we do is the International Women of Courage Awards, and we nominate – we have 12 women this year who have received that award.  They get an award from the Secretary and then they get to go off on an international visitor’s program.  And this year we had recipients from both Armenia and Azerbaijan in our – among our recipients.  And so even things like that, where we help to bring these two – they were really both quite remarkable women, and we got to know them a little bit, and they got to know each other during this time period.  And because – even because of translation issues with the translator, the Russian translator, they often had to share a translator if we were having issues with the Azeri or the Armenian translation, and because they both spoke Russian, sometimes we would – they’d have to share a translator.   

And we did – so I know that we are trying to cultivate the next generation of women, and we’ve worked hard throughout – since the – since 1990, it’s been part of our policy to support women’s leadership and to support women’s economic development in the post-Soviet states.  So I know this is an area where we’ve worked in Georgia, in Ukraine, and in fact I know that in a couple of weeks I’m speaking to a women’s org – a group of women, political leaders in Ukraine, to talk about conflict resolution, to talk about Women, Peace and Security.  So USAID has countless programs that they’ve been doing for the past 30 years in this space, so I’m going to let John talk about them, if he’s so inclined.  

MR BARSA:  Well, John would love to talk about them if he had the details before him right now.  But we have thousands of programs throughout the world, so when it comes to specifics about our programming in the post-Soviet world, I’d have to say ne znayuwhich if my college Russian isn’t too failed, I believe is I don’t know at the moment, but we can certainly follow up and get you those fact sheets on any number of the myriad of programs we are doing throughout the region there.   

QUESTION:  Azerbaijan.  And thank you, Ambassador.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And I just wanted to remind our journalists to turn on their cameras if they’d like to be on the film.   

Our next question goes to Pauline Mouhanna.  She is with Jene Afrique.  Pauline, go ahead with your question.   

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Pauline, you can go ahead with your question.  

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  It looks like she’s having some technical difficulties, so we will just remind our journalists, if you have a question, to hit the raised-hand button at the bottom of the participants screen.  And for those journalists who have dialed in by telephone, you can un-mute yourself by pressing *6 if you have a question, and I will go ahead and call on you. 

So let’s see who we have in the queue.  It looks like Pauline would like us to try it one more time.  Pauline, go ahead with your question.   

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Well, maybe we can get her to send in her question.  It appears she has some technical difficulties, so let’s see.  And once again, I will ask our participants, if you have a question, to hit the raised-hand button at the bottom of the screen, and we’ll just give it a minute or two.  

And it looks like Pearl Matibe has a follow-up question.  Pearl, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Doris.  I appreciate it.  I’m just thinking in my head here, the comments from Administrator Barsa and from Ambassador Currie were very, very helpful, so I appreciate those, hence I do have a follow-up question. 

In terms of the violence towards women, we are seeing, in my region here in Southern Africa, particularly violence towards women – state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe to the point where the United Nations special rapporteur issued a statement yesterday.  It has received widespread condemnation from the diplomatic community in Harare.  I wanted to know if there’s anything, any mitigation that maybe USAID or U.S. policy towards Zimbabwe that you’re thinking of. 

And then turning to South Africa, South Africa right now is the chair of the AU.  Is there anything you’re working to the broad – with South Africa in terms of the broader continent?  Thank you so much. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  So on Zimbabwe, I actually, just on Friday, talked – again, I am so fortunate that among many programs we do here, the International Women of Courage Awards gives me a chance to have a really personal connection with some of the most remarkable women leaders who are working at the grassroots in their countries.  And our International Women of Courage Award recipient from Zimbabwe this year, Dr. Rita, and I spoke on the phone on Friday.  And she got arrested when she returned from the United States, and so we were talking about her recent arrest, and she was filling me in on some of the challenges that women activists in particular are facing in Zimbabwe right now and how much pressure they’re under, as well as the work that she is doing to support them.  And we’re really pleased that the small grant that she received as part of her participation in the International Women of Courage Award is going to help support those women activists who are either in prison or out on bail from their harassment by the security forces in Zimbabwe and the terrible, repressive government in Zimbabwe. 

But we’re also looking for ways that we can continue to highlight her situation and make sure that this – one of the good things about this award is that it often provides a level of protection for activists like Dr. Rita who are – who would otherwise be even at more risk by their own activities that they engage in on the ground. 

With South Africa, we’re working within the Security Council now, because South Africa has an elected seat in the Security Council on a number of issues.  Most recently, we just reauthorized and updated the mandate on Sudan to update the – to transition from the – just having a peacekeeping mission in Darfur to extending that through the end of the year and adding in a special political mission that will help support Sudan’s transition to democracy, which I hope everyone on this call knows is as a result of a woman-led peaceful democratic movement that culminated last year with the ouster of the dictator there, Bashir. 

And so, again, this is one of these examples that we love to cite about how, for decades, this guy could not have been more of a plague on the whole continent as well as just globally a sponsor of terrorism, a constant source of chaos across Africa and even across the Middle East.  And a group of women who refused to be quiet, who refused to stand down, who were attacked by the security forces brutally and sexually assaulted, but just kept coming back and kept fighting and kept demanding democracy and demanding his removal, were largely responsible for finally getting rid of someone that decades of U.S. sanctions and UN action had failed to budge. 

John, anything to add? 

MR BARSA:  Sorry about that.  Unfortunately, I don’t have (inaudible) to the reporter asking about the post-Soviet environment, I don’t have before me all of the fact sheets of the activities we do in each specific country.  So I have to go to larger principles, and basically I guess the largest principle is we operate in places where things could be better; the world is not the way it should be.  So when we – we are proud to work with groups to help advocate for change.   

So in whatever country where we have programming in, with the training we give to women and other marginalized groups to help them be more inclusive in society.  So whatever the particular challenges are, we tailor our programming to meet that particular challenge, to help women, other marginalized groups have better access and get better integrated into societies in which they live. 

And again, I’m happy to follow up with you and have my staff can get you fact sheets for particular countries. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador Barsa.  I’d really appreciate that follow-up from your office.  Thank you very much for being available. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our colleague, our journalist, Pauline Mouhanna, she is having technical difficulties, so she did send in her question.  She says:  “My question is related to the situation in Lebanon.  Now the country is facing a very hard financial situation.  Women are in the front lines.  Can you explain if there are any new programs dedicated to them?” 

MR BARSA:  Pauline, John Barsa here again.  I have to extend the same apology to you as well, and this may be a recurring apology for specific countries.  Certainly, wherever USAID has a footprint these issues are important to us.  And again, what I cited before is the knowledge and experience we’ve gained in other parts of the world, we go to apply it in other areas.  So again, we’ll have to follow up with you from the USAID side on details. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  And while I can’t speak to any particular specifics, I know that we have been working across this region, across the Middle East, on a number of different initiatives.  And a lot of it is going to be the security focus, on making sure that security forces are being trained in a way that is responsive to the Women, Peace and Security agenda, as well as through our diplomatic efforts.  We have certainly noted the frontline role that women have played in advocating for change in Lebanon.  It certainly is something that has not escaped our attention as we see the tremendous leadership that women are demonstrating.   

What we’ve done in the past, and what I think some of our other program interventions have done in the past, which we hope will show some benefits going forward as we look for resolution with Lebanon’s both fiscal and other ongoing challenges, is that the work that we have done at the community level to help, as John says, break down the barriers across the different sectarian divides that have caused so much damage in Lebanon. 

And so we’ve been really focused a lot on working on some of those issues, and I’ve had really great colleagues from Lebanon, both in the U.S. (inaudible) and here, that I’ve worked with on some of these issues and how we can help them to get past the sectarian barriers that hold their very vibrant, very – and they’re – again, Lebanon is one of those countries in the Middle East where women have a lot more economic and political and social-cultural freedom than in some other context.  And so we want to help support them to take advantage of those spaces as much as possible.  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I’d like to give our journalists on the phone one last opportunity to ask a question.  If you can hit *6 to ask your question, we are happy to take a question by phone.   

Okay, it appears we don’t have anyone else by phone, and I do not see any other raised questions.  So I would like to thank our speakers today, Ambassador Currie and Administrator Barsa, for taking the time to speak with us today.  We hope to have a transcript of our session that we will send around to all of our participants today.  And if anyone has any other questions, please feel free to send it to us, and we will pass it to our briefers, and you can send those questions to dcfpc@state.gov.  And I think that concludes our session, unless Ambassador Currie has final comments. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  I see there is a question from David Michaels in the chat about programs in Uruguay and other Mercosur countries.   

MODERATOR:  Yes. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  So I want to do – I actually am really thrilled to be able to give a shoutout to Uruguay, because right now they are the co-chairs of the Focal Points Network for Women, Peace and Security, which is one of the multilateral organizations that we work within to promote Women, Peace and Security globally, especially in multilateral institutions at the UN.  And Uruguay has been a tremendous leader.   

And one of the – as I said before, this agenda operates at multiple levels.  It has an internal component for us as we think about own security forces and making sure that women have opportunities within our own defense and national security and foreign policy agencies.  But it also operates in our partnerships with others, and Uruguay has been just a tremendous partner there.  And then I know within Latin America we have great partnerships.  John has mentioned Colombia.  We’ve also been working in Paraguay.  We are doing training in Brazil and Peru on Women, Peace and Security at the request of our embassies there because they really want to amp up their Women, Peace and Security engagement with those countries.  So we – this is – all across South and Central America we had a lot of engagement.  And I know that this isn’t – John, did you have anything to add about Mercosur in particular? 

MR BARSA:  Absolutely.  Certainly, Mercosur encompasses some countries where USAID doesn’t have a presence, such as Argentina, and we don’t have a presence in Uruguay.  We do have presence in Brazil and Paraguay.  Certainly, in Brazil we do a lot of work with deforestation and protecting the rainforest as direct – directed programming there.  Certainly, our work in Paraguay is directed to, among other things, reducing inequality, so these kind of activities do fit into our programming in Paraguay.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, and it looks like we do have one final question, if that’s okay, Ambassador and Administrator.  We’ll go ahead and take that question from Kiran.  Kiran, can you go ahead and state your name and your media outlet?   

QUESTION:  Yes, Kiran Maharj, Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network.  Good afternoon, Ambassador, and to Mr. Barsa.  Thank you, Doris.  One of my concerns is that I know that this is going to be a great project and I’m very passionate about Women, Peace and Security, but one of the things is that what we often see, especially in small island nations, is that they – similar projects may come in and a lot of support is given to civil society and we begin building.  At the end of a project timeline, we find that there’s no sustainability and a lot of projects fall by the way and they lapse.  And so the transformational efforts, they tend to just fall by the wayside.  So does this plan take into account any measures to ensure that there is sustainability, perhaps by way of integrating private sector and government to create those bridges that will keep them going?  

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Well, if you – when you have a chance to look at our plan and also the other plans, you’ll see that they have an – in our case, an annex or an appendix that goes through what our metrics are that we’ve established for our agency to meet to measure what we’re doing.  But what we’re really looking for is to see that actual transformative effect, not only in our own policy.  Again, this is operating at two levels.  It’s operating within our own policy where we’re working to transform our own institutions, but it’s also operating to transform how we engage with our partners and help them as they move along on their own journeys.   

And so what we’ve seen over the past 20 years is the Caribbean nations, the small island states, have in many cases been very innovative and have been really proactive in this agenda.  And a lot of it shows up in things like how they – their contributions as troop-contributing countries to peacekeeping, for instance.  We have a lot of small island developing countries that are major contributors of peacekeeping troops and contribute a lot in policing in – when the UN deploys a security mission around the world.  And so one of the things that we’re doing here – we provide a lot of training to troop-contributing countries.  This is a joint State Department-Department of Defense endeavor, and we are working to make sure that that training incorporates (inaudible) security principles.   

We’ve actually been doing this for some time now, since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.  This has been on the agenda of the Security Council, and as a permanent member of the Security Council, it’s a priority for us to make sure that peacekeeping is being transformed in this way as well.  So that’s been something that we’ve been working on for the past 20 years very diligently as a permanent member of the Security Council, and we will continue to do this.  What this plan, what the strategy, what the legislation in the past three years has given us is just more tools and more strategic focus and emphasis on work that – where we were already substantially engaged.   

John, did you have anything else to add? 

MR BARSA:  Yeah, certainly.  Again, from the broad 80,000-foot level – I’m not going to get into the details of any particular Caribbean country or island and work we’re doing there, but broadly in terms of metrics, we have at USAID something called a journey to self-reliance, which measures a country’s progress along several objective areas so we can have better data-driven decisions.  So inclusion of women into society is something we very much look at.  And all around the world, in every aspect of what we do, things don’t happen as quickly as we like.  It’s not a light switch.  When we’re looking at changing societies and cultures, it is not – it won’t happen as quickly as we would all like, but what we have here is persistence.  What we’ve done here with this – with the rollout of this implementation plan is showing commitment by this administration to address these issues.  This isn’t folly.  What we’re doing is we are coordinating, consolidating, putting greater emphasis on this.  So we completely understand this is a multi-year effort in any parts of the world, but we are extremely proud of the work we’re doing and the partnerships we have on the ground to try to make these changes.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Well, that’s all the time we have for today.  I’d like to thank again Administrator Barsa and Ambassador Currie for taking the time to speak with us today, and that concludes our briefing today.  Thank you, everyone.  

# # # 

FOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING WITH ACTING ADMINISTRATOR U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (USAID) JOHN BARSA AND AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE FOR GLOBAL WOMEN’S ISSUES U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE KELLEY E. CURRIE 

TOPIC: RELEASE OF THE U.S. STRATEGY ON WOMEN, PEACE, AND SECURITY IMPLEMENTATION PLANS   

THURSDAY, JUNE 11, 2020, 2:30 P.M. EST 

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.  

MODERATOR:  Okay.  So, welcome, everyone.  My name is Doris Robinson.  Welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s videoconference briefing on the release of the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security Implementation Plans.  The meeting host will now mute all journalists’ microphones.  Please keep your microphones muted until you are called on to ask a question.  You may record this briefing by clicking on the record button on the menu at the bottom of the Zoom screen.  If you have any technical problems during the briefing, you can use the chat feature and a meeting host or one of my colleagues will try to assist you.  If the Zoom session fails or disconnects, please click on the link again to rejoin.  The ground rules:  This briefing is on the record.   

I’d like to go ahead and introduce our briefers.  Mr. John Barsa is the Acting USAID Administrator.  Prior to assuming his duties, he was Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.  Mr. Barsa brings considerable experience from decades of service in the public and private sectors, including significant leadership experience and roles in the Department of Homeland Security as well as working in a congressional office and as a member of the Army Reserves.  In the private sector, he has held positions with a premier defense trade association, small business and large businesses, including a leading Fortune 100 company. 

Ambassador Kelley Currie is the Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues for the U.S. Department of State.  Ambassador Currie was appointed Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues by President Trump in December 2019.  She served simultaneously as the U.S. representative at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  Prior to her appointment, she led the Department of State’s Office of Global Criminal Justice and served in senior roles in the U.S. Mission to the UN.  Throughout her career in foreign policy, Ambassador Currie has specialized in human rights, political reform, development, and humanitarian issues with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region.   

Each of the briefers will give opening statements and then we will turn it over to Q&A.  With that, I will start with Administrator Barsa.   

MR BARSA:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Mr. Barsa, go ahead with your opening statement. 

MR BARSA:  Sorry, that’s what one calls in the business a technical difficulty, so sorry.  That was – I am now un-muted, so thank you so very much. 

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for the launch of the United States Government’s Implementation Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.  For those who I haven’t met yet, I am the acting administrator for the United States Agency for International Development.  I’m honored to be here leading USAID’s efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, and foster prosperity, security, and stability worldwide.   

Here at USAID, we have a long recognized – we have long recognized the role and influence of women and girls to plan a country’s journey to self-reliance.  The United States Women, Peace, and Security Initiative, in conjunction with the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative and other efforts to support women’s prosperity, recognizes that societies that empower women economically and politically are far more stable and peaceful.  Studies show that when women participate in peace processes, resulting agreements are far more likely to endure than agreements without the participation of women.  It should come as no surprise that USAID is committed to making the women, peace, and security strategy a central tenet in our foreign assistance, from policy engagement, planning, to programming. 

In the past two years, the agency has invested over $200 million in programming aligned with the WPS strategy.  Through this work, we are already seeing the impact of including women in conflict prevention and resolution.   

We have seen women of different ethnic and religious backgrounds working together to raise awareness about the devastating impact of gender-based violence and conflict, and to hold perpetrators accountable in Burma.   

We have seen our efforts to foster deeper collaboration between the Colombian Government and civil society lead to new synergies in addressing gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment.   

We’ve seen women negotiate effectively to get armed actors out of schools and humanitarian aid into their communities in Syria.   

And in Mali, we’ve seen young women stepping forward to run for office, and once elected, working across the political spectrum to strengthen national unity and push for peace.   

USAID’s implementation plan advances the WPS strategy through effective, coordinated actions across our development and humanitarian assistance efforts.  It lays out concrete steps the agency is taking to expand and strengthen our work to empower women and girls in countries affected by crisis and conflict.  USAID senior leadership in Washington and in our missions will elevate and advocate for Women, Peace, and Security objectives in our policies and programs.  We’ll consult with local women leaders, civil society, faith-based organizations, and academia in countries affected by crisis and conflict to incorporate their diverse perspectives into USAID’s peace and security programming.  We will break down barriers to women’s participation in peace and political processes. 

In Burma, USAID programming addressed common barriers to women’s participation in the formal peace process by providing women with childcare, transportation, training, and other resources needed to enable them to attend and influence the national dialogue peace processes.  We will integrate women’s and girls’ perspectives into our policies and programs to counter violent extremism, and USAID has expanded its programming to address the needs of women and girls affected by violent extremism and to increase women’s participation in preventing and responding to radicalization in their communities.  

In Nigeria, USAID trained 150 widows of security personnel killed in the fight against violent extremism organizations.  The women were trained on microbusiness, management skills, and provided business startup kits.  This multifaceted support sought to empower women who now find themselves the heads of households with limited skills or opportunities for viable livelihoods, rendering them vulnerable to violent extremism organization influence.   

We will work to reduce the harmful effects of gender-based violence and increase support for survivors affected by crisis and conflict.  We have prioritized activities to protect women and girls from violence in humanitarian emergencies.  In FY2019, USAID directed approximately $85 million towards lifesaving gender-based violence programs around the world. 

In Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Venezuela, the DRC, Somalia, South Sudan and Burma, USAID-supported programming includes a core package of assistance to adult and child (inaudible) gender-based violence survivors such as safety planning and patrols, psychosocial support, women’s access to justice or legal aid, and mobile-based support to reach populations in remote areas. 

In closing, we look forward to continued collaboration with all of our partners, including the private sector, civil society, and faith-based organizations, to advance the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy.  Through coordinated action we’ll empower women and girls, strengthen societies, and improve the prospects for global peace and security.   

Thank you so very much for this opportunity.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And Ambassador Currie. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Thank you so much.  And it’s such a pleasure to be here with my great friend and co-conspirator on these issues, John Barsa.  It’s just – it’s an honor to serve with such a great partner and to know that I have such a wonderful partner in the interagency as we go forward in implementing this important issue. 

Today is a great day for us, because alongside USAID, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department is issuing our implementation plan for the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy of the United States.  And it’s the one-year anniversary of that strategy, which was released by the White House a year ago.  And that strategy followed on the signing of some very important legislation in 2017, the Women, Peace, and Security Act by President Trump that passed with tremendous bipartisan support.  And we continue to enjoy a just tremendous level of bipartisan support for the work that we are doing across these agencies to implement the Women, Peace, and Security agenda in our foreign policy and national security apparatus.   

So I really – and it’s just a super day for us, and we’re all really excited here in my office to be able to talk to you about the work that we’re doing.  These plans are going to take us from law to action to build on a history of 20 years of U.S. leadership in this area.  And I think that it is important to note that this is rooted in the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that passed in October 2000, which the U.S. is a strong supporter of and was instrumental in securing the passage of, and that is now the bedrock of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda globally. 

And I’m really thrilled that we’re – we now have such amazing tools to help us ensure that our work on the ground empower women, ensure their rights are respected and that their voices are heard, is going to be – we’re just going to continue to go from strength to strength.   

And here at the State Department, we’re focused in four particular areas where we do most of our work – policy, diplomacy, programs, and partnership.  And while our USAID colleagues carry a lot of the heavy lift on programs and we tend to do more on the policy and diplomacy side, what’s been really invigorating for me is to see the tremendous level of interagency cooperation that we enjoy with USAID and DOD and now DHS, which is a new partner for us in this implementation effort.   

And we’re – our goal as we all work together on these implementation plans is to weave the Women, Peace, and Security agenda into the fabric of our entire foreign policy and national security effort and get it to where it’s part of our DNA here at the State Department and the other implementing agencies.  We are working with our embassies at the most granular level on the ground to ensure that women have a voice in their communities and governments.  And we’re ensuring all State Department personnel are going to have the tools that they need and the training that they need to be able to implement this plan no matter where they’re based, what they’re working on.  So we’re building these relationships and we’re building these skill sets every day here at the department, but this such a monumental day that we now have this wonderful plan that helps hold us accountable, sets specific metrics and specific detailed commitments from our bureaus and our offices and our missions to work against.   

This is a real priority for the department, and I am very fortunate that in addition to having great partners like John, I also enjoy tremendous support from our leadership today in the department as well as from our leadership at the White House.  We’re very fortunate to have that.  And we’ve seen the results.  We know – we get this support because everybody from the top to the bottom of this agency increasingly recognizes, as John said, that when we empower women, we’re getting – we’re helping to improve not only the security in their countries and their communities, but our own security and our own prosperity.  And in fact, we know that we can’t secure our own security and our own prosperity unless other societies include women in their societies fully and give them every opportunity to participate.  From Afghanistan to Syria, from Sudan to Colombia, we’re working directly with women to make sure that they have an opportunity to lead change and to really transform their own societies in positive ways.  And we know that when they are involved in these discussions, when they have that voice, from – whether it’s from local issues all the way up to national peace negotiations, their countries will be more stable, they will be more peaceful, and they will be more prosperous.   

So it’s a real honor to be here, again, as I said, with John.  And when he was talking about how the agency is providing childcare for women involved in peace negotiations in Burma, it brought back a really funny memory for me from 20 – more than 20 years ago, when I was a much younger program officer working for the International Republican Institute.  And I was organizing the first women’s political party training in our Burma program that we had ever done, and IRI had had a long time programming in Burma working with the democracy movement, but as the first – I organized the first women’s political party training.  And I remember arguing with our grant administrators about trying to get money for babysitters because the women needed childcare in order to participate in the two-day training, and we had to really fight with our donors to get permission to use grant funds on childcare.  And to see that that’s now just built in, it’s just assumed that we’re going to need to do that, it shows the progress (inaudible).  It’s a small thing (inaudible) that we’ve seen over the past 20 years, and it shows how much more – but it also shows how much more we have to do, and we are ready to take on this task and we’re really excited about it.  So with that, I think we’re ready to take some questions from our media colleagues.  Thank you.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador, and thank you, Administrator.  So now we will turn it over to – for questions.  To ask a question, please click on the raised hand link at the bottom of the participant list, and I will call on the journalist.  And if anyone used a mobile phone to access the Zoom video link, the raised hand location is at the bottom of that list as well.  So it looks like our first question will go to Pearl Matibe.  She is with the Mail and Guardian.  And Pearl, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Administrator Barsa and Ambassador Currie.  I really appreciate your time today.  I’m going to lay the context for my question and then present my question so that hopefully you understand why I’m asking the question.  So I appreciate the fact that President Trump is laying out this strategy today.  I’m interested to know why specifically President Trump wants to lay this out – why now – but my audience is more South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.  And you’re speaking about seeking to increase women’s participation in peace and security.  You know already I’m sure that women are being used in the extremist crisis in northern Mozambique in Cabo Delgado, where the insurgents go behind the women so the women are in front of those insurgents.   

I want to understand maybe if you can lay out – I would like to hear from both of you if you could lay out logically what specifically you might be doing in terms of why they should – why should the populations in Mozambique care?  Why should South Africans care about this policy given at the moment that U.S. foreign policy is particularly under scrutiny after the George Floyd events?  In fact, it seems almost as if Africa might be playing China against the United States.  So why President Trump’s strategy now?  Why should we care?  Thank you.   

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  I’m happy to take that question.  Today, as I noted, is the anniversary of the release in 2019 of our government-wide Strategy on Women, Peace and Security, and one of the authorities within that strategy that was announced was that our four agencies were required to develop implementation plan.  So we – this – today was the anniversary, so it seemed like a fitting day to release our implementation plans.  It’s really that simple and there’s not much more – there’s not anything beyond that really as far as the release date.   

As far as some of the issues that you raised, I – one of the main priorities of our Women, Peace and Security work is the intersection between Women, Peace and Security and the need to work on countering violent extremism.  This is a cross-cutting issue across both our Women, Peace and Security work and our women’s economic empowerment work, because we know that there are serious intersections between economic privation, loss of economic rights and opportunities, as well as the kind of governance issues and other problems in countries and societies that lead them to turn on themselves violently, to embrace violent extremism, and for the kinds of things that are happening in northern Mozambique and across the Sahel and West Africa with violent extremism – that the doors are opened by societies that are poorly governed, where rights are not respected, where police and the security forces are abusive and themselves are a threat to women’s security.  So we do recognize the links across these things and we are working at multiple levels – again, through our policy efforts in these contexts, with our partners at the UN, the G5 Sahel, and with our partners in the interagency, across our agencies and different agencies that are working doing security work, aid work, and our diplomatic efforts in the region as well.   

So as far as the Mozambique and the countering violent extremism issue, we are – we just – I know that next door in Burkina Faso, for instance, we’ve seen a massive increase in kidnapping of girls and the migration of tactics that we saw ISIS deploy in Iraq and Syria.  Now ISIS-affiliated organizations are deploying similar tactics of sexual enslavement across this new – this particular arc of instability as they engage in violent activities there.  It is something we are deeply concerned about and working with our partners in those countries to attempt to address.  But if anything, South Africa is a country that we have a lot to learn from because of the leadership that the women in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, that women across the African continent have shown in the Women, Peace and Security space.   

This is such a huge priority for women, and we work with a lot of women’s civil society organizations – and USAID does too – to empower them to make sure that their voices are being heard in helping to build up those mitigating institutions that are essential to keep local conflicts from exploding into broader conflicts, to being exploited by violent extremism organizations that would like to take a local conflict and accelerate it into a religious – or link it up to global extremism.  We are doing a tremendous amount and I know USAID is as well in that space, and our partners at DOD are also doing a tremendous amount of security training.   

But one of the great things about what we’re doing on Women, Peace and Security is how the Department of Defense and the State Department working together are ensuring that our training for security partners overseas takes, again, this Women, Peace and Security agenda and puts it into the DNA of the training – everything from participant selection to the curriculum to what we expect to see coming out of it.  We are working to make sure that the gender advisors to our combatant commands and the gender advisors to our security operations on the ground are given opportunities to weigh in and have a significant voice in what we’re doing.  So again, this is a cross-cutting effort across our agencies, and we’re working really hard to integrate this.  And as – and African countries know, especially the governments that we work with as partners, know that we are a good partner on these issues, and we are continuing to listen to them to help support them as they move forward on their own journeys.   

And again, one of the – we – one of the things we love about Women, Peace and Security is how the lessons go back and forth across the transom.  We have things that we can share, including when we fall short.  That’s – those are powerful lessons from our own society is how we struggle and how we’ve not always lived up to our highest ideals despite everything.  And so we – we’re very conscious of that, but we also know that we can learn from our partners and their on-the-ground experiences, their lived realities in terms of how we can better improve our own training, improve our own preparedness for our people, and how we engage with our partners.  With that, I’m going to see if John has anything he wants to add.  

MR BARSA:  Thank you, Kelley.  What I would like to add is one of the benefits of having global, worldwide operations is that activities in one part of the world can inform others.  So certainly, what we see in Colombia, for example – after five decades of civil war, we saw to have a lasting peace not only do you need to have the full inclusion of women but other marginalized groups as well.  That is the only way you can have full, lasting peace, by having the participation of marginalized groups, indigenous groups, and women in electoral processes, in government, in full integration in the society.  And we certainly realize that when that happens, then you can have true, lasting peace which enables the private sector to come in, and all good things flow from that.  So we learned from these examples and so we were able to apply these lessons in Mozambique and throughout Africa and everywhere else in the world that we operate.  

So some of the examples I cited before in terms of what we’ve been doing with women, this builds upon the database of things that we know that we can do better, build upon, examples we can tie in and replicate in different parts of the world.  So we’re very proud of the work we’ve done, and we’re very excited about this new implementation plan, which ties it all together and gives us our ability to do an added (inaudible).  So we’re really proud of our work in this area.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  So our next question goes to Alex Raufoglu.  He is with the Turan News Agency.  Alex, go ahead with your question.   

QUESTION:  Thank you, Doris.  Great to see you.  And I appreciate our guests for making themselves available today.  Women’s participation in conflict resolution in my part of the world is a little bit limited by a number of factors, just name it, including cultural pressures, lack of resources, et cetera, right.  And as you pointed out, they have played prominent roles in peace process in the whole of Africa, such as in Sudan, in Burundi.   

But my question is about, given the cultural differences, is about particularly the post-Soviet countries that are – not always they are frozen conflicts, like, as they say, in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia-Georgia, Russia-Ukraine conflicts.  The U.S. is actually one of the moderators for the peace process in – between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  And my question is how can Washington ensure that women are running the show?  And they play a key role in designing and implementation of post-conflict resolution.  We never had, by the way, female U.S. moderator for the Minsk group.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate it.   

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  So women – in terms of the particulars of the Minsk process, I would have to defer to my colleagues who track that more specifically.  But I know that in this region, in both our Europe – our Eastern European and our Central Asian region, we are doing quite a bit to help train women, help support women’s organizations, and then to help ensure that we are trying to find ways to connect them. 

And I’ll give you a good example that is just one of our more recent ones.  This year, we – every year that our office manages – one of the – one of our favorite things we do is the International Women of Courage Awards, and we nominate – we have 12 women this year who have received that award.  They get an award from the Secretary and then they get to go off on an international visitor’s program.  And this year we had recipients from both Armenia and Azerbaijan in our – among our recipients.  And so even things like that, where we help to bring these two – they were really both quite remarkable women, and we got to know them a little bit, and they got to know each other during this time period.  And because – even because of translation issues with the translator, the Russian translator, they often had to share a translator if we were having issues with the Azeri or the Armenian translation, and because they both spoke Russian, sometimes we would – they’d have to share a translator.   

And we did – so I know that we are trying to cultivate the next generation of women, and we’ve worked hard throughout – since the – since 1990, it’s been part of our policy to support women’s leadership and to support women’s economic development in the post-Soviet states.  So I know this is an area where we’ve worked in Georgia, in Ukraine, and in fact I know that in a couple of weeks I’m speaking to a women’s org – a group of women, political leaders in Ukraine, to talk about conflict resolution, to talk about Women, Peace and Security.  So USAID has countless programs that they’ve been doing for the past 30 years in this space, so I’m going to let John talk about them, if he’s so inclined.  

MR BARSA:  Well, John would love to talk about them if he had the details before him right now.  But we have thousands of programs throughout the world, so when it comes to specifics about our programming in the post-Soviet world, I’d have to say ne znayuwhich if my college Russian isn’t too failed, I believe is I don’t know at the moment, but we can certainly follow up and get you those fact sheets on any number of the myriad of programs we are doing throughout the region there.   

QUESTION:  Azerbaijan.  And thank you, Ambassador.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And I just wanted to remind our journalists to turn on their cameras if they’d like to be on the film.   

Our next question goes to Pauline Mouhanna.  She is with Jene Afrique.  Pauline, go ahead with your question.   

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Pauline, you can go ahead with your question.  

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  It looks like she’s having some technical difficulties, so we will just remind our journalists, if you have a question, to hit the raised-hand button at the bottom of the participants screen.  And for those journalists who have dialed in by telephone, you can un-mute yourself by pressing *6 if you have a question, and I will go ahead and call on you. 

So let’s see who we have in the queue.  It looks like Pauline would like us to try it one more time.  Pauline, go ahead with your question.   

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Well, maybe we can get her to send in her question.  It appears she has some technical difficulties, so let’s see.  And once again, I will ask our participants, if you have a question, to hit the raised-hand button at the bottom of the screen, and we’ll just give it a minute or two.  

And it looks like Pearl Matibe has a follow-up question.  Pearl, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Doris.  I appreciate it.  I’m just thinking in my head here, the comments from Administrator Barsa and from Ambassador Currie were very, very helpful, so I appreciate those, hence I do have a follow-up question. 

In terms of the violence towards women, we are seeing, in my region here in Southern Africa, particularly violence towards women – state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe to the point where the United Nations special rapporteur issued a statement yesterday.  It has received widespread condemnation from the diplomatic community in Harare.  I wanted to know if there’s anything, any mitigation that maybe USAID or U.S. policy towards Zimbabwe that you’re thinking of. 

And then turning to South Africa, South Africa right now is the chair of the AU.  Is there anything you’re working to the broad – with South Africa in terms of the broader continent?  Thank you so much. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  So on Zimbabwe, I actually, just on Friday, talked – again, I am so fortunate that among many programs we do here, the International Women of Courage Awards gives me a chance to have a really personal connection with some of the most remarkable women leaders who are working at the grassroots in their countries.  And our International Women of Courage Award recipient from Zimbabwe this year, Dr. Rita, and I spoke on the phone on Friday.  And she got arrested when she returned from the United States, and so we were talking about her recent arrest, and she was filling me in on some of the challenges that women activists in particular are facing in Zimbabwe right now and how much pressure they’re under, as well as the work that she is doing to support them.  And we’re really pleased that the small grant that she received as part of her participation in the International Women of Courage Award is going to help support those women activists who are either in prison or out on bail from their harassment by the security forces in Zimbabwe and the terrible, repressive government in Zimbabwe. 

But we’re also looking for ways that we can continue to highlight her situation and make sure that this – one of the good things about this award is that it often provides a level of protection for activists like Dr. Rita who are – who would otherwise be even at more risk by their own activities that they engage in on the ground. 

With South Africa, we’re working within the Security Council now, because South Africa has an elected seat in the Security Council on a number of issues.  Most recently, we just reauthorized and updated the mandate on Sudan to update the – to transition from the – just having a peacekeeping mission in Darfur to extending that through the end of the year and adding in a special political mission that will help support Sudan’s transition to democracy, which I hope everyone on this call knows is as a result of a woman-led peaceful democratic movement that culminated last year with the ouster of the dictator there, Bashir. 

And so, again, this is one of these examples that we love to cite about how, for decades, this guy could not have been more of a plague on the whole continent as well as just globally a sponsor of terrorism, a constant source of chaos across Africa and even across the Middle East.  And a group of women who refused to be quiet, who refused to stand down, who were attacked by the security forces brutally and sexually assaulted, but just kept coming back and kept fighting and kept demanding democracy and demanding his removal, were largely responsible for finally getting rid of someone that decades of U.S. sanctions and UN action had failed to budge. 

John, anything to add? 

MR BARSA:  Sorry about that.  Unfortunately, I don’t have (inaudible) to the reporter asking about the post-Soviet environment, I don’t have before me all of the fact sheets of the activities we do in each specific country.  So I have to go to larger principles, and basically I guess the largest principle is we operate in places where things could be better; the world is not the way it should be.  So when we – we are proud to work with groups to help advocate for change.   

So in whatever country where we have programming in, with the training we give to women and other marginalized groups to help them be more inclusive in society.  So whatever the particular challenges are, we tailor our programming to meet that particular challenge, to help women, other marginalized groups have better access and get better integrated into societies in which they live. 

And again, I’m happy to follow up with you and have my staff can get you fact sheets for particular countries. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador Barsa.  I’d really appreciate that follow-up from your office.  Thank you very much for being available. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our colleague, our journalist, Pauline Mouhanna, she is having technical difficulties, so she did send in her question.  She says:  “My question is related to the situation in Lebanon.  Now the country is facing a very hard financial situation.  Women are in the front lines.  Can you explain if there are any new programs dedicated to them?” 

MR BARSA:  Pauline, John Barsa here again.  I have to extend the same apology to you as well, and this may be a recurring apology for specific countries.  Certainly, wherever USAID has a footprint these issues are important to us.  And again, what I cited before is the knowledge and experience we’ve gained in other parts of the world, we go to apply it in other areas.  So again, we’ll have to follow up with you from the USAID side on details. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  And while I can’t speak to any particular specifics, I know that we have been working across this region, across the Middle East, on a number of different initiatives.  And a lot of it is going to be the security focus, on making sure that security forces are being trained in a way that is responsive to the Women, Peace and Security agenda, as well as through our diplomatic efforts.  We have certainly noted the frontline role that women have played in advocating for change in Lebanon.  It certainly is something that has not escaped our attention as we see the tremendous leadership that women are demonstrating.   

What we’ve done in the past, and what I think some of our other program interventions have done in the past, which we hope will show some benefits going forward as we look for resolution with Lebanon’s both fiscal and other ongoing challenges, is that the work that we have done at the community level to help, as John says, break down the barriers across the different sectarian divides that have caused so much damage in Lebanon. 

And so we’ve been really focused a lot on working on some of those issues, and I’ve had really great colleagues from Lebanon, both in the U.S. (inaudible) and here, that I’ve worked with on some of these issues and how we can help them to get past the sectarian barriers that hold their very vibrant, very – and they’re – again, Lebanon is one of those countries in the Middle East where women have a lot more economic and political and social-cultural freedom than in some other context.  And so we want to help support them to take advantage of those spaces as much as possible.  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I’d like to give our journalists on the phone one last opportunity to ask a question.  If you can hit *6 to ask your question, we are happy to take a question by phone.   

Okay, it appears we don’t have anyone else by phone, and I do not see any other raised questions.  So I would like to thank our speakers today, Ambassador Currie and Administrator Barsa, for taking the time to speak with us today.  We hope to have a transcript of our session that we will send around to all of our participants today.  And if anyone has any other questions, please feel free to send it to us, and we will pass it to our briefers, and you can send those questions to dcfpc@state.gov.  And I think that concludes our session, unless Ambassador Currie has final comments. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  I see there is a question from David Michaels in the chat about programs in Uruguay and other Mercosur countries.   

MODERATOR:  Yes. 

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  So I want to do – I actually am really thrilled to be able to give a shoutout to Uruguay, because right now they are the co-chairs of the Focal Points Network for Women, Peace and Security, which is one of the multilateral organizations that we work within to promote Women, Peace and Security globally, especially in multilateral institutions at the UN.  And Uruguay has been a tremendous leader.   

And one of the – as I said before, this agenda operates at multiple levels.  It has an internal component for us as we think about own security forces and making sure that women have opportunities within our own defense and national security and foreign policy agencies.  But it also operates in our partnerships with others, and Uruguay has been just a tremendous partner there.  And then I know within Latin America we have great partnerships.  John has mentioned Colombia.  We’ve also been working in Paraguay.  We are doing training in Brazil and Peru on Women, Peace and Security at the request of our embassies there because they really want to amp up their Women, Peace and Security engagement with those countries.  So we – this is – all across South and Central America we had a lot of engagement.  And I know that this isn’t – John, did you have anything to add about Mercosur in particular? 

MR BARSA:  Absolutely.  Certainly, Mercosur encompasses some countries where USAID doesn’t have a presence, such as Argentina, and we don’t have a presence in Uruguay.  We do have presence in Brazil and Paraguay.  Certainly, in Brazil we do a lot of work with deforestation and protecting the rainforest as direct – directed programming there.  Certainly, our work in Paraguay is directed to, among other things, reducing inequality, so these kind of activities do fit into our programming in Paraguay.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, and it looks like we do have one final question, if that’s okay, Ambassador and Administrator.  We’ll go ahead and take that question from Kiran.  Kiran, can you go ahead and state your name and your media outlet?   

QUESTION:  Yes, Kiran Maharj, Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network.  Good afternoon, Ambassador, and to Mr. Barsa.  Thank you, Doris.  One of my concerns is that I know that this is going to be a great project and I’m very passionate about Women, Peace and Security, but one of the things is that what we often see, especially in small island nations, is that they – similar projects may come in and a lot of support is given to civil society and we begin building.  At the end of a project timeline, we find that there’s no sustainability and a lot of projects fall by the way and they lapse.  And so the transformational efforts, they tend to just fall by the wayside.  So does this plan take into account any measures to ensure that there is sustainability, perhaps by way of integrating private sector and government to create those bridges that will keep them going?  

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Well, if you – when you have a chance to look at our plan and also the other plans, you’ll see that they have an – in our case, an annex or an appendix that goes through what our metrics are that we’ve established for our agency to meet to measure what we’re doing.  But what we’re really looking for is to see that actual transformative effect, not only in our own policy.  Again, this is operating at two levels.  It’s operating within our own policy where we’re working to transform our own institutions, but it’s also operating to transform how we engage with our partners and help them as they move along on their own journeys.   

And so what we’ve seen over the past 20 years is the Caribbean nations, the small island states, have in many cases been very innovative and have been really proactive in this agenda.  And a lot of it shows up in things like how they – their contributions as troop-contributing countries to peacekeeping, for instance.  We have a lot of small island developing countries that are major contributors of peacekeeping troops and contribute a lot in policing in – when the UN deploys a security mission around the world.  And so one of the things that we’re doing here – we provide a lot of training to troop-contributing countries.  This is a joint State Department-Department of Defense endeavor, and we are working to make sure that that training incorporates (inaudible) security principles.   

We’ve actually been doing this for some time now, since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.  This has been on the agenda of the Security Council, and as a permanent member of the Security Council, it’s a priority for us to make sure that peacekeeping is being transformed in this way as well.  So that’s been something that we’ve been working on for the past 20 years very diligently as a permanent member of the Security Council, and we will continue to do this.  What this plan, what the strategy, what the legislation in the past three years has given us is just more tools and more strategic focus and emphasis on work that – where we were already substantially engaged.   

John, did you have anything else to add? 

MR BARSA:  Yeah, certainly.  Again, from the broad 80,000-foot level – I’m not going to get into the details of any particular Caribbean country or island and work we’re doing there, but broadly in terms of metrics, we have at USAID something called a journey to self-reliance, which measures a country’s progress along several objective areas so we can have better data-driven decisions.  So inclusion of women into society is something we very much look at.  And all around the world, in every aspect of what we do, things don’t happen as quickly as we like.  It’s not a light switch.  When we’re looking at changing societies and cultures, it is not – it won’t happen as quickly as we would all like, but what we have here is persistence.  What we’ve done here with this – with the rollout of this implementation plan is showing commitment by this administration to address these issues.  This isn’t folly.  What we’re doing is we are coordinating, consolidating, putting greater emphasis on this.  So we completely understand this is a multi-year effort in any parts of the world, but we are extremely proud of the work we’re doing and the partnerships we have on the ground to try to make these changes.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Well, that’s all the time we have for today.  I’d like to thank again Administrator Barsa and Ambassador Currie for taking the time to speak with us today, and that concludes our briefing today.  Thank you, everyone.   

 

U.S. Department of State

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