With Hillary gone, will State Department still prioritize women?

Foggy Bottom was run by a great champion for women. What are John Kerry's plans?

Topics: women, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, State DEpartment, Secretary of State, Human Rights,

With Hillary gone, will State Department still prioritize women?Secretary of State John Kerry (Credit: Reuters/Lefteris Pitarakis)

It’s no secret that when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously declared in 1995 that “women’s rights are human rights,” she cemented her status as a champion for women and girls around the world. And as secretary of state, Clinton made gender equality and women’s empowerment a pillar of American diplomacy. The question now is whether the departure of the leading advocate for women will signal the end of the State Department’s focus on these key issues.

Among her achievements in this area, Clinton launched the Equal Futures Partnership to increase women’s leadership in politics, and made the case that rights for women and girls are key ingredients for democracy, peace and economic growth in every country. Critically, she led the United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security as well as the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, an initiative of USAID and the State Department. If that wasn’t enough, she also shaped the Secretarial Policy Directive on Gender, which has been instrumental in working to end child marriage.

The media is abuzz with comparisons between Clinton’s signature achievements and her successor John Kerry’s prospects in furthering the work that Clinton began. Kerry released a promising statement of commitment to women’s rights and empowerment, in honor of International Women’s Day today. But in order for him to ensure that advancing the status of women and girls remains a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, here are three things he needs to do:

1. Strengthen the global standard to end violence against women and girls. One out of every three women worldwide is physically abused, and violence against women is more than a violation of human rights — it’s also a major barrier to achieving global development goals. By some estimates, women and girls make up 70 percent of the global poor, an alarming statistic compounded by their vulnerability to violence. What’s more, poverty drives early marriage, and adolescent girls in early marriages are often more susceptible to sexual abuse. The 2011 U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security along with the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally marked important first steps in elevating the status of women, but the U.S. government must now advance these programs and policies that protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence. This is an essential building block for achieving human dignity and eradicating global poverty.

2. Ensure that rural women have control over their own land, food and water sources. According to U.N. statistics, women in the developing world comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force but own only 15 percent of the land. Discrimination denies small-scale female farmers the same access men have to fertilizers, seeds, credit and farmland. Consider Kenya, where 67 percent of people live on less than $2 a day. Kenyan women own only about 5 percent of theland but produce most of the country’s food. Time and again, women have proved to be better equipped than men to enable agricultural economies to thrive. And the World Bank reports that women and girls reinvest an average of 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to a 30 to 40 percent reinvestment rate for men. Our State Department must use its political muscle and moral voice to ensure that rural women in Kenya, India, Nicaragua and elsewhere in the developing world have the freedom to access and own land, grow their own food and feed their own families.

3. Increase funding for girls and women to access sexual and reproductive health services. Currently, only two cents out of every international aid dollar is directed to girls. Girls are almost entirely neglected from existing strategies to stem the spread of HIV, even though women and girls make up an increasing proportion of the population living with the virus. And, unfortunately, rates of female infection continue to rise.

Less than half of all countries dedicate resources to women and girls in their response to HIV and AIDS, and young women aged 15-24 in sub-Saharan Africa are up to eight times more likely than men to be HIV-positive. The estimated 600 million adolescent girls living in developing countries are vulnerable in part because they are consistently lacking access to medical care and reproductive health services, which exacerbates a cycle of poverty, violence and HIV. If these root problems are not addressed along with the virus itself, the AIDS epidemic will continue to undermine these girls’ futures. The PEPFAR Blueprint: Creating an AIDS-free generation offers one critical path for Secretary Kerry to advance the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.

Former Secretary Clinton made sure that women and girls were a centerpiece of American diplomacy. But we must not be fooled into thinking that the work is over. Achieving global justice depends on the ingenuity of human rights activists around the world and on the strength of U.S. foreign policy to advocate for women and girls — now and for generations to come.

Ruth Messinger is president of American Jewish World Service. To learn more, please visit www.ajws.org.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>