Yesterday in honor of International Women’s Day, MFAN co-sponsored an event with Women Thrive Worldwide (WTW) and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to discuss gender policy as a means to achieving more effective development. Deputy Administrator for USAID Don Steinberg provided a keynote address in which he spoke about the agency’s efforts to integrate gender policy across all programs. Acknowledging the changing landscape—with the creation of UN Women and recent commitments from President Obama and Secretary Clinton— and the growing awareness of the consequences for excluding women and girls from society, Steinberg said this was a time for action. Some of the action steps USAID has taken include: requiring a gender impact statement on all projects, mandatory training, a code of conduct for trafficking, and the creation of two senior positions for gender empowerment. After listing these steps, Steinberg said the agency is committed to making sure these gains “deepen and are irreversible” adding, “These are non-negotiable requirements for lasting peace and stability—not pet rocks in a rucksack.” He also talked extensively about his experience in Angola, serving as Ambassador there, and how he worked tirelessly to include women in a more balanced peace process.
Steinberg’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion moderated by former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, current Managing Director at the Glover Park Group. Along with Steinberg, the panel featured MFAN Principal and WTW President Ritu Sharma and AJWS President Ruth Messinger. In her opening remarks, Messinger forcefully articulated the role of civil society in elevating women and girls. She also reminded the audience that in being determined advocates for women’s issues we must remember the need to work from the ground up—that we must take advantage of local civil society groups already pushing for women’s rights and build on their efforts.
Sharma tempered Messinger’s points saying we must be careful not to swing the pendulum too far in the direction of women; Sharma argued we will not stop sexual violence against women unless we target men. She also cautioned against donning a “cultural imperialism label” and said we must be more sensitive to figuring out which interventions are appropriate and where. Sharma reminded everyone of the fragile political state we’re in saying we have a very limited window to make the inclusion of gender policy into State and USAID durable. Sharma closed her remarks citing five elements to good gender integration: leadership at the top; a clear mandate; structure; capacity and resources; and accountability.
During the QA session Steinberg outlined the ways in which gender policy has begun to be integrated into the fabric of USAID to outlast any political changes, including: a focus on women’s empowerment in political, social and economic areas; issues of protection and participation like a new code for trafficking; mainstreaming gender policy into all of our programs; and walking the walk in house. Steinberg made a major announcement when he said in a month USAID will name a special advisor to the Administrator for women’s empowerment and equality.