In continuing with our series evaluating the Obama administration’s leadership on international human rights, today we are covering of gender equality and women’s empowerment. One policy action to note is the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, which the US says it will lead over the next year. The purpose of this call-to-action is to address gender-based violence in the context of conflicts and natural disasters, so it’s critical to see how the US leads in light of situations like Typhoon Haiyan and others happening around the world.
Other than that, the Obama administration has done it’s share of work on gender equality. The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized, while the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law. Hopefully, by the end of Obama’s turn, the United States could ratify the International Violence Against Women Act too.
“People everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people — and not the other way around. The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose.” – President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012
Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls at Home and Abroad
Promoting Women’s Rights at Home
Within months of taking office, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls with the explicit mandate to ensure that every agency, department, and office in the federal government takes into account the unique needs and experiences of women and girls. The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to promote equality; enhance women’s economic security; and ensure that women have the opportunities they deserve at every stage of their lives. The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women get the pay they have earned. In addition, the Affordable Care Act includes more preventive services and additional protections for women. The Department of Defense announced plans to remove gender-based barriers to combat service and fully integrate women into all occupational specialties. From signing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – which provides better tools to law enforcement to reduce domestic and sexual violence and broadens protections to even more groups of women – to extending overtime and minimum-wage protections to home care workers (90 percent of whom are women), President Obama and his Administration are making deep and lasting investments in America’s future by protecting the human rights of women and girls, and helping them reach their full potential.
Advancing Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment
The Equal Futures Partnership is an innovative U.S.-led multilateral initiative designed to encourage member countries to empower women economically and politically. Equal Futures partner countries commit to taking actions including legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to ensure women fully participate in public life at the local, regional, and national levels, and that they lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth. The partnership complements U.S. government signature programs in these areas, including efforts to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship through the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy initiative, and the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative.
Empowering Women as Equal Partners in Preventing Conflict and Building Peace
President Obama issued an Executive Order directing the development of the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which was released in December 2011 and focused on strengthening women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity. The U.S. government is taking concrete steps to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate efforts to advance women’s participation in peace negotiations, peace-building, conflict prevention, and decision-making institutions; protect women from gender-based violence; and ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance in areas of conflict and insecurity.
Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence
The United States released the first-ever U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, and President Obama signed an accompanying Executive Order directing all relevant agencies to increase coordination on gender-based violence globally; enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work; improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention and response efforts; and enhance or expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence. Over the next year, the United States, joined by partners, will lead the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, with the goal of improving the capacity of the humanitarian assistance system to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in the context of conflicts and natural disasters and to ensure such efforts are routinely prioritized as a life-saving intervention along with other vital humanitarian assistance.