Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Media Engagement in Washington, D.C. I would like to welcome all participants to today’s discussion.
This call will focus on the U.S. State Department and the United States Agency for International Development’s Women, Peace, and Security Implementation Plans. Today we are pleased to be joined by Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Kelley Currie and USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa. We will begin with opening remarks from Ambassador Currie and Acting Administrator Barsa, and then we will turn to your questions. We will do our best to get to as many questions as possible in the time that we have today, which is approximately 30 minutes. Please limit your questions to the Women, Peace, and Security implementation plans, so that our guests can provide comments useful to all the journalists on the line.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Currie.
Ambassador Currie: Thank you so much. Good morning/afternoon/evening to everyone, wherever you are. It’s my pleasure to be with you. Thank you for calling in. We were really excited to release our implementation plans, the Department of State’s alongside DOD’s, the Department of Homeland Security’s, and USAID, last week, and to be able to talk to you this morning about the U.S. strategy and our implementation plans on women, peace, and security.
As you may know, President Trump signed a women, peace, and security – the Women, Peace, and Security Act into law in 2017, making the United States the first nation to enact a comprehensive women, peace, and security legislative framework. And now we are implementing it worldwide through the implementation plans that we published last week. And this reflects 20 – these plans reflect 20 years of lessons learned through the – starting with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 that passed 20 years ago today, and found that including women in peace – in peace processes, recognizing their unique needs, was good policy and helped to protect international peace and security.
So these plans take us from strategy to action. Around the world we’re working on the ground to empower women and ensure that their rights are respected and their voices are heard. Here at the State Department we’re focused on four areas: policy, diplomacy, programs, and partnership. First, we’re weaving women, peace, and security tenets throughout our foreign policy apparatus to make it part of our DNA. Second, we’re working with our embassies to ensure women have a voice in their communities and governments. Third, we’re ensuring all State Department personnel have the tools and training they need to implement this plan no matter where they are. And fourth, we’re building new partnerships every day to help more and more women.
The guiding principles behind our initiative – behind our implementation plan are that the Department of State is uniquely positioned to reinforce America’s global leadership in promoting the women, peace, and security agenda through these four strains. Through the department’s global presence and skilled workforce, we have a distinct comparative advantage to engage partners on the women, peace, and security agenda, and demonstrate our own commitment through our words and actions. Our priority targets in this effort are partner countries that currently – that are currently experiencing armed conflict, violent extremism, or have a gross systemic – have a history of gross systemic abuses of women and girls, including those emerging from such conflict, violence, or abuse, and for those that are most at risk of such conflict, violence, or abuse. Countries with histories of atrocities, particularly those with severe incidences of sexual violence or systemic and widespread discrimination against women, will be of particular concern as we go forward.
This is all outlined in our Women, Peace, and Security Strategy that we are advancing these principles in every corner of the globe. But it’s not realistic for us to have programs in every place, so we must prioritize our efforts. As with all matters of national security, the United States will continue to engage strategically and in ways that advance America’s national interest.
The Women, Peace, and Security Strategy implementation is inexorably linked with women’s economic empowerment, and the Department of State’s Women, Peace, and Security Implementation Plan will therefore be consistent with and coordinated across the department’s work on the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which seeks to advance women’s economic empowerment globally.
So as you can see from the implementation plan, women, peace, and security is a priority for the department. Around the world, we’ve seen the results when women are empowered to speak to their own futures. From Afghanistan to Syria, from Sudan to Colombia, today more than ever women are leading change, and we know that when women are involved in these discussions – from local issues in their own communities to a seat at the negotiating table – their countries become more stable, more peaceful, and more prosperous.
So it’s my great honor to introduce my colleague and friend, the Acting Administrator of USAID John Barsa, who works very closely with us on the women, peace, and security agenda. Thank you. Go ahead, John.
Acting Administrator Barsa: Thank you, Kelley. It was my pleasure to join Kelley last week with the launch of this implementation plan, and it’s a pleasure to be here with you all today. So as appropriate, good morning, good afternoon, good evening. Thank you for your time. For those of you who have never interacted with me, I’m the Acting Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, and I’m honored to be in this role leading USAID’s efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, and foster prosperity, security, and stability worldwide.
Here at USAID, we have long recognized the role and influence women and girls play in 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, the 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 see women of different ethnic and religious backgrounds working together to raise awareness about the devastating impact of gender-based violence in conflict, and 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 school and humanitarian aid into their communities in Syria. And in Mali, we have seen young women stepping forward to run for office, and once elected, working across the political spectrum to strengthen national immunity 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’s senior leadership in Washington and in our missions worldwide will elevate and advocate for women, peace, and security objectives in our policies and programs. We will 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’ll integrate women’s and girls’ perspectives into our policies and programs to counter violent extremism. 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 the communities.
In Nigeria, USAID trained 150 widows of security personnel killed in the fight against violent extremist organizations. 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’ve 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, DRC, Somalia, South Sudan, and Burma, USAID-supported programming includes a core package of assistance to adult and child gender-based violence survivors, such as safety planning and patrols, psychological 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, faith-based organizations, to advance the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy. Through coordinated action, we will empower women and girls, strengthen societies, and improve the prospects for global peace and security. Thank you so very much for your time.
Moderator: Thank you for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Our first question goes to Jennifer Hansler with CNN. Operator, would you please open her line?
Operator: Line is open. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi, thank you. Hi, thanks for doing this. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you square this implementation plan with some of the restrictions on reproductive health that this administration has put into place, given that experts say the ability of a woman to decide if and when she starts a family is a key driver in whether she is able to participate in society. Thank you.
Ambassador Currie: This is Kelley Currie. So the – our bipartisan women, peace, and security agenda is focused on women’s empowerment, to protect – including things like protection from violence and malign actors, to ensuring that women have a voice in their own communities and futures in peace negotiations and in governmental processes. This focus allows us to ensure that fundamental rights for women are respected and integrated into these societies, and by focusing on those areas that we agree where there is consensus, we are able to advance this agenda, rather than focus on areas where we don’t have consensus even within the United States.
John, did you have anything to add on that?
Acting Administrator Barsa: That was very eloquent. I can’t say it better than you.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Pearl Matibe from the Mail and Guardian. Operator, would you open Pearl’s line, please?
Operator: Line is open. Please go ahead.
Question: Yes, this is Pearl Matibe from the Mail and Guardian. Thank you very much. I’m very excited that this topic is still being promoted. I wonder, in the strategies that you are implementing on the continent of Africa, but in Southern Africa in particular, have you considered – and I’m asking this question because I know that if I interview women in Southern Africa, specific questions that they’re going to ask, because they’re mainly supported – a lot of them, millions of them are supported by women in the diaspora who are sending remittances and are basically like a de facto social service or social welfare for people back home. Are you considering how you might include the diaspora women that is already for decades helping the women back home? And are we supposed to now, very shortly, start to see the embassies promote this? Or can people go to the embassies, or are they going to wait for the embassies to put this information out? I was wondering what that launch pad is going to look like on the ground. Thank you.
Ambassador Currie: Thank you for that great question, Pearl. One of the things that we’ve always considered very important is incorporating Americans who have an interest in the situation of their countries or origin or their – countries that they have a historic link to. That’s always been part of our foreign policy. But I’ll give you a good example, a recent – a good recent example of cooperation that we’re engaged in with an organization called the Five Foundation that works on female genital mutilation and cutting, for instance. And they have a wonderful woman named Nimco Ali, who is a diaspora – a member of an African diaspora community, and is leading and working with women on the ground in African countries to address the challenge of female genital mutilation and cutting.
And so we coordinate with thought leaders like Nimco, we work with – especially with the American diaspora. They have a – we have an open door here at our office to engage with those communities. We do that everywhere from Pakistan to Africa, so that’s definitely part and parcel of what we’re doing. We recognize the important role that those communities play in helping us to identify local partners and in helping us to be able to get – help fine-tune our messaging to those communities as well.
And so as far as our embassies and our programming, they are fundamental to how we’re doing this implementation plan. They all – we did a bottom-up process for our implementation plan that reached out to posts and asked them to make commitments and identify areas where they can work. And so you will see that in Africa we actually are doing – it is a major focal point for our efforts. There’s also a lot of crossover between the efforts on the – on women, peace, and security and on the women’s economic empowerment agenda. So we are working very closely with not only the individual embassies but through platforms like our African Union mission and some of our more regional efforts as well.
John, did you have anything to add?
Acting Administrator Barsa: Well, certainly a lot of the work we do, we have bilateral programs – we have specific to countries and we have regional work as well. So this certainly applies to Southern Africa. So – in our regional programming in Southern Africa, we work through political – we – through our – it’s the political parties development program. Our – we provide $3.5 million to foster broader political party culture and behavior that supports women, youth, and marginalized populations’ participation in identifying party policy and leadership structure. So this regional program, for example, is implemented in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Eswatini, and Zambia. And certainly we have a lot of work with CSOs on the ground, so we’re very proud of the activities we do. It’s part of our culture in terms of our different programming, so what we’re doing is we’re having a greater focus on some of the work we’re already doing.
Ambassador Currie: And if I could just add one little alibi here. One of the other great programs that we have here at the Department of State that helps connect women from local communities in Africa and around the world to communities here in the United States is our International Visitors Leadership Program, and we have a very strong women, peace, and security focus in that program. We’ve had 1,800 – more than 1,800 women participate in WPS-focused visitors’ program activities where they come here to the United States, make connections, and then go back to their communities. And those connections really help them to be able to do their work, find additional resources, and really connect with broader activities. So that’s a really important part of how we build a community of practice and a community of support around these efforts outside of the government. Over.
Moderator: Thank you for that. Our next question comes from Melo Acuna with Asia Pacific Daily in the Philippines. Operator, would you open Melo’s line, please?
Operator: Line is open. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Good evening from Manila, the Philippines. I’d like to ask the good Ambassador, how has COVID-19 affected women in the most vulnerable sectors, and how do you plan to assist them? Thank you.
Ambassador Currie: We have – this is such a great question because it’s something we’ve really been focused on the past few months, obviously. During this pandemic, we are seeing women serving on the front line, in fact, in greater numbers than men in many cases, while they’re also experiencing greater risks of violence and higher rates of potential economic vulnerability and having to carry the burdens of unpaid care that have historically fallen to women. Those haven’t changed and, in fact, they’ve dramatically increased in many cases especially under stay-at-home orders and lockdowns. So we’ve seen women really have to step up, as always, and be on the front lines of this crisis and the response to it.
But that said, we’re also really – and what’s really been empowering to me is to see women being the agents of the response and having – and acting to serve as drivers of the recovery. And so it’s really important to us to ensure that the gains that women have made over the past decades are not lost during this time period and, in fact, that we’re able to build on and expand those gains while helping – while these women are helping their families and communities cope with this crisis.
We’re really monitoring a lot of data and trying to understand the full picture here, because a lot of the issues that we would be looking at, it’s an area – these are areas where data is historically very challenging, such as domestic violence and understanding the costs economically for women on things like unpaid care and the burdens that are being placed on them. So we’re doing a lot of studying of the data and working with other agencies on that. But we’re really – our goal coming out of this, and especially if we move toward economic recovery, is to see how we can support women as drivers of that economic recovery and put in place the building blocks now working with our partners, especially our international partners, to make sure that women are able to get off the sidelines when the recovery starts to take off and really contribute to that.
I think that one of the things that’s really important for us is to get that message out. We’re doing it in our own country, but to get that message out to our partners overseas that they’re not going to successfully recover and come back stronger from this crisis unless they empower everybody in their society to fully participate, and that means looking at how they’ve historically held women back from participating and addressing those barriers in the enabling environment that allow women to come in and participate fully in the environment – in the economy.
John, did you have anything to add?
Acting Administrator Barsa: Absolutely. So from the earliest onset of this pandemic I’ve been concerned that it’s more than just a healthcare crisis. What we have with the COVID-19 on the face of it is initially a healthcare crisis, but it’s those secondary and tertiary effects which may be with us for quite a while. And certainly what I mean by this is we are concerned about the pandemic’s effects on fragile societies, fragile democracies, and fragile economies. So often what we find is women have over – larger roles in the service economies and informal economies, and what we’re seeing right now is that the pandemic is hitting those economic sectors particularly hard, so we’re very concerned about that as well.
And to add on to what Ambassador Kelley was – what Kelley was saying, as economies are taking a hit right now, to think that an economy cannot – to think that an economy is going to try to recover without the full participation of about half of its potential workforce is folly. This is absolutely the time to have greater emphasis on full participation by women in all sectors of the economy to help countries rebuild. So this is actually the time where women’s full participation is needed more than ever.
Moderator: Thank you for that. We have time for one more question, and it will go to Maria Mora with Voice of America. Maria.
Question: Yes, good morning. My question is: Can you talk a little bit about the plans you are implementing in Latin America, especially in Venezuela and Colombia? Thank you.
Ambassador Currie: That’s actually one of our favorite topics here at the Office of Global Women’s Issues, because our first bilateral partnership on women, peace, and security is with the Government of Colombia. We’re helping to support their government in developing a national action plan on women, peace, and security; and to foster deeper collaboration with civil society. So this is one of our – this is one of the first partnerships that we’ve engaged in, and we’re really excited to be working very, very closely with the Colombian government.
Obviously, we’re also doing a lot to support the countries around Venezuela who are receiving the refugees from Venezuela and who are dealing with the overflow of problems. I know John can talk a lot about that. But I just had a wonderful phone call with our partners at the Inter-American Foundation yesterday and heard about some of the incredible work that they’re doing to support women in these communities, in the refugee communities in Brazil, Colombia, and the other countries that have seen a large refugee flow.
We are also working to make platforms available to women in Venezuela who are still there that can help them to survive the catastrophic damage that the Maduro regime has inflicted on the Venezuelan economy. Even before COVID it was obviously in shambles. So we’re working to make entrepreneurship training available to women through a great platform here – in Venezuela through a platform we have here at the State Department called the Advancing Women Entrepreneurs program.
So I know that in Latin America this is a major effort for us. In places like Honduras we’re doing legal services and providing women access to courts and housing and other resources that they need to be able to participate in their community after they’ve been victims of violence, and this is an area that we’re working across the arc of conflict, including post-conflict societies, to work with women. So it’s a great area for us.
John, go ahead, and I know you’ve got a lot of programming in Latin America, and this is your wheelhouse.
Acting Administrator Barsa: Well, absolutely. I mean, so I had the pleasure of being in Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil and seeing a lot of the programs we’re working on firsthand. So when it comes to women and peace and stability and security, so in Colombia, for example, after five decades of civil war, we see firsthand the only way to have a lasting peace is to have full inclusion of women into the peace process and having inclusion into political programs and activities and economies and areas that were previously controlled by the FARC. So I’m very proud to see the many number of programs we have in Colombia, for example, on helping women fully participate in the political process and the economy.
For example, one of the programs we have is we’re providing $170,000 to support women affected by landmines in post-conflict Colombia. Colombia has one of the greatest percentages of landmines in the country. It’s really not well known. And it causes – it has terrible effects. And so we’re proud of our support in helping women deal with psychological support and trauma, healing, and increasing access to dialogue in building political boundaries in Colombia.
And I’ve seen the work we’re doing with women with the Venezuelan diaspora. Of course, with the tyranny in Venezuela with Maduro, we’re not able to get our programming to help not just women but any sector of the economy. It’s a humanitarian disaster, and it’s man-made, which is a tragedy. So while we would love to help the women in Venezuela, we’re doing what we can to help the women, certainly, outside of Venezuela. So certainly their role in the diaspora communities, we are working with them wherever they are throughout the region in terms of helping integrate into these host countries, host communities that are welcoming them, providing them training, and having them the ability to participate.
Of course, our dream, our goal is to help the women inside Venezuela, but unfortunately we’re not able to do that at this point.
Moderator: Thank you for that. Unfortunately, that was the last question we have time for this morning. Speakers, do you have any closing words you’d like to offer?
Ambassador Currie: I just want to thank everybody for great questions. And I know we had some taken questions that we’ll get back to with written responses, and we welcome the opportunity to also provide written responses to any further questions that we didn’t have time for this morning. Thank you.