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With more than half the world’s population under the age of 30, empowering and inspiring all girls and young women to serve as civic and political leaders is an important vehicle for positive change.  Worldwide, only 26.5 percent  of parliamentarians are women and only 2.6 percent  of political representatives are under the age of 30, showing significant gaps in representation of girls and young women’s voices in civic and political spheres.  The obstacles that girls and women face when taking on leadership roles are numerous, interlinked, compounding, and rooted in gender inequality.

As early as age six , girls’ levels of ambition and self confidence in their abilities are impacted by gender discrimination, ableism, and harmful stereotypes.  Adolescent girls commonly face gender-based violence (GBV), including but not limited to:  technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV); child early, and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU); lack of access to quality education; and lack of established pathways, mentors, or role models, amongst other barriers, which collectively limit their ability to engage in civic education or take on leadership roles.  At the current rate of progress, it would take 145.5  years to achieve gender balance in political participation.

Research shows that countries that provide a safe and enabling environment for women and girls to participate equitably in politics and public life have more inclusive and effective policy outcomes, are more peaceful and stable, and have higher economic growth.  The ability of women and girls to participate safely, freely, and equally in political life and in society is a prerequisite for democracy and a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.  This report articulates U.S. global priorities related to the engagement of adolescent girls in civic and political processes across policy, public diplomacy, and programming efforts.

As directed by the U.S. Congress, this strategy has been developed by key stakeholders from offices and bureaus across the Department of State in coordination with USAID.  The strategy has also been informed by civil society, adolescent girls from around the world, and members of Congress.

The promotion of democracy, human rights, and good governance is deeply integrated into U.S. foreign policy and national security.  To empower adolescent girls specifically, and to encourage their safe, full, equal, and meaningful civic and political participation, the United States has integrated cross-cutting democracy and governance, youth, and gender equality priorities into several landmark strategies, policies, and initiatives:

  1. Increase girls’ and young women’s access to quality, safe, inclusive, and participatory civic education, mentorship, leadership, and skills development opportunities.
  2. Address the unique barriers that prevent girls and young women from participating in civic and political life by promoting an enabling environment where they can safely exercise their rights, representation, and leadership.
  3. Elevate the voices of girls and young women as agents of change and leaders in their communities, countries, and on the global stage.

The Department of State and USAID commit to the following approaches:

  • Intersectional:  Address how aspects of an individual’s identity intersect to create different experiences of discrimination and privilege.  Consider the historic, sociocultural, and systemic disadvantages and power imbalances members of different groups face; and recognize their strength, resilience, and leadership in developing tailored solutions.
  • Locally Led/Informed:  Build partnerships with local stakeholders, including individuals, communities, networks, organizations, private entities, and governments, and enable them to set their own agendas and co-create solutions.  This includes prioritizing meaningful engagement with women and girls themselves; as well as women-led, youth-led, and women’s rights organizations, activists, and community influencers; marginalized and underserved communities; and men and boys to achieve lasting change in addressing democratic and peace and security challenges, and advancing gender equality for all.
  • Safeguarding and Do No Harm Assessments:  Commit to principles of safety, respect, confidentiality, and non-discrimination in all our work and regularly assess efforts to not put GBV survivors, program participants, staff, and community members, including those from underserved communities at physical or emotional risk.
  • Participatory:  Partner with girls and young women in a way that is respectful, inclusive, and intentional, whereby power is shared, their respective contributions are valued, and the ideas, perspectives, skills, and strengths of all girls and young women are integrated into the design and delivery of programs, strategies, policies, funding mechanisms, and organizations that affect their lives and their communities, countries, and the world.

Policy, Diplomacy, and Outreach (PDO):

PDO1:  Promote the rights and empowerment of girls and young women in multilateral fora — including the United Nations Security Council, General Assembly and its committees, Human Rights Council, Commission on the Status of Women, and other multilateral institutions at the global and regional levels.  Advance political commitments that promote the health, well-being, and human rights of girls and young women. 

PDO2:  Prioritize high-level, sustained bilateral and regional diplomatic engagement on barriers to the civic and political participation of women and girls, including discriminatory laws and judicial systems, lack of access to or availability of services, and the prevalence of GBV, including CEFMU and TFGBV.

PDO3:  Create opportunities for safe, inclusive, ongoing, and meaningful dialogue with girls and young women on democracy, peace and security, human rights, and governance to inform U.S. foreign policy and programming.

PDO4:  Continue robust reporting on girls and young women’s civic engagement and leadership in social movements, and the issues that limit the civic and political participation of women and girls, including through the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Human Rights Reports), Trafficking in Persons Reports, and cables.

Programming (PRG):

PRG1:  Invest in comprehensive, multi-sectoral programming that addresses harmful gender norms, and the unique vulnerabilities of girls and young women which prevent them from participating in civic and political life, including investments in prevention and response to GBV, such as school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), CEFMU, and TFGBV; and investments in the care economy, and tackling related issues such as discrimination in the workforce.

PRG2:  Prioritize the ethical and systematic collection of age-, disability- and sex-disaggregated data in U.S. foreign assistance programs, including data collection on violence and exploitation of girls and young women in politics and public life, including in its online manifestations, and efforts to center the lived experiences of all girls and young women.

PRG3:  Promote civic education, engagement, and skills building opportunities for girls and young women as part of the cross-sectoral, holistic positive youth development (PYD) approach.

PRG4:  Integrate rights awareness, confidence building, networking, safe spaces for girls and young women, media literacy, political knowledge building, and other foundations for civic engagement into new and existing democracy and governance programming.

PRG5:  Train girls and young women in core leadership competencies and introduce them to diverse examples of democratic principles through multicultural leadership training and exchanges.

PRG6:  Increase intergenerational support and mentorship opportunities for girls and young women interested in engaging in public service and political processes.

PRG7:  Work to challenge harmful norms and dynamics that underpin the gap in political empowerment of girls and young women through efforts to help men and boys understand power and privilege, and the impact inequality has on themselves, their families and their communities.

Implementation and accountability for this United States Strategy on Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Participation will be achieved through two reporting channels, coordinated by the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and counterparts at the U.S. Department of State:  (1) Formal updates will be provided through established reporting processes for relevant U.S. government strategies noted above; and (2) Regular interagency meetings will be established to ensure coordination between USAID and the Department of State.

U.S. Department of State

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