This month, President Biden convened a diverse group of leaders during the inaugural Summit for Democracy. Engaging heads of state, civil society, philanthropic organizations, academics, and the private sector, the Summit explored opportunities for and barriers to democratic renewal globally while reaffirming the U.S. commitment to inclusive and participatory democratic governance, including gender equity and equality as central to the health of democracy.
The Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) leads the Department of State’s efforts to advance gender equity and equality and promote respect for the human rights of women and girls, in all their diversity. These concepts are inextricably linked to all three Summit pillars: combating authoritarianism, addressing corruption, and promoting human rights. Countries with high levels of gender equity and equality rank higher in levels of democracy quality. Additionally, states with lower rates of gender-based violence are the most secure , peaceful, and democratic.
Throughout the Summit, events, country commitments, and panel discussions reinforced these themes. Leaders from the United States and across the globe – women and men – came together to discuss women’s political and civic participation, as women are vastly underrepresented and face ongoing political, economic, and social barriers to their participation in civic and political life. Speakers highlighted the importance of engaging men as allies in advancing gender equality and preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV) in all its forms, providing examples from their work around the world.
Panelists also spoke to the disproportionate effects of online harassment and abuse – particularly for women who face intersecting forms of discrimination and violence such as LGBTQI+ women, women with disabilities, and women of color. In response to this growing issue, the U.S. and Denmark announced a new global partnership to counter gender-based online harassment and abuse.
During the Summit U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai also announced the Administration is working with Congress to establish a new “Advancing Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Leadership Initiative,” which, subject to the availability of funds, will provide up to $33.5 million to support greater democratic representation of diverse civically and politically interested women and girls. The Initiative will encompass multifaceted efforts to advance gender equity and equality globally, including promoting women’s inclusion in democratic decision-making and peace processes while recognizing the need to prevent and address gender inequality and GBV. Specific projects include:
- S/GWI’s Supporting Her Empowerment: Women’s Inclusion for New Security (SHE WINS) initiative plans to provide local, women-led civil society organizations with grants and technical assistance in Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, and South and Central Asia. Recognizing that diverse democracies, representative of all people, are stronger, SHE WINS will work inclusively with women from marginalized communities, including young women and women with disabilities.
- Secondly, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), in collaboration with S/GWI, is planning to launch SHE PERSISTS, or Supporting Her Empowerment: Political Engagement, Rights, Safety, and Inclusion Strategies to Succeed. SHE PERSISTS is intended to work with public and private sector partners to provide funding for technical assistance on advancing women’s safety, political participation and empowerment, and initiatives for inclusive democracy. Including the development of National Action Plans to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and small grants to local organizations working to address barriers to women’s political and economic participation, including violence against women in politics, online harassment and abuse; countering disinformation and democratic backsliding, economic harm and isolation, encourage women in all their diversity to participate fully in democratic processes; and support young and emerging women leaders to seek political office or other public leadership roles.
- Lastly, the U.S. Agency for International Development is planning to initiate the Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Leadership program. In partnership with like-minded governments, the private sector, civil society organizations, and multilateral institutions, the project is expected to take an ecosystem approach, empowering women and girls interested in politics while creating a more inclusive environment for their representation in up to 10 focus countries. Through this activity, USAID and implementing partners are planning to offer skill-building for women and girls, encourage legal reform for women’s participation, work alongside male allies to support women’s political leadership, and combat violence against women in politics and public life. In conjunction with this activity USAID will also help establish and work closely with a women’s political empowerment-themed “Democracy Cohort” during the Summit for Democracy’s Year of Action to support implementation of, and measure progress toward, reforms and commitments announced at the first Summit.
Following the 2021 Summit for Democracy, participants will launch a “Year of Action” to build more resilient and responsive democracies across the globe. President Biden will convene a follow-on Summit to take stock of democratic progress and galvanize continued commitments to reform and renewal.
About the Authors: Caroline Mendoza and Katy Zurka serve as Virtual Student Federal Service interns in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.