WFPG Voices
VOICES, is a forum that highlights the expertise of those who make up and support the organization. WFPG members and partners are invited to submit blog posts on international affairs and foreign policy topics, women's leadership, and career advancement. Posts represent the reflections and personal views of members and guest bloggers and not those of their employers or of the WFPG. Interested in submitting a post? Guidelines | Membership | Blog Archives
Traditional Knowledge, New Strategies: Indigenous Women & The Pandemic
Traditional Knowledge, New Strategies: Indigenous Women & the Pandemic
Annika Bateman, Student, Lewis & Clark College
The Creation of UNSCR 1325: Uncovering the Inside Story
The Creation of UNSCR 1325: Uncovering the Inside Story
Cornelia Weiss, US Colonel (retired)
Afghanistan Post-US Withdrawal: The Widening Gender Gap
Afghanistan Post-US Withdrawal: The Widening Gender Gap
Maggie Sparling, Student, University of Virginia
Feminist Foreign Policy—Rhetoric Without Action?
Feminist Foreign Policy—Rhetoric Without Action?
Indigo Stegner, Student, George Washington University
Gaining Gold But Not Ground
Gaining Gold But Not Ground
Ainab Rahman, WFPG Generation Equality Forum Youth Engagement Chair
How to Build an Inclusive Regulatory and Standards Framework for Emerging Technology
The Necessity of Data for Accountability
The Necessity of Data for Accountability
Maggie Sparling, Student, University of Virginia
The Business Case for Equality
The Business Case for Equality
Ainab Rahman, WFPG Generation Equality Forum Youth Engagement Chair
Generation Equality Forum: Accelerating the Gender Agenda Through Youth Leadership
Generation Equality Forum: Accelerating the Gender Agenda
Through Youth Leadership

Ainab Rahman, WFPG Generation Equality Forum Youth Engagement Chair
Why the Generation Equality Forum Is Our Once-In-a-Decade Opportunity to Achieve Lasting Progress for Girls and Women
Why Women Make Great Diplomats
Why Women Make Great DiplomatsTales From a "Tough-Girl Negotiator"
Tara Sonenshine, Former Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
10 Gender Traps in Communications
10 Gender Traps in Communications—and How to Escape Them
Lynn Fahselt, Co-Founder and Executive Director of ReThink Media
No More Manels: Women's Voices Need to be Heard
#NoMoreManels: Women's Voices Need to be Heard
Janie Goheen, Student, American University
Diplomacy in the Virtual Era
Diplomacy in the Virtual Era
Rebecca E. Webber Gaudiosi, Jimena Leiva-Roesch, and Ye-Min Wu,
authors of Negotiating at the United Nations
Human Rights Are Women’s Rights—Get in the Arena!
Theresa Loar, Vice Chair of the Women's Foreign Policy Group Board
Rediscovering US Regional Engagement in a Multipolar World
Swadesh Rana, Former Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch
Racial and Gender Disparities at State Department and USAID
Moon Parks, Nisha Rai, Deirdre Sutula, Mona Sehgal and Reid Lowe of US GAO
We planned our international affairs education. We planned our foreign policy career. We didn’t plan for a pandemic.
Kelsey Jackson and Rachel Pastor, Recent Graduates, George Washington University
This Year is Different:
Longstanding Challenges Faced by Refugees in the Time of a Pandemic

Devon Cone, Senior Advocate for Women and Girls at Refugees International
Achieving Competent Diversity in National Security
Cara McFadden, Guidehouse’s National Security Segment
You Are Not the Boss of Me: Leadership, Strongmen and COVID-19
Elmira Bayrasli, CEO of Foreign Policy Interrupted
Pandemics in Crisis-Affected Settings:
Ensuring Women and Girls Are Not Forgotten

Alina Potts, Global Women’s Institute at the George Washington University



Indigenous Women & The Pandemic

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created many new challenges for the world, the discrimination facing Indigenous women in Latin America has always existed. However, their societal exclusion has reached unprecedented levels since 2019. According to the UNFPA, Indigenous peoples face a higher risk of infection due to a lack of access to safe water for handwashing, a main measure to prevent further spread of the virus. Furthermore, the current economic situation facing Indigenous women is precarious: UN Women estimates that 6 million rural and Indigenous women in the Latin American region are at risk of falling into extreme poverty due to the effects of COVID-19.

Native women and girls are currently in a vulnerable situation, intensified by the effects of the pandemic - but it isn’t irreversible. One way to empower these communities is to include their traditional knowledge into COVID-19 response strategies. By giving Indigenous women their long-deserved seat at the table, they can both empower themselves and help their countries successfully emerge from the pandemic.

Across generations, Indigenous communities have created coping mechanisms grounded in traditional knowledge to different circumstances affecting their communities. For COVID-19 specifically, traditional teachings have proven to reduce symptoms of the virus, and practices, such as ubaya/tengaw, a state of rest after hard labor or disasters practiced in the Cordillera in the Philippines, have prepared Indigenous communities for quarantine procedures. During lockdowns, communal practices come into effect, such as the binnadang/ub-ubbo, where community members extend help to those in need.

However, even in quarantine, Indigenous populations around the world still face violence and insecurity, which, in some cases, has intensified due to compliance with government-mandated pandemic responses. For some, restrictions on movement have infringed on Indigenous people’s right to adequate food by barring them from accessing land, natural wealth, and resources. For instance, the San people in Botswana were unable to access government permits that exempted people from movement restrictions to allow essential activities, such as resource collection. In Asia, where Indigenous women have always faced harassment, rape, imprisonment and murder, COVID-19 has only worsened the violence. To be sure, Indigenous men are not completely immune to the shadow pandemic. On March 23, 2020, Indigenous leaders Omar and Ernesto Guasiruma of the Embera people of Colombia were murdered in their homes while complying with lockdown procedures.

COVID-19 is not only exposing the violence and discrimination that Indigenous women and girls face every day; it has further revealed the impact of climate change on native communities. Some groups, such as the Orang Asli, the aboriginal people of Peninsular Malaysia, have returned to the forest as their defense against the pandemic and source of sustenance. However, deforestation, the extractive industry, and the introduction of genetically modified species have prevented Indigenous communities from accessing the land, leaving them vulnerable to food shortages during the pandemic. Between 2016 and 2018, deforestation rates rose 150% in Indigenous territories in Brazil, destroying key resources and obliterating a crucial part of the Amazon’s carbon sink.

In order for countries to successfully emerge from the pandemic and build a “better normal”, Indigenous knowledge must be incorporated into COVID-19 response strategies. For environmental policies, traditional resource use and management practices can lessen the risk of food shortages and mitigate the effects of climate change. Although Indigenous communities comprise less than 5 percent of the world’s population, they protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. This means if national governments were to use Indigenous knowledge in this area of policy-making, we would all prosper. Environmental degradation would be greatly curbed if the sovereignty of Indigenous lands was better protected, lessening the risk of a future global pandemic as the human relationship with nature is rebalanced. 

The use of traditional Indigenous lockdown procedures would be particularly advantageous for governments as well. The principles of ubaya/tengaw and binnadang/ub-ubbo are illustrative examples of the established rituals Indigenous communities have when faced with crises. Although countries have created their own lockdown protocols during the pandemic, the use of Indigenous language when formulating regional policies would be more culturally appropriate and foster greater communication between governments and native peoples. Furthermore, advocacy for the concept of ayyew, a term also from the Cordillera in the Philippines meaning to not waste anything, would mitigate the use of excess resources throughout times of national struggle. This policy could be particularly crucial in the event of food shortages during and after the pandemic. 

Indigenous women in Guatemala
In Bolivia, Las Cholitas Escaladoras, are a group of Indigenous women who climb mountains in Latin America to spread awareness for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women. Last year, their goal was to reach the summit of Huayna Potosi, at 6,000 meters above sea level. Image Source

This summer, the Generation Equality Forum hosted multiple sessions on the current issues facing Indigenous communities. I attended an event on “The inclusion of indigenous women in responses to the crisis and recovery from COVID-19”, which began with a video of Las Cholitas Escaladoras, a group of Indigenous women activists in Bolivia who climb mountains in traditional dress, shattering stereotypes and raising awareness for the violence committed against Bolivian women. In the session, Indigenous women from all over the world shared their experiences and advocated for the inclusion of native women in COVID-19 recovery responses to empower both Indigenous communities and countries as a whole.

By implementing native knowledge into policy responses, Indigenous rights can be respected, Indigenous women can be empowered, and Indigenous voices can be heard at future policy discussions. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is a new 21st century challenge, traditional knowledge may be the key to building a safer future for all.

 Annika Bateman  is a senior International Affairs and French Studies double major at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR. She interned at the WFPG during Summer 2021.

Header photo: Indigenous women in Guatemala have less access to services, such as education, limiting their possibilities for employment and income. Investing in native communities and boosting Indigenous women’s entrepreneurial abilities can grant them economic autonomy and help them escape from violence. Photo Credit: CarlosVanVegas

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The Creation of UNSCR 1325: Uncovering the Inside Story

In 2019, one of the editors of the recently published open-access book Women and the UN: A New History of Women’s International Human Rights asked me to contribute a chapter on the history of UNSCR 1325, with a focus on the women who were instrumental in its birth. Her request brought me up short. While I had written much about the implementation of UNSCR 1325, I was unfamiliar with its creation beyond the role played by civil society. I needed to learn more to write my chapter that examines how, in a UN Security Council composed of almost all men, the Security Council unanimously adopted the first resolution on Women and Peace and Security, UNSCR 1325.

At the start of my research, I began with a deficit. I knew none of the actors. After reviewing the existing material and literature on the creation of UNSCR 1325, as well as examining relevant Security Council transcripts, I compiled a long list of people I wanted to interview and reached out to individuals and organizations--including the WFPG--who might be able to help connect me to the persons I wished to interview.

As a result, I had the good fortune of being able to interview every single living woman who spoke at the UN Security Council Open Debate on UNSCR 1325: UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer; Ambassador Claudia Fritsche of Liechtenstein; Parliamentarian Krishna Bose of India; Jelena Grčić Polić of Croatia; Ambassador Penny Wensley of Australia; and Ambassador Nancy Soderberg of the US. I also was able to interview many who spoke at the Arria Formula meeting, to include Luz Méndez Gutiérrez, the peace negotiator who successfully fought to include rights for women in the Guatemalan peace accords. I am shocked that her recent death was and is not widely reported.

Noeleen Heyzer, in order to include me in her schedule, skyped with me at almost midnight her time in Bangkok. Heyzer, during the course of the interview, disclosed never-before revealed particulars of the internal pushback made against her as she worked on the Arria Formula meeting that helped convince members of the UN Security Council that UNSCR 1325 needed to be adopted. Her newest book, Beyond Storms and Stars - A Memoir, will be available in the US in September 2021. It addresses her journey to the position of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations while exploring the difference that UNSCR 1325 made for women caught in conflict and on the UN system itself.

Parliamentarian Krishna Bose, the only woman as of 2020 to have chaired the Indian Parliamentary Standing committee of External/Foreign Affairs, died three weeks after responding in writing to my questions. That shook me. That day I could not stop crying. I had asked her hard questions, to include the difference between two Indian Parliamentarians at Beijing+5: Bose and Phoolan Devi. Assassinated in 2001, Phoolan Devi had served in prison (without trial) for extrajudicial actions of damaging or dismembering penises of unprosecuted rapists. Parliamentarian Krishna Bose informed me that Devi “brought out [to Beijing+5] the stark reality of the situation while we were discussing women’s issues only theoretically.” Sugata Bose, a Harvard professor, a member of India’s Parliament and a son of Krishna Bose, tells me the inaugural Krishna Bose Lecture occurred in Calcutta on December 26, 2020.

During the course of my research, it became clear to me how imperative it is to record our history before it is lost. My hope is that this chapter on UNSCR 1325 will spur other participants to write their histories. Recently I received an email from one of my interviewees, civil society activist and Arria Formula speaker Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, sharing that she is planning to publish her papers and statements on Women and Peace. I hope that others will follow her example.

Writing this history of the creation of UNSCR 1325 awoke in me appreciation of, and gratitude toward, those who had the vision and grit to create UNSCR 1325. It made me realize that we need to ensure we do not subscribe to the prevailing mode of history, that of erasing all but a few of our heroines, but instead to realize, like the creation of UNSCR 1325, our history is the result of many. It also awoke in me the desire to continue my explorations post-COVID, to include exploring (1) the archives of those who died before I could interview them, including Assistant Secretary-General Angela King, (2) the gender histories of the Member States that sponsored and supported UNSCR 1325, including the pro and anti suffrage forces in Liechtenstein, and (3) to learn more about the internal story of the Member State that sponsored UNSCR 1325, Namibia.1

Cornelia Weiss is a former colonel, having served in the Americas, Europe and the Pacific. Honors received include the US Air Force Keenan Award for making the most notable contribution to the development of international law. Knowing that history is often used as an excuse to exclude women, she excavates forgotten history about women, peace, and power.

Header photo: from left, Luz Mendez (Guatemala), Faiza Jama Mohamed (Somalia), Noeleen Heyzer (Singapore), Angela King (Jamaica), and Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika (Zambia), 2000. UN Photo


1Through engaging with Namibian “penholder” Aina Iiyambo, I was able to begin exploring "insider" insights into the drafting of UNSCR 1325; however, I was not able to obtain any of the working drafts of what became UNSCR 1325. I hope post-COVID that these will emerge with help from readers of this blog.

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Afghanistan Post-US Withdrawal: The Widening Gender Gap

On September 2, the Women’s Foreign Policy Group hosted a panel with Rina Amiri, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, and Dr. Alyssa Ayres for a discussion on Afghan Women in Crisis. For those of you who missed the conversation, we highlighted some of the main discussion points.


“[Afghan women are] victims but also agents…They have to be seen as strategic allies and assets rather than as victims and collateral damage of a war gone too long.”
- Rina Amiri


Sobering pictures and stories coming from Afghanistan have flooded our media over the past few weeks. We have read about the fear that has gripped families as normality quickly evaporated. We have heard about the loss of hope as young people watched the future they built collapse before their eyes. We have seen searing images of Afghans desperately clutching the fuselage of US military planes flying out of Afghanistan for the last time. Afghans are in crisis. Afghan women are in crisis.

We must, however, not fall into the trap of otherization, marking these stories as something that happens on the other side of the world. These young people, women, and families are just like us, our families, and our friends. They share similar dreams. And until recently, they shared similar fears. In responding to the Afghanistan crisis, we cannot let physical distance desensitize us.

Since the 1990s, Afghanistan has become more educated and urban by every indication. In 2018, girls made up 38% of students, with rapidly growing rates in higher education as well. The Afghan women’s robotics team made international headlines in 2017, illustrating how much opportunities for women had expanded over the past two decades. And while more needed to be done, the advancements in recent years and the hard work of Afghan activists created an environment where the greatest concern for many young women was their university studies—a great contrast to the years of Taliban rule in the 1990s. Within a matter of weeks, Afghan girls went from having to worry about their upcoming homework assignment to forced marriage at the hands of the Taliban.

The impact of Afghanistan’s fall on Afghan women is further illustrated in healthcare. For years, Afghanistan has been one of the worst countries for maternal and child health. In 2000, 1,450 women died for every 100,000 live births; in 2017, while still very high, the number had fallen to 638. For comparison, the women’s mortality rate in OECD countries is 17 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is just one of many health impacts; the improvements from the past two decades are now in jeopardy. In the face of the drastically altered security, education, and healthcare landscape, many find themselves asking, now what? What can we do to help the humanitarian catastrophe, protect the lives of Afghan women, and contribute to stability within Afghanistan?

First, before the United States can do anything, it needs to reassess its mindset in approaching the situation. US policymakers need to stop thinking they can dispose of Afghanistan and redirect their focus and resources to East Asia. We live in an increasingly interconnected world, and the problems in Afghanistan are not going away. This, along with the humanitarian crisis, necessitates continued resources directed toward Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations.

Second, building on this mindset shift, US policymakers must remember their legal obligations under the 2017 Women, Peace, and Security Act. With this act, the United States committed itself to “women’s meaningful inclusion and participation in peace and security processes to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict.” The United States has obligations to support Afghan women in the peace and security negotiations that it needs to fulfill.

Third, there are immediate actions the United States should take to support high-risk Afghan women, such as expanding its humanitarian parole program. Humanitarian parole “is used to bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to an emergency.” While the State Department recently announced a small program to fund this effort, more funding is needed, as this can be one of the fastest ways to help at-risk Afghan women and activists.

Fourth, while US leverage is significantly weaker now than it was before withdrawal negotiations began, US policymakers need to use their remaining leverage points to influence the outcome and stability of Afghanistan. But before diving into these remaining leverage points, it is important to note how a shift in US language and narratives resulted in a loss of negotiating power.

Before the withdrawal negotiations, US policymakers stood firm to their promise that women’s rights would be a priority. However, once these negotiations began, this narrative shifted and became ‘women’s rights are an internal affair for the Afghan people to solve.’ The new narrative created an environment that emboldened the Taliban to disregard women’s rights and women’s role in society. The narrative shift also left women out of the withdrawal negotiations, drastically reducing the possibility of a durable peace and inclusive framework.

But even with this significant loss of credibility and leverage, the United States, along with the international community, still has leverage points it can use to influence the security situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban desperately want international recognition, a diplomatic platform, and financial assistance. Providing this desired recognition and diplomatic platform, unfreezing assets, restarting aid, and wielding targeted sanctions remain powerful tools in the US and international arsenal. It is also important to remember that the Taliban are not a monolith.

Finding negotiating partners more willing to make concessions will be critical in the effort to establish stability and moderate the regime’s rule.

Fifth, the United States needs to work with international institutions to turn the fragmented regional response into a coherent voice with greater leveraging power. No state benefits from Afghan instability; each Middle Eastern country would prefer a return to some sort of normalcy. For many, Afghanistan is a critical trade partner, as evidenced by Iran’s recent decision to restart fuel exports to Afghanistan. The region’s collective economic and diplomatic power gives it a unique opportunity to influence moderating and stability efforts in Afghanistan.

As we look for ways to restore stability and protect Afghan women in crisis, we must keep in mind Rina Amiri’s remarks. Afghan women are victims and agents. We need to provide humanitarian and financial assistance to help evacuate high-risk Afghan women and provide resources for those who wish to stay behind. But we also need to treat Afghan women as the agents of change they are. These women are resilient. These women have worked hard over the past years building the future they wanted to live. They need to be a part of these leveraging and security negotiations. It is not an option for Afghan women to be invisible.

Maggie Sparling is a junior at the University of Virginia majoring in History and Economics, and minoring in Foreign Affairs. She interned at the WFPG during Summer 2021.

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Feminist Foreign Policy - Rhetoric Without Action?

Since the launch of the first official feminist foreign policy by Sweden in 2014, centering the security of women and girls, promoting gender equality, and gender mainstreaming in foreign affairs have become increasingly common. Since 2014, Canada, France, Mexico, Luxembourg, and Spain have adopted feminist foreign policies. Libya followed suit this year, announcing its adoption of a feminist foreign policy at the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) in July.

Although there is no universal definition of a feminist foreign policy, the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy defines it as a multidimensional, intersectional political framework centered around the wellbeing of women and marginalized people. It departs from the traditional focus on military force and violence, rethinking security from the viewpoint of the most vulnerable. Through elevating marginalized groups’ experiences and agency, feminist foreign policies seek to scrutinize destructive hierarchical forces such as patriarchy, colonization, capitalism, racism, and militarism. The International Center for Research on Women identifies five key components that make an impactful feminist foreign policy: purpose, definition, reach, intended outcomes and benchmarks over time, and plans to operationalize. A feminist foreign policy goes beyond adding “women’s issues” or “gender” to a foreign policy agenda. Rather, feminist foreign policies use gender as an analytical lens, ensuring that the unique needs of gender minorities are considered in policy making. For example, Canada includes feminist approaches to climate action and global economic growth as two of the six action areas of their Feminist International Assistance Policy, while Sweden is guided by the “three R’s”: resources, representation, and rights. No matter the framework, a feminist foreign policy is intersectional and grounded in the promotion and protection of human dignity, viewed as central to ensuring peace and security.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, speaks at the opening ceremonies of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico City (March 2021). Image Source

So far, feminist foreign policies have directly increased women’s representation in political office and peace efforts, created or strengthened legislation preventing sexual exploitation in multiple countries, bolstered female entrepreneurship, and more. For the countries that adopt a feminist foreign policy, the positive effects aren’t just limited to those abroad - they also include vital reforms at home, such as progressing gender equality and equity in the workplace. Sweden’s mandate to increase female representation in leadership has led to women holding over half of all management positions, including an increase in female Ambassadors from 28% in 2006 to 40% in 2016. Feminist foreign policy has also facilitated continuous reviews of wage developments to close the gender pay gap in the Foreign Ministry. Moreover, by using gender as a common lens of analysis, collaboration between portfolios and offices is more efficient and innovative. Implementing a feminist foreign policy has ushered a complete institutional and cultural shift which has empowered those working in Sweden’s foreign policy.

With its emphasis on intersectionality, dignity, and human security, feminist foreign policies could be exactly what the world needs to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting backsliding in women’s rights. However, we must not be hasty in hailing feminist foreign policies a panacea to the world’s problems. Many countries that promote their adoption of “feminist” foreign policy still continue to perpetuate “status-quo” foreign policy activities. Was Canada’s foreign policy feminist when they sold Saudi Arabia C$1.311 billion in military exports last year? Feminist foreign policies are inherently anti-militarist, as women and girls are disproportionately impacted by armed conflict. This move also comes in direct contradiction to Canada's commitment to “reducing threats and to facilitating stability and development in fragile states and states affected by armed conflict,” part of its Feminist International Assistance Policy. It’s also difficult to legitimize feminist foreign policy in countries where high levels of gender-based violence, gender inequality, and misogyny persist domestically. Can we trust Mexico's commitment to implement reforms to eliminate gender-based violence in the Foreign Ministry, while it is facing a femicide epidemic and state forces are regularly implicated in committing violence against women?

It’s also important to note that foreign policies can be feminist without being outwardly labeled as such. In the Netherlands, gender mainstreaming in foreign policy has been a long standing practice. By gender mainstreaming, the Netherlands is able to implement gender analysis more seamlessly than other countries that limit “gender” to an office, portfolio or “add more women and stir” for a gender perspective. The operationalization of feminist principles within foreign policy is more important than subscribing to a feminist foreign policy in name only.

Despite the flaws and limitations it currently faces, feminist foreign policies are a necessary step towards achieving security, peace and equality globally. The GEF has shown us that there is a greater acceptance of the fact that the world is gendered; and to combat this, the state can no longer be gender-blind in its policymaking. However, feminist foreign policies cannot stand alone - they are one piece of a gender-equal governing regime. For states to truly commit to feminist governance, they must completely overhaul the their approach to policymaking. They must continually engage with those who will hold them accountable - activists and civil society - and disengage with forces of misogyny and violence. Feminist foreign policies will reach their full potential when all states lead with politics of compassion rather than self-interest, acting to ensure the dignity and equality of all people, without exception.

Indigo Stegner is a Senior at the George Washington University, majoring in International Affairs and minoring in Spanish and Cross-Cultural Communication (Anthropology). She was an intern with the WFPG from January-August 2021 and led their research and outreach efforts related to the Generation Equality Forum.

Header Photo: Federica Mogherini HRVP at the European Council, Brussels (October 2018). Image Source

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Gaining Gold But Not Ground

The 2021 Olympics has been a year of firsts for representation in sports. From gymnast Sunisa Lee, the first Hmong American to win a gold medal, to weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, the first to win a gold medal for  the Philippines, women are coming out on top of their game in the Olympics, which has seen the highest amount of gender representation in the history of the sporting event. The Olympics in Tokyo boasted 49% participation of women (equaling nearly 11,000 athletes), compared to 45% at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and 44.2% at the 2012 London Olympics. This year’s Games also saw the inclusion of its first ever openly non-binary athlete, Alana Smith, an American skateboarder, and the first ever transgender athlete, Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand.1

But despite some of the strides that women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ groups have made at the 2021 Olympics, this year has shown that there are still many challenges that lay ahead in reforming archaic and traditional rules and perceptions around gender, race and sports. While events like the Olympics can be a platform for change, they can also reinforce the gender and race-based discrimination historical in the sports industry. Whether by banning swim caps for Black swimmers with natural hair or reinforcing hypersexualized clothing in certain events, these types of policies force women to conform to a Eurocentric male gaze. Women athletes may protest (as did the German gymnastics team in the Olympics who refused to wear the mandated leotards), but their non-compliance can cost them (such as with the Norwegian women’s handball team in the Euro 2021 tournament when they refused to wear the regulation high-cut bikini bottoms). Such policies – often set by organizing bodies dominated by men2 – have consequences on the full and equal participation of women in sports.


American track and field athlete Gwen Berry received harsh criticism for turning away from the US flag and national anthem while on the podium for an awards ceremony in June. Berry has accused critics of her protest of favoring "patriotism over basic morality." Though the Olympics strives to be neutral, it has a history of protest at the podium, and recently changed its guidelines to allow peaceful expressions of protest in support of racial and social justice. This year’s Games also saw a number of athletes take the knee in support of social justice issues.

The sports industry has also fostered a culture of impunity when it comes to the treatment of women athletes, often turning a blind-eye to their emotional, physical and sexual exploitation and abuse. USA Gymnastics’ routine dismissal of sexual abuse allegations against coaches is a prime example of this, as is the harsh criticism faced by Gwen Berry, Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles for standing up for their own needs and experiences. The sports industry has historically shown that it does not have an interest in protecting its women athletes. Despite having the responsibility to win gold for their countries, women athletes are constantly devalued, given less pay, less resources and less airtime.

This year’s Generation Equality Forum (GEF) in Paris set out to address some of these issues, highlighting the importance of women in sports as an important driver for gender equality around the world, and asking for commitments to support women’s leadership, participation and coverage. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka reaffirmed the necessity of public and private sector actors to make investments in women in sports, whether it be through allocating resources and funds for women, or changing laws and policies to increase access and opportunities for women in safe and inclusive environments in the industry. The three-day gender summit also saw the announcement of the launch of the Global Observatory for Women and Sport, a Switzerland-based institution for research and data.

As society changes to integrate measures for meaningful equality and inclusivity, so should the sports industry, its organizers, its events and its policies. The GEF’s participants have made commitments to support those initiatives, so that while women athletes continue breaking records and winning gold, they don’t have to go the distance alone.

Ainab Rahman is a gender and security practitioner, and a member of the WFPG. She currently serves as Director at a global strategic advisory and intelligence company.

Header Photo: Hidilyn Diaz, the first to win a gold medal for the Philippines in their nearly 100 years of participation in the 2021 Olympic Games. She set an Olympic record, lifting a combined weight of 493 pounds, across two lifts.


1While the Olympics have allowed a white transgender athlete to participate in a woman’s event, Namibian cis-women athletes Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi were disqualified from the 400-meter race at the Olympics because of their naturally high levels of testosterone. In order to compete, they would have to take medication to lower their testosterone levels. This builds on the 2019 decision to exclude South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who was ruled to be intersex and was asked to take testosterone suppressants to continue to compete.

2In the International Olympic Committee, women make up 33.3% of the executive board, and 37.5% of committee members are female.

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How to Build an Inclusive Regulatory and Standards Framework for Emerging Technology

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies have long been heralded for their potential to dramatically change the way we live, conduct business, and view security. From healthcare to transportation logistics to military weapons, these technologies will alter our everyday lives. The manner and direction of that change, however, depends on how it is governed.

Regulatory frameworks and international technical standards, largely undeveloped for AI and emerging technologies, play an instrumental role in governing the deployment of these systems and the norms and values surrounding their use. For the first time, Western democracies will not write the rules by default. China is playing a growing role in international technical standard bodies, leading at least four such organizations. Declining Western influence coupled with Beijing’s rise changes the playing field. Whoever controls the development of AI and emerging technology frameworks controls access and use of these technologies. The stakes are high.

Theoretically, democratically-minded countries develop these frameworks in a way that protects and perpetuates democratic norms and values. They adopt a human-centered approach and focus on values such as transparency, privacy, and shared prosperity. Advocates of this view can point to the peaceful and civilian use of GPS systems worldwide and widespread inclusive access to the internet as examples of this model’s success.

If, however, countries with a repulsion for democratic values and human rights are left to write these frameworks, we cannot expect transparency, privacy, and shared prosperity to be guiding principles. Instead, we can expect these technologies to be normalized for surveillance, censorship, misinformation, and disinformation. One need only look to China’s extensive use of AI systems in Xinjiang and the growing prevalence of cybercrimes and AI facilitated terrorism to highlight this possibility.

With the recent Pegasus spyware revelations, it may seem that democratic countries are contributing to this dangerous normalization. But even though Western clients may use these technologies for targeted surveillance purposes, there is still a stark divide in the way democracies and authoritarian countries like China would write the rules of the game. The Chinese model poses a greater threat to human rights and individual freedoms, and through its actions, it is normalizing surveillance and disinformation on a much greater scale. Leaving the design of international regulatory and standards frameworks to authoritarian-guided countries would be anathematic to goals of an inclusive, civilian, and human-centered approach.

Democratically-minded countries are better suited for this effort. But this does not mean that we can blindly place control in their hands. Governmental bodies are not predestined for an altruistic and inclusive outcome, as evidenced by their long and troubled histories of using the system to oppress marginalized communities. Safiya Umoja Noble’s research highlights numerous such examples as she analyzes how search engines and algorithms reinforce bias and systemic oppression. Her work is only the tip of the iceberg. This leads us to realize that while democratically-minded countries are the best suited governmental bodies to lead this international effort, they cannot do it alone.


Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks at the 2021 Generation Equality Forum. Finland is leading GEF's Tech and Innovation for Gender Equality Action Coalition.

Government leaders must work with a diverse coalition of stakeholders to write and implement an inclusive regulatory and standards framework. This coalition must include civil society, academia, and the tech industry in order to be truly transformational. The recent Generation Equality Forum (GEF) offers a good starting place for developing this initiative, as GEF consciously built alliances across these sectors. One of its civil society action coalition partners, <A+> Alliance, recently launched the Feminist AI Research Network. The network is dedicated to making these technologies inclusive, by working with the industry to rethink how it prototypes and designs the technology. Additionally, the network has the necessary infrastructure to guide an inclusive approach to the research and pilot programming, which drives these regulatory efforts. This is only one of many civil society partners who can play an instrumental role in maintaining accountability and helping governments achieve these goals.

The tech industry, too, has a critical role to play in this coalition—especially given how the private sector drives the lightning pace changes in the field. Microsoft and Salesforce partnered with GEF’s Technology and Innovation Action Coalition and committed to furthering gender equality in the technology sector. Bringing private industry committed to inclusive technology use into the coalition and subsequent negotiations is necessary to normalize democratic values in technology deployment and the regulatory framework.

We need to raise awareness of the impact international technical standards and regulations have on the norms associated with their use. GEF offered a great start with events such as ‘Charting the Path for Feminist and Inclusive Artificial Intelligence’ and ‘Towards an International ISO Standard for Gender Equality.’ But we need to broaden this effort. Raising awareness helps to bring traditionally marginalized groups to the design centers, research labs, and regulatory negotiating tables. To build a truly inclusive set of norms surrounding emerging technology deployment, that inclusivity needs to be mirrored in all steps of the process.

Combining democratically-minded countries’ values and the power, passion, and accountability that comes from a diverse coalition of stakeholders, we can design a regulatory and standards framework that is inclusive, promotes shared prosperity, and is human-centered in design.

Maggie Sparling is a junior at the University of Virginia majoring in History and Economics, and minoring in Foreign Affairs. She is interning at the WFPG for Summer 2021.

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The Necessity of Data for Accountability

We have all watched as the curtains close on yet another UN event, criticized as just another opportunity for governments to make empty promises, their platitudes never transforming into practical policy. Days, months, and often years of stagnation leave us questioning whether these international events can inspire real and actionable change. Yet the UN Women’s Generation Equality Forum (GEF) was designed to be different. In order to counter the type of inaction we witnessed following the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, the GEF was specifically built around a framework of accountability. But for this to have any hope of surviving past GEF’s initial momentum, and to ensure that it does not just become an empty promise, there is one foundational measure that must be addressed: data.

While not the most glamorous solution, data is vital. It is key to enforcing effective policies and maintaining transparent accountability, working to meet the needs of targeted populations and the goals of development on local, national, and international levels.

We have, however, only 22% of the data needed to monitor progress on gender-specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicators. Of this data, a frightening 23% is from 2010 or later and only 16% is available for more than two points in time. More than one hundred low- and middle-income countries lack adequate civil registration, statistics systems, and trained professionals to collect the necessary data in the first place. Poor collection and analysis infrastructure and data gaps disproportionately affect women in marginalized groups, rendering them practically invisible in official statistics. These types of data gaps, if left unfilled, will have far-reaching consequences, not only on SDG progress, but also on equity and development on a global scale.

But simply collecting more data is not sufficient. There are many well-documented cases of biased data and its detrimental impact on policy rollout and outcomes for women and marginalized groups. While expanding the general data pool can be helpful, what we need is a global gender-disaggregated data effort.

Gender-disaggregated data, or ‘gender data’ is information broken down by sex or data that primarily impacts women and girls. It is necessary to quantify and explain women and girls’ participation in society and measure changes in their outcomes over time. While 80% of countries produce sex-disaggregated data for mortality, labor force participation rates, and education/training—and the reliability of these data collection efforts and their ability (or willingness) to document marginalized communities vary greatly—less than 33% collect gender-disaggregated data on informal employment, entrepreneurship, unpaid work, and violence against women—all categories that disproportionately affect women and girls.

We desperately need a concerted effort to collect gender data, and this endeavor must be launched soon to capitalize on GEF’s momentum. GEF action coalitions must meet to organize and support gender data efforts, to develop the infrastructure and capacity necessary to collect and analyze this information, and to create a framework which can use its insights to foster better policies and practices. With precise gender data, GEF action coalitions can design the M&E frameworks needed to hold governments, organizations, and institutions accountable to their commitments, and to monitor their progress in creating gender-inclusive policy shifts.

Additionally, UN Women should work with its action coalition partners and other international organizations to develop a centralized data center and encourage its partners to use the data in developing and monitoring policies and initiatives. UN Women, the OECD, and the World Bank have already started public databases dedicated to making gender-disaggregated data open and accessible. As data collection efforts expand, it is imperative that new data is uploaded to these centralized databases. Open data is vital for transparency, public service improvement, social innovation, economic growth, and boosting efficiency. Open data in general can help us unlock $3 trillion in annual economic potential within the global economy.

We have the momentum, and we have the attention of global leaders across governments, philanthropic organizations, the private sector, and civil society organizations. GEF action coalition leaders must meet this year to develop these data collection efforts, design the monitoring and evaluation frameworks, and schedule follow-up meetings to track the progress and make changes as needed. A desire for accountability and a focus on data has given us a unique opportunity to recast the scope of what is possible through UN conventions and forums. Let’s take advantage of this moment.

Maggie Sparling is a junior at the University of Virginia majoring in History and Economics, and minoring in Foreign Affairs. She is interning at the WFPG for Summer 2021.


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The Business Case for Equality

While the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) highlighted numerous government agencies and civil society organizations that are working towards progressing the gender agenda, the Forum emphasized how real success, especially in the area of economic justice and rights, requires partnerships across the public and private sector to comprehensively meet the equality-based targets set forth during the three-day summit.

The GEF showcased a number of private sector actors that are making commitments to build multi-stakeholder consensus and adopt new ways of thinking and working that are more aligned with equality. From reaching gender pay equity by 2025 and ensuring living wages for all, to enforcing gender quotas on executive teams and increasing representation of marginalized groups in senior positions, many private sector actors are stepping up to show the world that corporate culture doesn’t have to be incompatible with equality. On the contrary, evidence shows that not only is equality imperative for strong, sustained economic growth, but it is better for the bottom line. Strong correlations between promoting women to the executive suite are linked with increases in profitability—studies have shown that the typical firm experiences a 15% increase in profitability when it goes from having no women in corporate leadership (C-suite, Board of Directors) to 30% representation of women.


Gender Pay Gap

As the Minister of Gender Equality and Diversity for France Elisabeth Moreno stated during the Forum, “Equality is a fight for justice but also an opportunity for enhancing performance.”

The implementation of gender-mainstreamed and equality-oriented frameworks is certainly a big challenge—but companies can make small changes in internal policies that can help to drive wider  systemic change in this arena. Some organizational practices could include: committing to gender pay equity; ensuring resource allocation for gender-related training (gender sensitivity, positive masculinity, sexual harassment) on a regular basis with check-ins; developing the talent of women and BIPOC (confidence and other skills building courses, providing membership in mentorship programs); setting quotas for women and BIPOC in senior positions and on executive teams; and encouraging all employees to take caregiving leave (shifting the narrative particularly around men and caregiving).

ChartEven though evidence makes a strong business case for equality, many private sector actors—especially in more traditional industries—need stronger incentives to foster organizational change and reform to align with the gender agenda. Governments, civil society, and especially consumers, can help drive corporations to adopt more equality-oriented principles, especially by engaging in dialogue across sectors, sharing best practices, and holding industries and their leaders accountable in a comprehensive way.

One way to do this would be for government, civil society and action coalition leaders to develop a gender-based criterion and framework for evaluating organizations on their alignment to gender mainstreaming values, not only on economic justice and rights, but on all issue areas. For instance, some companies may align with the gender agenda in some ways (such as CSR initiatives that prioritize girls’ education, or strong representation of women in their C-Suite), but may be violating equality-oriented principles in other ways (such as through the use of sweatshop labor, or the use of stolen land). This system of ‘grading’ actors could then be used to assess potential for partnerships, or used in determining eligibility for government grants, assistance, or stipends.

Another way to engender equality-oriented values could be through national legislation, as is the case of GEF Commitment-Maker, the Government of France under President Macron, where their National Assembly unanimously voted on a draft law on breakthrough measures on gender equity in May. These measures not only set gender quotas for leadership pipelines and investment committees, but also include actions to support women in broader ways, such as increasing women’s access to secure loans from a French public bank, and providing single-parent families headed by women with training and childcare.

France, and other GEF Commitment-Makers—from the Governments of Iceland and Norway to companies Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Paypal—are well placed to lead the way in initiating policy shifts to support the economic justice and rights for women and other marginalized groups. But they must be held accountable, through partnerships and public pressure, to remind them that investing in equality reaps profits for all.

Ainab Rahman is a gender and security practitioner, and a member of the WFPG. She currently serves as Director at a global strategic advisory and intelligence company.

First Image Copyright © Women's Foreign Policy Group 2021
Second Image Copyright © International Labor Organization 2021


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Generation Equality Forum: Accelerating the Gender Agenda Through Youth Leadership

With keynote remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, US Vice President Kamala Harris, former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and UN Women's Executive Director and former Deputy President of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the 2021's second Generation Equality Forum, held in Paris from June 30th - July 2nd, articulated the pressing need to continue fighting for gender equality, particularly in response to the challenges, exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic, faced by women and other marginalized groups. The Forum, sponsored by UN Women, brought together governments, private companies and civil society, to not only continue making their multi-sectoral commitment to gender equality goals, but to demand their acceleration both across the West and the Global South.

Generation Equality Forum
The three-day conference featured a number of high-level leaders, including: the President of Kenya, who spoke about his country's efforts in developing technological tools for gender mainstreaming and gender data collection; the President of Iceland, who spoke about the need to hold men accountable for toxic masculinity and gender-based violence; and the French Minister for Gender Equality and Diversity, who spoke about the introduction of gender quotas for executive teams, leadership pipelines and investment teams. In her remarks in the Opening Ceremony, US Vice President Harris emphasized how a healthy democracy needs women's participation and representation to function. "When women are heard at the ballot box, and in the halls of government, democracy is more complete," she reinforced.

Along with raising $40 billion in funding for gender-related initiatives, the Forum witnessed a number of commitments from decision-makers across government and the private sector to accelerate the gender agenda and to support women's leadership. Some notable commitments included: Paypal, who will contribute more than 10,000 hours of skills capacity building to nonprofits working on gender data; Estee Lauder, who made a commitment to increase representation of marginalized groups and gender parity in senior positions by 2025; Procter & Gamble, who committed to spending $10 billion on woman-owned businesses; and Unilever, who made a commitment to mandate payment of fair living wages for all.

But by far, the most impactful voices were those of the young leaders. Julieta Martinez, 17-year old founder of the platform Tremendas who, sharing the stage with former US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton during the Opening Ceremony, eloquently spoke of the invisible women who fight every day for social justice, and who feel forgotten and abandoned by the system. Touching on the theme of intersectionality, she also discussed climate justice, coining the now viral phrase "when women rise, CO2 levels fall."

MC Soffia24-year old Shudufhadzo Musida, Miss South Africa, advocated for the need to increase access to mental health care for women and girls, as a vital tool for collective development. She emphasized how mental health services support women and girls in building their identity and confidence, playing an important role in women's leadership, stating its necessity in "empowering girls and women so that we can change the narrative, so that we can get our own seat at the table."

An inspiring trans activist in another session eschewed the traditional idea of 'getting a seat at the table' altogether, instead bravely envisioning a world where democracy is defined as collectivizing outside of racist, colonial and formal political structures.

Charged with the determination and vigor of the new generation, the close of the Generation Equality Forum saw many decision-makers, activists, innovators and corporations make concrete commitments to accelerate the gender agenda. But most importantly, the conference centered the need to spotlight young leaders and their voices in driving intersectional change and revisioning a truly feminist future in the years to come. As one young leader energetically closed"Now, we get to work!"

Ainab Rahman is a gender and security practitioner, and a member of the WFPG. She currently serves as Director at a global strategic advisory and intelligence company.

Photos: (1) World leaders at the Opening Ceremony of the Generation Equality Forum held in Paris, France from June 30 to July 2, 2021 (2) 17-year old Brazilian rapper MC Soffia also performed during one of the showcases, rapping about racism and beauty ideals. "Your hair is the crown of a queen, don't forget," she reminded the audience.


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Why the Generation Equality Forum Is Our Once-In-a-Decade Opportunity to Achieve Lasting Progress for Girls and Women

It's been more than 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted during the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. Unfortunately, the promising public rhetoric of the Conference has not been matched by action and implementation, and not one country today can claim to have achieved gender equality. The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is our once-in-a-decade opportunity to change that.

The GEF is an inflection point on gender equality, which will see governments, corporations, and change-makers rallying around a commitment to #ActForEqual at a critical moment for the world. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to expose and exacerbate gender inequality, the Forum offers an opportunity to advance women's rights and ensure that gender is at the center of the post-COVID agenda.


The Bold Feminist Agenda the World Needs
The historic gathering, convened by UN Women, is guided by a bold feminist agenda — exactly what the wold needs right now. With diverse voices at the table, it will launch concrete, ambitious, and transformative actions to achieve lasting progress toward gender equality. The Forum is a civil society-centered, global gathering focused on intergenerational and multistakeholder partnerships.


The Generation Equality process kicked off in Mexico City in March and will culminate in Paris from June 30 to July 2. It is organized through six Action Coalitions (ACs) — multistakeholder partnerships that are working to catalyze collective action, drive increased investments, and deliver concrete results for girls and women around the world. The coalitions are being led by governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, philanthropies, and youth-led organizations. Through negotiations for the past year, AC leaders have decided on a set of actions and tactics to address the most critical issues facing girls and women today, and to achieve real, lasting change.


The themes for the six Action Coalitions are:
1. Gender-based Violence
2. Economic Justice and Rights
3. Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) 
4. Feminist Action for Climate Justice
5. Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality
6. Feminist Movements and Leadership


What Will Happen In Paris?

Over three days, the virtual gathering, co-hosted by the Government of France, will bring together heads of states and governments, representatives from civil society, women's rights organizations, philanthropic foundations, and the private sector. Commitment-makers will join Action Coalition leaders to announce their concrete and ambitious commitments toward achieving gender equality. The AC leaders are committed to the Generation Equality process for the next five years, though the commitments range from anywhere between one year and five years. Commitment-makers can decide to make a programmatic, financial, advocacy, or policy commitment — but it must be game-changing, measurable, and ideally designed with other stakeholders.


Paris will be a critical inflection point for gender equality, but it's only the beginning. The real work starts once the commitments have been launched and are being implemented and measured. To keep the momentum going, there will also be future opportunities for organizations to get involved in the Generation Equality Forum and become commitment-makers. 


Register for the Generation Equality Forum in Paris

The Paris GEF will be virtual, free, and open to everyone. Registration is open here until June 29 at midnight CET. 

Minna Penttila is the Generation Equality Engagement Grants Manager at the UN Foundation. Prior to joining the UN Foundation, Minna worked at the secretariat of the Freedom Online Coalition, a network of governments advancing Internet freedom and human rights online, and at the Ford Foundation, where she supported grantmaking in gender and reproductive justice, immigrant rights, racial justice and criminal justice reform. 

This post originally appeared as a blog post on The United Nations Foundation.


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Why Women Make Great Diplomats

Against the backdrop of ongoing tensions between the United States and Russia and an upcoming summit between the two countries, it is increasingly clear that diplomacy remains the best alternative to nuclear war. When U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Iceland next week, it will represent a diplomatic opportunity and the highest level in-person talks between Washington and Moscow since President Biden took office. It is worth remembering that both America and Russia have nuclear weapons albeit controlled and limited by diplomatic treaties. But without diplomacy, we remain dogged by the threat of nuclear war. And for diplomacy to work, you need good diplomats.

Enter the forthcoming book “Negotiating the New START Treaty” by Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. chief negotiator of a major arms control treaty between Washington and Moscow. Through it we are reminded of what really matters in diplomacy and what makes a good diplomat. The book – an insider’s account of how a year-long nuclear arms negotiation resulted in the signing of a treaty between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 – is a behind-the-scenes look at what really happens when teams from competing countries hammer out an international treaty, with lessons for current and future decisionmakers about war and peace.


Personal Relationships Matter

A key lesson from the book is that diplomats are human beings and relationships matter. When Gottemoeller was put in charge of the American negotiating team to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) as it was going out of force early in the new Obama administration, she understood Russia and Russians. In the late 1970s she had worked as a Russian linguist at a satellite ground station in Fort Detrick, Maryland, on the U.S.-Soviet hotline, put in place after the Cuban Missile Crisis so that American and Soviet leaders could communicate.

Gottemoeller developed technical knowledge and later moved to a major research organization, the RAND Corporation, delving into analysis of Soviet military journals. She spent three years in Moscow directing the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow Center. Little did she know in those early years that her Russian colleague from think tank days, Anatoly Antonov, would rise to power and be sitting across the table from her at the most senior level of government when the time came for bilateral talks on a new nuclear arms agreement.

“Our acquaintance was one important factor in why the New START Treaty negotiations went so quickly,” Gottemoeller explains in the book. “We never had to spend time on the ‘getting-to-know-you’ dance of international negotiators. Only through the development of relationships in a negotiation do we hit that sweet spot where all parties can say yes.”


Substance and Timing are Key to Getting to Yes

Gottemoeller’s second lesson is that diplomats need to know their stuff, and Gottemoller does — from warheads to reentry vehicles, fissile material to nuclear inspectors. As a diplomat with deep knowledge of nuclear issues, she understood every change to the START treaty text, including complex protocols and annexes. Yet she is the first to agree that luck and timing also play a role in diplomacy. In the book, she makes clear that what helped get her to the diplomatic finish line was the fact that the leaders of the United States and Russia were facing an important deadline in 2009 and both sides wanted nuclear predictability and were driven to get a treaty done quickly.


Women Make Good Diplomats

Another key lesson, and where this book distinguishes itself from others, is the message it sends to women in the nuclear policy field: You can do it. As the first woman chief negotiator in the 50 years of nuclear arms agreements, Gottemoeller knew she was paving the way, for women not just in America but across the globe. She reached out early to women from the Russian arms control team, finding common ground. Aware that male diplomats often use a show of force to cajole the other side, she allowed herself one major hissy fit in front of the Russians, pounding a table, then retreating to her more contained, calm style. She describes throwing a temper tantrum over a point about missile defense constraints. It worked. “The Russians were surprised, but more importantly, the men in my delegation were jubilant,” she writes. “I was able to show that women negotiators have the same range, although if I don’t have to blow up, I won’t.” And Gottemoeller did it all while raising two children.

Lastly, as a negotiator, Gottemoeller reminds us that the ultimate diplomatic skill is patience. She managed the ups and down of negotiations, including what she calls “the dark side of high-level engagement” when colleagues stare you down or you endure endless secure videoconferences, which the author describes as “the antediluvian version of Zoom.” Despite moments when a deal looked doomed, she persevered. In the end, the new START Treaty that Rose Gottemoeller and her team negotiated came into force on Feb. 5, 2011, at a ceremony in Munich after which she and her counterpart, Anatoly Antonov, toasted in a basement pub in Munich.

So here we stand a decade later. President Biden and President Putin have recently agreed to extend New START, so the treaty Gottemoeller helped negotiate will remain in force until 2026. The terms remain consistent: capping the United States and Russia each at no more than 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs,) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and nuclear-capable bombers, and no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Now we hope that diplomacy around the world keeps nuclear conflict at bay. And let’s hope many more women diplomats will take their place at the table.


Hon. Tara D. Sonenshine previously served as a WFPG Board Member (2016) and as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs for the Department of State (2012 to 2013). She began her career in broadcast journalism. @TSonenshine

This post originally appeared as an opinion article on The Hill.


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10 Gender Traps in Communications

When it comes to building a more representative, just, and equitable society, it matters who gets quoted, heard, promoted, and elected—not just in a designated history month but year-round. In our work to diversify the voices and experts who appear in the media, we refer to this as "voiceshare." And when it comes to voiceshare, our research and media analysis reveal a significant and pervasive gender disparity across all ethnicities and across most of the issues we address. This disparity shows up in the authorship of op-ed placements, in the spokespeople chosen for broadcast interviews, and in the composition of expert panels. And if breaking into news coverage and achieving equality in our voiceshare wasn’t hard enough, the societal norms we have been raised under further undermine our efforts as women to speak up. They encourage us instead to soften our approach to be more likable. To tone our messages down so that we don’t come off as angry. And they convince us, in myriad subtle and not so subtle ways, that we are not qualified to speak on the subject at hand (whatever it is).

Just how powerful and pervasive are these gendered social norms? In one of our recent week-long media and spokesperson training for mid-career women, we asked each of the 20-plus participants to list her top challenges and fears in developing her skills as an expert and spokesperson. Impost(her) syndrome was at the top of the list for most participants, regardless of their impressive credentials. In this post, we want to pull back the curtain to reveal 10 of the most prominent gendered communications traps that we and those we train struggle with. In this case, I am using "trap" as a euphemism for being lulled into a societal norm or gendered pattern of communications, which feels safe, but which fundamentally diminishes our voice and expertise, undermining our credibility no matter what the subject. We aim to provide some fool-proof strategies to avoid and escape them—one communications trap at a time.

1. SPEAK UP. Scientific studies have debunked the stereotype that women talk more than men—when, on average, they talk the same amount, at about 16,000 words a day. However, this is not the case in meetings and classrooms across the country, where men speak nearly three times as much as women. Let’s change that. Speak at least once, inserting yourself in the discussion, and don’t hold back in being yourself when you speak. “Step up, Step back.” Be mindful of how much you are speaking and recalibrate accordingly. Speak more if you don’t speak enough, less if you speak too much, and actively encourage other women to speak. Increase the gender diversity of your staff, board, or classroom. One study examined how speech patterns change as more women join decision-making boards. They found that women did not speak for an equal amount of time until they comprised 80 percent of the board. And when you do speak up...

2. PUT YOUR OPINIONS OUT THERE; DON’T QUALIFY THEM. How many times have you started or ended your points with comments or qualifiers like these: “Would you mind if I…” “I’m no expert, but…” “Does that make sense?” “I could be wrong, but…” “Please push back if you disagree, but…” I’m sure you know better than I, but…” “I’m not sure, but…”? As women, society has taught us to cushion our statements politely, and we are often amenable to doing so in case (or for fear of) being wrong. Why? Because stepping up with our opinion or advice is taking a risk. Still, we know for a fact that the more perspectives, experiences, and ideas we bring (and invite) to a discussion or problem, the better equipped we are to come to a better solution—a solution that reflects the broadest diversity of choices and perspectives. These qualifiers devalue our views and experiences and implicitly diminish the weight and trust others assign to them. You are entitled to your opinion. Your perspective and experience matter. Sometimes people will agree with you. Other times they won’t. A diversity of views is a good thing. Put your opinions out there. Don’t qualify them.

3. THERE IS A TIME AND PLACE FOR BEING POLITE. Have you caught yourself or a colleague using any (or all) of the following: “Um…” “Like” “So…” “Er…” “You know” “I feel like…” “Kind of”? In linguistics, these are called “discourse markers” (“you know,” “so”) or filler pauses (“um,” “er”). Their social or interactional purpose is to be polite. These markers are often an essential part of effective communications. For example, when someone invites you to lunch, instead of bluntly saying no, you politely say, “Um, well, I’m so sorry, but I have another commitment that day.” These fillers are also critical in speech, as compared to the written word, in making our language more conversational and accessible to others. However, they are not helpful when someone asks you to share your opinion, experience, or expertise on a subject, such as in an interview or on an expert panel. Overusing fillers in these instances communicates to your audience that you are unsure of what you are saying, diminishing the power of your words, thoughts, and ideas. Because these fillers are often unconscious and are much more prevalent in our speech, it usually takes either a friend, a blunt critic (they have their place), or listening to a recording of ourselves to recognize how we are using them. In addressing these fillers, your goal is not to eliminate them. The goal is to be conscious of how often you use them, when they undermine your expertise, and when they aren’t necessary.

4. REASSESS YOUR APOLOGY STRATEGIES. “I’m sorry, but can I just say that I think the first proposal was better than the second? I could be totally wrong; I have no idea. Just throwing it out there.” “Sorry, could you send me that report I asked for?” Women’s tendency to qualify and apologize unnecessarily is what columnist Alexandra Petri called the “Woman in a Meeting'' language. In a different column, author Nian Hu writes, “While men are able to deliver their opinions and ask their questions in a blunt and straightforward manner, women too often equivocate, apologize, and frame everything they say in vague language.” Having the self-awareness and humility to apologize and admit when we are wrong is a strength and an invaluable leadership trait. However, many of us have been socialized from a very young age to over-apologize, undermining our credibility and authority.

Here are some tips and tricks for not over-apologizing: Keep an apology log for a week. Jot down how many times you apologize in a given day and what for. Pay particular attention to how it comes up in your conversations and meetings. Get the Just Not Sorry Gmail Plug-in, which alerts you—underlined in red—every time you use the word “Just” or “Sorry” in an email, allowing you to be more conscious of how often you are using these in your communications and to reconsider before hitting send. Don’t apologize for things that are out of your control. Remove “sorry” altogether. For example, in the phrase above, switch sorry out with, “Could you please send me that report?” Or instead of saying “Sorry, I was late,” say, “Thank you for waiting for me.” Replace “sorry” with “Unfortunately” or “Excuse me.”


5. STOP INTERRUPTION IN ITS TRACKS. “Oh, I’m sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?” How good would it feel actually to say that out loud? But… that’s not what we are recommending. In Madeline Albright’s words, “the combination of being raised to be polite, listen to other people’s ideas, and then this kind of lack of security, ‘Is this something I’m competent to discuss?’ … We question ourselves much more than men,” she said. “‘Shouldn’t I just wait and not talk initially?’ But if you raise your hand, and you don’t get called on, by the time you do, what you had to say doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s not germane. So I made up this term, active listening—you listen differently if you think you’re going to interrupt.” Numerous studies show that women are interrupted nearly twice as much as men—by both men and women—and even more for women of color. In one study of male-female pairs, researchers found 48 total interruptions—with men instigating 46 of the 48. Everyone has different comfort levels with interrupting others or how passive or assertive they are in addressing being interrupted. And we all have a role to play in limiting interruption—you, men, and our institutions.

Here are some things you can try when you are being interrupted: Say, “…hold on one second, let me finish,” or “I have two more points to make, and then I will take your question.” Say, ”I see Steve has something to add,” or “I am eager to hear your feedback, Steve—after I finish.” Say, ”Can you please stop interrupting me.” Speak in shorter sentences, physically lean in when you are speaking, maintain eye contact, and use firmer language—”will” instead of “might,” ”know” instead of “believe.” Or just keep talking (ignore it).

Here are some things men should do: Pause. Ask yourself why you are interrupting. Are you seeking clarity? If so, then make sure you give the floor back to the speaker when you are done. Are you trying to help yourself remember something? Then take notes instead. Don’t keep your hand raised (or unmute yourself) while someone is talking. Write down your question. Drop your hand as soon as it is acknowledged or the other person starts to speak. Practice bystander intervention. Don’t stay silent. Speak up and help stop an interrupter. Say, “Wait, let her finish,” or “Hey, I want to hear what Sarah was saying,” or “I don’t think Julie had a chance to finish her point.”

Here are some things your institution can do: Institute a no interruption policy and teach facilitators and senior staff to enforce rules that maximize listening, minimize interruption, and effectively address interruption. Suggest facilitation protocols that limit interruption, such as having go-arounds and giving each participant two minutes to speak without interruption.

6. LEARN WHEN AND HOW TO SAY NO. Research shows that we expect women to say “yes” and agree to requests more frequently than men. At the same time, women have a tougher time saying no. And when they do say no, many women feel guilty or worry about being perceived as terse. In general, saying yes can be a good thing, but saying no can be just as important. This includes saying no to a speaking engagement that does not center your expertise or further your career or saying no when you tend to overcommit.

Make the call: Decide what panels and interviews you do and do not want to be on and why? What helps you reach your strategic goals? What do you get out of it? Don’t bury the lede: When asked to do something, include the words “YES'' or ”NO” in the first sentence of any response. You can still provide the context in the second sentence. Suggest an alternative: Is there another expert who could substitute for you? Then, CC the appropriate person: “…that is a question for Thomas…who I have cc’d here.” Replace “can’t” with “don’t.” One research study found that saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” allowed participants to extract themselves from unwanted commitments more easily. “While ‘I can’t’ sounds like an excuse that is up for debate,” the study found, “‘I don’t’ implies that you’ve established rules for yourself, suggesting conviction and stability.”

Practice: Can you think of a time in the last year when you said “yes” to something when you wanted to say “no”? How might you respond if a similar situation presented itself again? Could you say no to it? How could you provide context about your decision but be firm about it?

7. GET CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE. This one hurts women from both sides: Many women are uncomfortable taking credit (or accepting praise) for their work, downplaying their efforts, or attributing them to “luck.” At the same time, women, particularly in academia, face the challenge of other people taking credit for their work without attribution or confront deep-seated social biases in the workplace that result in them getting less or no credit for their ideas. In a lab study of adults working in teams, researchers found that women who speak up with ideas are far less likely than their male counterparts to gain the respect of the team and to be seen as a leader. Further, “men are given more credit than women even when saying the exact same thing." In addition to learning to be more comfortable with taking and getting credit (see a few more tips below), the most important way of combating these unconscious biases against women in the workplace is for each individual to step up and ensure that they give credit where credit is due. The author of the study poses a challenge to every man reading it, "to go into your next meeting and see who comes up with ideas and who gets credit for them," Emich said. "I know this was an eye-opening exercise for me—being a man who was previously unaware of the level of bias women face. At first, just observe," he said. "Then, eventually, step up and give credit where credit is due."

Learn to take back credit: Find a way to join your credit-stealer in celebrating the work—but then make it clear that it was your idea or work. For instance: “I am glad to hear that you read my paper, Willard…” “It’s wonderful you are so excited about my findings, Roland.” “I remember talking about this with you when I was writing the paper, Lucy” or “when I researched it…”

Build your "Who's-Got-Your-Back" team: Women working in the Obama White House used a strategy they called “amplification” to ensure their voices were heard in meetings full of men. “When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author,” wrote The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin. “This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution—and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.” Not only did this strategy work for them, it then went viral, with women across the government (and across the country) sharing how much it has helped them.

8. SLAY YOUR IMPOST-HER SYNDROME. Imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and feeling like a fraud are common amongst women, especially in the workplace. Do I really belong there? Are people going to see right through me? Would someone else be better for this opportunity? These are all questions women frequently ask themselves. But you aren’t alone. The question is, what can you do about it?

Impostor Syndrome

 

Luck vs. skill: You aren’t lucky to have had this opportunity; you worked for it. Don’t cast off praise (noted above) by framing it as luck. You earned it. Accept it, acknowledge it, and move on.

Fake it ‘til you make it: Don’t feel qualified to be in a particular position, on a panel, or speaking to a reporter? Take a chance. Prepare, practice, and put your best foot forward. You can’t get more experience without, well, getting more experience.

Feeling like a “token”: Wondering if you were invited for an opportunity simply because they needed a woman represented? Or someone of your ethnicity or background—but not specifically you? It’s possible. Ask yourself a few questions: Can you make this opportunity advance your own goals and needs? Will it help you build your professional profile? Does it help get you out there or introduce your work to a new audience? If yes, then make it work for you.

Truly feeling unprepared: Do you genuinely feel unprepared for this opportunity, or is everyone else on the panel much more senior in their roles than you? Consider if you think you can hold your own. If you do not genuinely feel ready, decline. It is better to politely turn down an opportunity than to flounder and look like an amateur.

How to overcome your inner Impost-her:

Name it: Give it (him) an annoying name (Think, “There goes my Chuck again,” and interrupt him).

Take the Boasting Challenge*: Women often find it difficult to highlight their accomplishments and often fear being perceived as braggy if they do. So, practice: Take two minutes to list your five greatest achievements, your strengths, or areas of your expertise. Have a friend do the same. Then have your friend boast about you, and you brag about her. Make this a regular exercise.

Own your expertise: Hone your elevator pitch and memorize it. This is a reliable way to consistently convey who you are, what you work on, and why it matters. Feel confident by preparing answers to commonly asked questions that can reaffirm your expertise.

Don’t think it’s just you: It’s not. Stop beating yourself up. Do this with every woman on your staff: Hear someone’s imposter syndrome coming out? Help her address it, build her up, and encourage her to take the opportunity in front of her.

 

9. FEELING SMALL? TAKE UP MORE SPACE. As Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, described, “Men expand into physical space, while women tend to condense their bodies—keeping their elbows to their sides, tightly crossing their legs, stacking their materials in small, neat piles, and contracting their bodies to take up as little space as possible. Men’s expansive posture not only looks more confident, it helps create the corresponding feeling of confidence. By contrast, when a woman’s posture makes her look smaller, it also makes her feel less powerful.” By physically taking up more space, we can help ourselves feel and project confidence. Your body changes your mind, your mind changes your behavior, and your behavior changes outcomes.

Here are some ways to do that**: Sit in your power on panels: Perch on the edge of your chair with your feet planted solidly on the floor. Whether you are feeling confident or not, your body language will project confidence. Use your body language: Sit or stand up straight, lean forward, and use hand or arm gestures (think tadasana or “mountain pose” in yoga). Move forward: Don’t hang towards the back; sit next to the speaker. Speak up: Speak at least once, inserting yourself in the discussion, and don’t hold back in being yourself when you speak.

10. BE AWARE OF YOUR OWN UNCONSCIOUS BIASES AND CORRECT FOR THEM. You’ll remember from Tip 5 on Stopping Interruption In Its Tracks that women are interrupted twice as much by both men and women. As colleagues and allies, it is incumbent on us to understand that we all have unconscious biases—ingrained prejudices that we may not even be aware of. And that it is not only men that reinforce some of these gender traps, but women too. The more we are aware of and continually challenging our prejudices, the better equipped we are to escape a trap of our own making.

Communications expert and gender advocate Lynn Fahselt is co-founder and executive director of ReThink. She has over 30 years of organizing and advocacy experience and has conducted extensive media and messaging analysis on a wide range of policy issues.

This article originally appeared as a blog post on the website of ReThink Media, a communications firm that aims to build capacity across social movements and amplify the voices of underrepresented spokespeople.

*Adapted from Feminist Fight Club—an excellent read.
**Adapted from “How I Claim Physical Space as a Woman of Color”.


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#NoMoreManels: Women's Voices Need to be Heard

When the world went virtual in March 2020, the Women’s Foreign Policy Group looked for new ways to amplify the voices of women in foreign policy and to highlight their work. With this in mind, the WFPG launched a weekly What We’re Watching newsletter to share foreign policy focused discussions, podcasts and articles featuring women speakers and authors with its network and the wider foreign policy community. As a WFPG intern, I was able to contribute to this publication and to this incredibly important mission.

Searching for and curating these events and articles gave me an opportunity to see the amazing women working in the field of international relations--many of whom I may not have heard of or read about otherwise. By looking through each newsletter, one can also see which organizations and think tanks make gender parity a priority, and which do not. More importantly, however, curating information for the newsletter also gave me insight into the spaces in which women’s voices were not very well represented. The discrepancies in gender representation, most especially in the podcast realm, were disturbingly clear and I was surprised at how difficult it was to find content by women on certain issues.

Working on the WFPG’s What We’re Watching was an astonishingly eye-opening experience, and was one of the most rewarding parts of my internship. It taught me that we all need to be more conscious about the media that we consume. We need to ask why we’re not seeing more women in international story bylines and at major think tanks--and what we should be doing to shift the balance. I am proud to have contributed to highlighting women’s voices in foreign policy through my work on this publication and I hope that initiatives like this will continue to encourage organizations to reevaluate their programming and will help to make the case that change is needed.

Read WFPG's “What We're Watching: 2020 Year in Review”.

Janie Goheen is a senior at American University majoring in International Relations with a focus on global economics who interned at the WFPG from September to December 2020.


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Diplomacy in the Virtual Era

Multilateral diplomacy has become all the more challenging because of limitations to in-person meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly unfortunate as the most pressing challenges of the day, like pandemics and climate change, require cross-border, multilateral solutions. Here, we share three tips to better navigate the multilateral arena during the era of zoom diplomacy.

Establish virtual networks to provide up-to-date information on your issues/portfolio AND the space to test new ideas. In-person meetings at the UN and other multilateral organizations are useful not just because they allow interpersonal dynamics to play out, but also because they allow diplomats the opportunity to conduct essential “corridor diplomacy.” Through chats on meeting margins, diplomats can quickly gather intelligence to both inform policy making and avert potential blow ups. Corridor space is also a venue to test creative solutions to move discussions forward. To compensate for this lack of corridor diplomacy, we – and other diplomats - have created or plugged into virtual networks. Our Whatsapp group combining two different regional groups sends us the latest news on specific subjects and offers a sense of countries’ reactions. A weekly group call among 5-7 contacts with diverse negotiating positions has been a useful space to test ideas and launch COVID-19-related initiatives. An ongoing email chain within a group of female colleagues from different countries enables collective, seamless sharing of information on how our various offices are responding to COVID restrictions in real time, so that we can adapt quickly to the evolving situation.

Try to meet new negotiation counterparts one-on-one (even virtually!) before negotiating in a virtual group space. Important precursors to any formal negotiation are the informal exchanges that take place as negotiators enter the room to find their seats. These interactions allow negotiators to meet, get to know each other, and “warm up” for the ensuing conversation. Unlike in-person negotiations, it is impossible via online platforms to cross the room to make introductions or engage in chatter to build rapport before launching into negotiations. One of us recently learned the importance of this the hard way. As the lead negotiator for her delegation, she logged into the virtual negotiating room to find several counterparts from other delegations already present, but silent. After spending a few minutes trying to warm up the “room” through social conversation, she quickly realized that virtual chit chat works best with counterparts who already know each other; new colleagues were not as comfortable engaging in this way, on screen, with unknown counterparts. If she had met with the new colleagues one-on-one ahead of the group meeting to establish a rapport, this would have helped the newcomers to feel more comfortable in the broader group setting, enabling a smoother negotiation. Subsequent meetings have benefited from her more individualized approach with new counter parts before each negotiation.

For virtual negotiations that are likely to be divisive, plan ahead and undertake extensive outreach. Navigating a negotiation with thorny issues or prickly counterparts is difficult under the best of circumstances; it becomes even harder with the restrictions imposed during a pandemic. A potentially divisive in-person negotiation requires some advance planning, plenty of personal engagement, and at least a little pre-positioning – virtual negotiations require even more effort. Whether you are a negotiator or the Chair of a negotiation process, try to anticipate the issues and reach out early to colleagues to discuss them one-on-one, present some potential options for resolution, and set the stage for an open and collaborative discussion. In one recent virtual negotiation on a sensitive subject, the Chair of the discussion ensured a successful outcome with her thoughtful planning and early action. She logged into the online platform 30 minutes early so that she could welcome each negotiator individually as they logged in, fostering an atmosphere of inclusion and engendering goodwill. Prior to the session, the Chair had called individual negotiators to get a sense of their interests and priorities, which helped her set the stage for the discussion and manage ensuing conflicts. She also used phone calls to test out possible solutions she might table, helping her to find options for compromise and creative resolution. In a virtual world, there may be fewer opportunities for spontaneous collaboration, so a successful outcome requires even more purposeful (virtual) engagement in advance.

While these virtual settings may never replace in-person meetings, using the techniques described above can at least help prevent the worst scenarios and at best achieve a fruitful outcome - at a time when multilateralism is needed the most.

The authors co-authored “Negotiating at the United Nations” (Routledge, 2019) and negotiated together at the UN for years. They are all writing in their personal capacities.
A scientist turned diplomat, Dr. Rebecca E. Webber Gaudiosi represented the United States at the UN from 2006 – 2014. She was responsible for U.S. engagement with over twenty-five multilateral organizations working on environment and climate change and also led on sustainable development issues at the UNGA, including Rio+20.
From 2009 to 2015, Jimena Leiva-Roesch was at the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the UN in New York. She was the lead negotiator on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ms. Leiva-Roesch is currently a Senior Fellow with the International Peace Institute where she leads a global study on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Ye-Min Wu has worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore for over a decade. While at the Permanent Mission of Singapore to the UN, she chaired UN negotiations and represented the Group of 77 and China in negotiations on sustainable development. She is currently Singapore’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the WTO and WIPO.


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Twenty-five years ago, I stood in the plenary hall of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to hear then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton proclaim “Human Rights are Women’s Rights and Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

As she described the injustices and acts of violence against women and girls around the world, the thousands of mostly female government delegates, from country after country, sprang to their feet, applauding as they heard one of the most powerful women in the world validate their struggles, whether it was against dowry burnings or rape as a tactic of war. These abuses and many others were being recognized for what they were, not cultural norms to be suffered in silence. 

This was the kind of experience I could only dream about when I took the Foreign Service Exam. The emotion, energy, and determination in that electric moment inspired me and informed my career for years to come.

Just eighteen months before the conference in Beijing, as a Foreign Service Officer at the US Department of State, my boss, Tim Wirth, then Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, tapped me to set up a new office at State to prepare for a series of UN conferences, the largest being the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing in September, 1995. There was intense national and international interest in the conference, which turned out to be the largest UN conference in history up to that point. More than 17,000 participants attended, including 6,000 delegates representing 189 governments, along with more than 4,000 accredited NGO representatives, a host of international civil servants, and some 4,000 media representatives. The conference document negotiated by the government delegates has served as a roadmap for women’s empowerment for the last 25 years. A parallel NGO Forum was held in the countryside in Huairou, far removed from the government delegates. The Forum drew 30,000 participants, including 7,000 participants from the US.

The US commitment to the UN Women’s Conference did not end in Beijing. Some months after returning home from Beijing, I was appointed as the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues, a State Department position supported by Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright to encourage follow up to the UN Conference and to integrate women’s issues into US foreign policy. This role grew into the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed Melanne Verveer who played a leading role in the US participation in, and follow up to the UN Women’s Conference, followed by Cathy Russell who further grew the position. Both women have had a lasting impact on US foreign policy. I went from the State Department to cofound the Vital Voices Global Partnership along with a dynamic group of women including the next generation of leadership, Alyse Nelson who attended the Beijing conference as a college student and is now the Vital Voices President and CEO. Along the way, I partnered with the Women's Foreign Policy Group from its founder Patricia Ellis to its next generation of leadership Executive Director Kim Kahnhauser Freeman. Each of these women have a common commitment, to enlarge the circle of women’s leadership and support emerging leaders on their way up. Their efforts are taking root and making profound change.

We see this intergenerational continuum of women’s leadership from Hillary Clinton’s clarion call at the UN Women’s Conference, to Malala Yousufzai’s defiance of the Taliban, to Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate’s demands for action on climate change. So, wherever you are in your life journey, join in this unstoppable march of progress for women. Take the Foreign Service Exam, or take a leap and get into some other arena, and use your talents to work on big important issues. Bring other talented young women into the arena with you and make space for them when it’s their turn to lead. We still have so far to go.

Theresa Loar has been working at the nexus of business, human rights and diplomacy for over thirty years and is currently vice chair of the WFPG Board, a senior advisor for Business for Social Responsibility, and a lecturer at George Washington University’s Elliott School. @Theresa Loar 

Photos: (1) Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking at United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on September 5, 1995 (2) Melanne Verveer, Theresa Loar, Hillary Clinton September 5, 1995 (3) Covenant for the New Millennium: The Beijing Declaration & Platform for Action. The final document negotiated by the conference delegates (4) The NGO Forum banner in Huairou, China (5) Greta Thunberg: Wikimedia Commons (6) Vanessa Nakate: Wikimedia Commons


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Since the end of the Cold War, the world has seen the formation of myriad regional groups in pursuit of multipolarity. No longer a sole superpower, US policy-makers need to examine how regional groups can be leveraged to help the US achieve its foreign policy priorities, from aid distribution to combating transnational crime. As a founding member of the United Nations 75 years ago, the US must now consider if regionalism is an alternative to or an accomplishment of internationalism.

Since 1871, the US has had the world’s largest economy. At $20.6 trillion in 2018, it accounted for 15.2% of the global economy and was expected to cross $22 trillion in 2020. The ongoing toll of COVD-19 has reversed nearly five years of US economic growth and it could decrease the US share in the global economy to 13.9% by 2024. A major contributor to the global economy and a reliable provider of developmental assistance for the developing countries, the US could benefit from soliciting the input of regional groups to review and prioritize its international commitments.

Among the 193 members of the United Nations, the US is the only country that does not belong to any of the five regional groups defined by the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management, except as an observer for the Western European and Others Group. The US position as an observer gives it a unique advantage in assessing the likely risks and potential benefits of exclusion and inclusion in a regional group—a lesson that it could apply to seeking observer status in other beneficial regional groups.

A likely candidate could include BRICS, a transnational initiative that is inter-regional in its membership and was established specifically to uphold the emergence of a multipolar world. It’s members--Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa--account for 42% of the world population, 23% of the global GDP, and 30% of the territorial expanse worldwide. Compared with the Warsaw Treaty and NATO led by the USSR and the USA respectively, BRICS upholds what could become a template for collegiate collaboration in a multipolar world. Its annual summits have been held and chaired by rotation in each of its five member countries. Its performance record practices non-interference in unresolved bilateral issues and consensual decision making for selecting priority issues for its agenda. BRICS current priorities include the establishment of a development bank, support for infrastructure building in developing countries, and combating transnational crime—an issue where the US already recognizes the advantages of regional cooperation.

In assessing the leveraging potential of BRICS for broader and specific goals of US foreign policy, the US has the option to initially participate as an observer. While retaining its core membership, the 2019 call by China for a BRICS Plus introduced the possibility of a more active engagement through new initiatives for forging regional and bilateral alliances across continents. Seeking an observer status with BRICS would be a small first step in understanding the potentials and constraints of the leveraging potential of this inter-regional group with an immediate benefit of closer collaboration with its expanding outreach and impact for combating transnational crime.

In her over 30 years as an international civil servant at the United Nations, Dr. Swadesh Rana served as the Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch and a senior political analyst in the Executive Office of Secretary-General for Boutros Boutros-Ghali.


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Across the US, companies, institutions, and individuals are reflecting on policies and practices that can systematically disadvantage people of color. GAO recently issued reports on workforce diversity at the State Department and USAID—and what strides they have or haven’t made over the last 17 years—in terms of numbers and promotion outcomes for women and racial minorities in both agencies’ Civil and Foreign Services.

State and USAID Have More Diverse Workforces, but the Proportions of African American Women Have Declined Considerably

  • From 2002 to 2018, the overall proportion of minorities rose from 28% to 32% at State and from 33% to 37% at USAID. These increases were driven by growing proportions of minorities in each agency’s Foreign Service.

  • However, the proportion of African American women dropped from 13% to 9% at State and from 20% to 14% at USAID. These decreases were driven by significant declines in the proportion of African American women in each agency’s Civil Service, despite marginal increases in the Foreign Service.

While the overall proportion of women increased at USAID, the proportion of women decreased at State. At both agencies, women were generally less represented in higher ranks, as were racial or ethnic minorities.


Minority Women Have Struggled to Advance at State and USAID

GAO found that while promotion outcomes (rates and odds) for women and men at both State and USAID were fairly comparable, promotion outcomes for racial or ethnic minorities—both men and women—were often lower than for their white colleagues, especially in the Civil Service. Similarly, the promotion outcomes for white women were similar or even higher than for white men, but the odds of promotion for women of color were often lower. This was true even after GAO controlled for factors, like tenure and occupation, that might affect promotion outcomes.
Next Steps: Finding and Addressing the Barriers
Both studies clearly demonstrate that racial or ethnic minority women have lower promotion outcomes, but more study is needed to explore the reasons for systematic differences in the distribution of the genders and racial or ethnic groups within occupational categories. In addition to analyzing data, it will also be important to look at workplace culture and inclusivity, which may impact whether minority women apply for promotions.

Read more GAO findings and recommendations:

Written by Moon Parks, Nisha Rai, Deirdre Sutula, Mona Sehgal and Reid Lowe, US Government Accountability Office

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COVID-19 is changing the foreign policy landscape we thought we were entering, bringing even the strongest countries to a halt. No nation has been immune to its effects and no citizen has not felt its impact. Foreign policy and relationship building will no doubt look very different as the world moves on from the effects of the pandemic. The success of the field will lie in the hands of young professionals like ourselves, who are eager to apply our educational theory into practice.

As second-year international affairs graduate students, we were fortunate enough to work with the Department of State’s Office of International Visitors to write an in-depth paper on the impact of the International Visitor Leadership Program to amplify U.S. public diplomacy across the globe. The onset of the pandemic threw a curveball into our analysis and our traditional concepts of affecting change in the field. Our recommendations for the future of the program were largely predicated on the assumption that at some point the world would get back to ‘normal’. But we also took into account the long-term effects of our new virtual reality and the innovative ways these platforms can reshape and supplement in-person citizen diplomacy. Our hope is that our recommendations can be applied broadly to other U.S. international exchange programs as they look for ways to modernize and combat growing global tensions.

The unpredictability of the pandemic has mirrored the unpredictability of international relations, lending a unique perspective to those making the leap from student to professional. Although we spent two years studying international affairs and foreign policy as concepts, the state of the world has changed. As young professionals, we don’t see the pandemic as an obstacle to diplomacy. We see the opportunities to develop new strategies for global engagement and a reimagined approach to people-to-people diplomacy.

It’s easy to minimize the focus of our role in the global community in favor of our domestic challenges, but domestic and foreign affairs are not mutually exclusive. The ability of exchanges to increase the resiliency of the average global citizen and the ability of virtual components to foster the engagement of a wider audience are clearer than ever before. The world is paying attention, and as recent graduates we are optimistic about the opportunities to reimagine people-to-people diplomacy. By doing this, the U.S. can capitalize on new ideas for the future of foreign affairs and a stronger network of global citizens.

Kelsey Jackson and Rachel Pastor are recent graduates of The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs with a Master of Arts in International Affairs. Rachel also currently works at the World Affairs Councils of America. A full version of their capstone paper is available upon request (email Kelsey or Rachel), and an adapted version has been submitted for publication. 

The International Visitor Leadership Program is celebrating its 80th anniversary with a digital campaign in 2020. Join us on October 29th for a discussion designed to provide international relations students, interns, and foreign affairs professionals with an in-depth understanding of the role of exchange programs, such as the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), in global power dynamics. Registration will open after Labor Day and a link will be shared on eca.state.gov/facesofexchange and the WFPG websites.

Follow the campaign at eca.state.gov/facesofexchange or #FacesOfExchange

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This Year is Different: 
Longstanding Challenges Faced By Refugees in the Time of a Pandemic

This year amid a global pandemic, all of the important days we typically mark throughout the year—honoring significant milestones, causes, issues, individuals, and more—have taken on new meaning. And the way we commemorate the passing of these days has entirely transformed. As an advocate for refugees and other forcibly displaced people, one such day comes this Saturday, June 20: World Refugee Day. As the spread of COVID-19 threatens to have devastating effects on refugees and other forcibly displaced people this year, including refugee women and girls, how we mark it will be more important than ever.

World Refugee Day was instituted in 2000 to raise awareness of the situation of refugees and “to communicate with the world about who refugees are and why they require protection,” But amid so many new and overlapping global crises, World Refugee Day feels different this year and yet consistent. Consistent in the sense that refugees and other forcibly displaced people continue to face the same challenges year after year. However, this year the pandemic and associated measures to control its spread are exacerbating these existing challenges and bringing them to the fore.

Displaced persons—including refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people (IDPs), and stateless people—often live in conditions that are unacceptable. They often face acute risks to their safety, live in cramped quarters, have limited access to health and social services, experience high levels of gender-based violence, face restrictions on movement, and enjoy only limited access to livelihoods. Even before a worldwide health emergency, these factors all add up to create remarkably difficult and uncertain lives for so many refugees. Combined with the continued deterioration around norms and international protection guarantees for those fleeing persecution, refugees have become one of the most vulnerable groups in our global society.

In particular, refugee women and girls are bearing the biggest burden of the pandemic. Forced displacement uniquely and disproportionately affects women and girls. The spread of COVID-19 is intensifying their challenges. For refugee women who work, most participate in the informal economy and have lost their livelihoods. School closures have forced millions of girls out of school, and they are much less likely to re-enroll than boys. Access to healthcare, which has always been an issue for refugees, is especially problematic for women and girls as there is a risk of a diversion of resources from women’s specific healthcare such as sexual and reproductive health services to coronavirus-related initiatives and treatment. And finally, as governments have required residents to self-quarantine and lockdown at home, we have seen a dramatic spike of intimate partner violence (IPV). This is true within refugee communities as well. United Nation Secretary General Antonio Guterres even commented on this trend urging all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to this pandemic.

So how does one commemorate June 20, 2020 in a productive and positive way? How do we recognize a day that highlights a group of people that is so consistently marginalized? First, it is important to learn about the challenges refugees face and how those challenges differ in severity depending on national and local policies. Second, we must challenge those policies. And third, we should seek out refugees’ valuable capabilities and provide space and opportunities for those capabilities to grow.

World Refugee Day 2020 is unique in that there are more refugees today than at any time in recorded history. At the same time there is a global pandemic, and countries have quickly closed their borders, cutting off the prospect of safety for people who need it most. However, let’s also make this year unique in that we improve longstanding challenges that refugees face. None of the solutions are easy, but the time to make headway is now.

Devon Cone, Senior Advocate for Women and Girls at Refugees International, focuses on the unique challenges of forcibly displaced women and girls worldwide and policy recommendations to alleviate those challenges. Previously, she was the Director of Protection Programs at HIAS and a UNHCR Resettlement Officer. @devoncone

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Achieving Competent Diversity in National Security

Despite the potential for competent diversity to greatly contribute to the mission and goals of the national security apparatus, the truth of the matter is that we continue to experience challenges in achieving diversity within our ranks. Further, because there is very little research on why the representation of women and underrepresented groups has lagged so significantly, we have a noticeable gap in our understanding and in the data necessary to drive change.

To address this gap and endeavor to accelerate progress on relevant policy and programming, Guidehouse and #NatSecGirlSquad embarked on a study on the barriers to achieving diversity in national security. To be clear, our effort was an exploratory study, designed to “clear the underbrush”and enhance and accelerate the conversation around challenges faced by women and underrepresented groups in entering and working in this space. While many of us within the field have anecdotal evidence on what those challenges are, this study was an effort to amplify our understanding and add qualitative data to the conversation.

The survey was designed in coordination with an academic researcher from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Natalie Todak, whose research focuses on women in policing. The survey was approved by the UAB Institutional Review Board, and was deployed via Qualtrics. The survey link was distributed to the #NatSecGirlSquad listserve, via email, and was posted on the professional social media pages of our project team, to include the pages for Guidehouse and #NatSecGirlSquad.

Recruitment and data collection for the survey were carried out over two weeks in the fall of 2019. 841 people began the survey, and 611 reached the end of the survey. The survey was completely anonymous; however, some demographic information was captured. A brief snapshot of demographics is included below:

  • 77% of respondents identified as women

  • 70% were in the age range of 25-44

  • 83% identified as white

  • This was a highly educated group64% have a masters degree

  • 58% currently work in national security

Full demographic breakouts are available in the final report. We do want to recognize that our sample isn’t as diverse as we had hoped it would be. We recognize that this is an issue, both with our research, and in the field, and that it itself may provide another data point that there is additional work to be done around racial and ethnic diversity.

The data was analyzed and collated into our final report, “What It Looks Like vs. What It Is: Building Competent Diversity in National Security”. The report is organized into three broad categories, capturing respondents’ perceptions and insights into: applying for jobs in national security; working in national security; and leadership and promotion in national security. Some key findings from the report are summarized below:

  • 56% of respondents do not consider the national security field to be welcoming to women and underrepresented groups.
  • 90% of respondents indicated they wish there were more opportunities made available to assist women and people from other underrepresented groups who are working in this field.
  • Almost half—47%—of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that they had experienced discrimination in their role as a leader. When filtered by gender, 59% of women agreed with the statement, while only 16% of men agreed.
  • 54% of women strongly agreed or agreed that they had to work twice as hard to earn their position compared to others, whereas 12% of men strongly agreed or agreed with the statement.

It is our hope that this initial survey will not only provide further context for one of the most significant national security challenges of our time, but also enable and support ongoing work to address it and encourage greater collaboration going forward. Moving the needle on diversity will require continued conversation and collaboration, as well as additional research and programming within the government, and across the rest of the national security apparatus.

In order to view the full report, as well as our Resource Center containing additional commentary on the report from key executives within the national security field, please visit the Guidehouse website here.

Cara McFadden is the Partner responsible for the Department of State account within Guidehouse’s National Security Segment.

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You Are Not the Boss of Me: Leadership, Strongmen and COVID-19

Leadership has never been more important than now. As the coronavirus pandemic rages through our communities, our communities are desperate for remedies and relief. We have turned to the body that can deliver both on a large scale — government. Whether at the local level or on the national stage, public leaders have been anointed our guardians, our protectors. Not all have emerged as such.

Long before COVID-19, democracy has been under siege. I've lamented in Interruptrr Weekly about the dwindling power of the people in Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Poland, the Philippines and Brazil. The current global health crisis, with its lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, border restrictions, and increased surveillance, has turned otherwise strongman tactics into much needed survival mechanisms.

And, still, strongman tactics haven't proven to help survival, now or later. In China, surveillance has become more handy for pinpointing critics rather than the coronavirus. Information control over constructive contribution. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has also embraced surveillance — and used the global pandemic to delay a court inquiry into corruption charges against him. How convenient. In Turkey, Erdoğan's strongman tactics are no longer sufficient to fool the people.

There are bright spots, however. Looking to Germany, New Zealand, and Denmark, the leaders of these countries — who happen to be women — have responded to the coronavirus with soberness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken as a leader should. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has focused on those "Kiwis," as New Zealanders call themselves, abroad, particularly in Australia who are in need of job assistance. And Denmark, Mette Frederiksen has expressed caution, while getting busy on fighting the virus and also focusing on the welfare of Danish citizens.

Good or bad, the post-COVID-19 world will certainly be one in which leadership will be tested. We'll no doubt see the strongmen proclaim that they are "in charge" — and that, we the people, are not the boss of them. We'll also see leaders get on with business in the name of the people. You can bet I'll be watching that.

This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy Interrupted's Interruptrr Weekly, a newsletter which highlights op-eds, research, and expertise by women (subscribe here).

Elmira Bayrasli is Foreign Policy Interrupted's CEO, writes about global entrepreneurs for Forbes, and is the Director of Bard College's Globalization and International Affairs Program. @endeavoringE

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Pandemics in Crisis-Affected Settings: Ensuring Women & Girls Are Not Forgotten

Increasing movement restrictions. Healthcare workers exercising ‘wartime triage’. Bare store shelves and the shuttering of businesses. For those of us living in the United States and other wealthy countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to bear a series of social and economic shocks our governments—and many of us—are struggling to manage. Yet for many of the 71 million people living as refugees, asylum seekers, or ‘internally displaced’ within their own countries, these conditions are not new. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in already-fragile settings such as Syria, Afghanistan or South Sudan is potentially devastating. Responding requires informed, as well as inclusive, action. How can we learn from past infectious disease outbreaks in conflict and disaster-affected settings? And how can we ensure, unlike past outbreaks, women and girls are not lost in the response?

While not rising to the level of a pandemic, Cholera outbreaks in Yemen, Syria, and Haiti, and Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and DR Congo, brought numerous direct and knock-on effects. Health systems already weakened by crisis—or even under deliberate attack—were further strained; increased need for clean water and sanitation outstripped supply in environmentally-precarious areas; loss of livelihoods placed further pressure on weakened markets and food-insecure households; and aid was sometimes re-directed to ‘more urgent’ needs. The scale of the current pandemic has already led to border closures and changed migration policies that have significantly affected resettlement processes as well as safe passage for people seeking asylum or migrating for economic or climate reasons.

Recognizing the possible impact of Covid-19 on the world’s most vulnerable—people forced to flee war or still living in it, who lack access to soap and water, or to a hospital bed should they fall critically ill—the United Nations just launched a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan. “If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.

While devastating to all, there is a growing recognition of the gendered nature of infectious disease outbreaks in crisis-affected settings. These range from increased risk of domestic violence due to household stressors and quarantine measures, to growing care burdens often falling on women, and risks to female health workers on the front line. Covid-19 will be no different.

The 2013-16 Ebola outbreak made increasingly visible the toll of infectious disease on West African women and girls’ lives. Gender-based violence (GBV), which already disproportionately affects women and girls, was exacerbated by increased household stressors, family separation, quarantine measures and school closures. A qualitative assessment by the UN Development Programme found increases in both intimate partner violence and sexual violence in Ebola-affected Sierra Leone when comparing 2014 to previous years, with reports mirroring the curve of the outbreak: as the response to Ebola ramped up, the authors note that reported cases dropped, likely due to crowding out of safe places and pathways for accessing GBV services. As Ebola cases started to stabilize in parts of the country, reports in those locations rose once more. Informal and formal support structures, already strained by conflict or disaster, often face further deterioration in public health emergencies. In Syria and Yemen, the cholera response exacerbated negative ‘coping mechanisms’ such as forced/child marriage, which further links to IPV. The mental health of survivors as well as those who care for them can also impacted.

This type of service-based data speaks to the fundamental need for flexibility and continued funding during public health emergencies, so that vital sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and GBV services for women and girls can adapt and continue. An IRC assessment showed that, during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, in areas where funding and flexibility allowed for GBV services to remain open, utilization rates increased by almost 20% at the height of the crisis in comparison to pre-crisis levels. Another study of Sierra Leone from 2014-15 estimates an additional 3,600 deaths occurred due to decreased use of SRH services such as family planning, ante/post-natal care and deliveries in health facilities. It is promising to see this research oft-cited in some of the early and excellent COVID-19 guidance—and it should lead to informed action such as ensuring the Minimum Initial Services Package (MISP), a set of agreed upon, life-saving practices to address SRH needs in emergencies, is prioritized from the outset.

Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by aid workers remains a concern during public health crises. During the Ebola response, a range of actors took advantage of women and girls—including taxi drivers, burial teams, and even vaccinators, who chose to exploit existing power differentials that had been further deepened by the outbreak. My own participatory action, feminist research examines the same dynamics in relation to aid distributions, by working with women and girls living as refugees in Uganda and Lebanon to understand how SEA manifests in relation to accessing food, water, shelter, fuel and firewood, and cash assistance. They identify protective strategies for mitigating SEA risk already in use by women and girls, and recommend specific actions aid actors should take.

These protective strategies to mitigate SEA risk—such as moving in groups and ensuring adequate female aid staff—become increasingly difficult given COVID-19 distancing practices that impact the ways in which women’s groups and aid programs function. For example, women workers may face pressure to stay home and care for others if their own families are impacted, potentially leaving a staffing gap. The emphasis on handwashing and increased need to gather water, usually a gendered activity, may further put women and children at risk in displacement contexts where accessing hygiene facilities is often accompanied by fear of harassment and assault. Adolescent girls, unaccompanied/separated children, the elderly and those living with disabilities may face increased risks given potential shortages of aid and/or increased difficulties in accessing it due to containment measures. At the same time, existing barriers to seeking help may increase. Support to adapt a minimum standard of services that can continue to be safely offered is crucial. Given recommendations around remote services delivered via mobile phone or messaging apps, women and girls’ access to technology has never been more urgent.

Much of the work to make the gendered impacts of disease outbreaks more visible has been done by women and girls themselves—as members of community groups, local activists, human rights defenders, and feminist researchers applying an intersectional and gendered analysis in documenting the extent of the crises that affect them. Their voices, and participation in decision-making and planning, must be centered both in immediate response—where the ‘localization’ agenda can be harnessed to better support women on the frontlines—as well as within longer-term preparedness efforts. Duty of care for staff, and shared assessments of how remote management strategies may displace risk onto the most vulnerable actors, are important considerations for responding responsibly.

Lasting peace and security in fragile settings is achievable when women and girls are included at the table. This is no less true when layered against a global pandemic that threatens the very connectedness by which their societies and families are held together. Communities who have been living in crisis for some time now have much to teach us about adaptation, resilience, and mobilization—if we know how to ask, and how to listen.

This article originally appeared on The Global Women's Institute at the George Washington University blog in partnership with  the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. Photo Credit: Christopher Penler / Shutterstock

Alina Potts Alina Potts, MPH is a research scientist focused on gender, violence and humanitarian assistance at George Washington University’s Global Women’s Institute.

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COVID-19 Could Doom or Deliver US-China Commercial Relations

When the United States and China reached a Phase One trade agreement in January, US companies with business in China breathed a measured sigh of relief. The agreement was hardly comprehensive, but it broke new ground in resolving old disputes. It also offered a chance at improved commercial and diplomatic engagement after many months of escalating tariffs and tension. But on the heels of the Phase One deal’s announcement, China’s coronavirus outbreak became an epidemic, bringing with it dramatic economic disruptions. COVID-19 has supplanted the trade truce as the relationship’s new destabilizing factor, one that is being leveraged more baldly and aggressively to pry our economies apart.

A popular cause for alarm over US-China trade right now is the specter of overdependence on China for any number of goods that we need and don’t have enough of—from N95 masks and medical gloves to ventilators and hand sanitizer. In fact, as numerous experts have noted, China’s own COVID- 19 response included a ramp-up in production of critical supplies it now has in surplus. Exporting some of this surplus to the United States would aid its own economic recovery and offers a near-immediate solution to some of the shortages we face. Yet many of these items remain subject to trade war tariffs that the US government continues to apply to roughly two-thirds of all imports from China. Scores of business associations signed onto a letter last week asking the president to suspend all China tariffs as an emergency economic measure, but so far, the administration has rejected this idea in favor of narrower tariff exemptions that require time-consuming reviews of formal submissions from companies.

The Defense Production Act invoked last week by the White House allows the government to jump to the front of the line to procure needed supplies from US companies, but it does nothing to facilitate sourcing of supplies from outside the United States. In fact, some officials in the White House and on the Hill would rather focus on obviating any need for imports, pushing legislation that would forbid federal sourcing of some critical items from China, and advocating for Buy America provisions that would require federal agencies to procure essential pharmaceutical ingredients, raw materials, medical equipment, and supplies here at home.

Despite the economic pressures China has faced, and skepticism of its ability to follow through with its Phase One commitments, China has yet to invoke the disaster clause in the agreement or otherwise formally request that the US relax the deal’s terms. Administration officials generally acknowledge that China has kept to a pretty tight schedule in meeting its obligations so far. Ensuring that the terms of the deal are fully implemented will require continuous government and private sector attention and engagement, but China’s resolve to date is the kind of show of good faith that can be built upon. Even so, in the last week, the rumble of rhetorical support for deeper disengagement from China has started to sound like a roar.

Irrespective of political discord, US companies with China operations were quick to contribute millions in aid to Chinese relief efforts last month, and offers of assistance from China have likewise been quick to materialize in our own hour of need. Last week, Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma sent a million masks and half a million test kits to the United States Centers for Disease Control.

Pushing pause on tariffs and proactively pursuing sourcing opportunities with China offers the United States a smoother path through this crisis and a chance at a faster recovery. Steady progress toward full implementation of the Phase One deal and success restoring US companies’ China operations to profitability offer medium-and-long-term support weathering and recovering from the damage we are sustaining domestically. The United States and China are and will remain strategic competitors, but with so many lives and livelihoods under threat from a common enemy, offers and opportunities to work together should be honored as morally imperative and embraced as additional buttresses for the more stable and reciprocal relationship that both nations need now more than ever before.


Anna Ashton, senior director of government affairs at the US-China Business Council, has previously served as a China analyst for the Department of Defense, US Chamber of Commerce, and US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. 

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The Coronavirus Pandemic: Public Health Actions to #FlattenTheCurve

More than 40 new infectious diseases have emerged since the 1960s, but until the recent coronavirus pandemic, many nations had amnesia about the devastating impact of these outbreaks. As of March 23rd, over 353,692 people globally have been infected with more than 15,430 deaths. In America, more than 35,241 cases of COVID-19 have been reported with over 400 deaths thus far. On Monday, the World Health Organization reported that the pandemic is accelerating globally; it took 67 days to confirm the first hundred thousand cases, 11 days to confirm the second hundred thousand cases and just four days to confirm the third hundred thousand cases. Cases are expected to increase rapidly in the coming weeks.

This life-threatening illness is overwhelming all sectors of society including health care systems with a lack of adequate testing, insufficient personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical providers, not enough hospital beds and a lack of plans in place for schools, businesses, and individuals to effectively respond. Without a vaccine or effective treatments for the disease currently available, we need to take immediate action to follow proven public health practices, like social distancing and personal hygiene, to reverse the curve of this pandemic.

Battling this invisible enemy is very much like fighting a war requiring the mobilization of all sectors of society; each of us must contribute. The choices and decisions we make as individuals and communities now will impact the severity of the outbreak in the weeks and months ahead. An effective response should include the following key components:

Re-establish the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense

The White House should permanently re-establish the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was dismantled by the Administration two years ago. With a permanent office dedicated to pandemic and bioterrorism preparedness planning, the federal government would always have senior leadership in place to immediately mount a comprehensive whole-of-government response. Moreover, annual funding for this permanent office would help break the “boom and bust” appropriations cycle that surges when a public health emergency occurs and diminishes when the threat subsides. While it was an important step forward that the White House appointed a Coronavirus Response Coordinator on February 27th within the National Security Council, this appointment came late in the pandemic response trajectory, missing a crucial window for earlier intervention and containment. Although delayed, the government is now mobilizing all federal agencies working with the private sector to contribute their resources to fighting the disease.

How Early Testing Shaped the Pandemic: Lessons Learned from Other Nations

Diagnostic testing at scale is essential to pandemic control with decisions about early testing shaping the course of the pandemic across the world. South Korea significantly slowed its epidemic by utilizing the most expansive and well-organized diagnostic testing systems available combined with extensive efforts to isolate infected people and trace and quarantine their contacts. The country also enacted a key regulatory reform that allowed officials to give near-instantaneous approval to coronavirus testing systems during this public health emergency, so that the country could test more than 10000 people a day.

As the first coronavirus cases were reported in China, within hours Hong Kong moved rapidly to obtain travel and exposure histories from symptomatic patients, and then quickly isolated those individuals. With memories of the devastating national security, economic, and health impacts of the SARS and MERS epidemics, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore marshaled political and public will, implementing advanced tracking systems and interventions that have kept coronavirus cases and deaths relatively low.

In February, problems with reagents in the CDC’s coronavirus test kit impeded the rapid expansion of screening to state and local public health laboratories in America as did not adopting the WHO’s recipe for the test used in many other countries. Moreover, failing to swiftly navigate the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization regulations, the government was stalled for about a month before expanding testing capacity to academic centers as well as to public health and commercial labs. On March 16th, the Administration stated that millions of diagnostic tests would become available by the end of that week, but this has not yet occurred. Additionally, the promised website that would show where tests have been conducted and positive cases have been detected across the country has not yet been established.

The United States has now accelerated the FDA approval process, so that high throughput platform testing will become possible. Such testing can process tens of thousands of tests each day, as compared to the hundreds of manual tests that had been conducted until recently. However, most clinicians and commercial testing labs will not administer tests to patients with COVID-19 symptoms in their offices, given the potential for viral spread to health care workers and other patients. For this reason, the US has begun establishing special testing units outside of hospitals and the drive-through testing stations, like those used in South Korea, to expand early detection safely and prevent viral transmission to others. Moving forward, America needs a rapid diagnostic test (one was just approved by the FDA this week), as well as home testing kits that provide results in a matter of minutes rather than days.

In the United States, hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with patients and do not have enough ventilators and personal protection equipment (PPE) for their health providers. Such scarcities put both providers and their patients at risk. In Italy, COVID-19 has seriously overloaded the healthcare system forcing rationing of treatment. These circumstances underscore the crucial importance of supporting the healthcare workforce with the resources and the PPE they need. The United States must take decisive action to prepare its healthcare system before cases reach similar crisis levels. After a call from Congress, the President invoked the Defense Production Act, to scale up production of these lifesaving medical resources. However, although masks and other equipment are now coming from a variety of sources, the President has not used his authorities to require companies to repurpose their factories to manufacture medical supplies at the massive scale needed now by our health care facilities.

Investments in Research Can Bring Lifesaving Dividends

As a result of revolutionary scientific advances, the COVID-19 genome was sequenced in two weeks after the coronavirus was identified as compared to the six months it took for SARS. This facilitated efforts to fast track the development of a vaccine. Pursuing an accelerated timeline, several vaccine candidates at the NIH and in the private sector are under development. In fact, last week a clinical trial began in Seattle of one of these vaccine candidates. However, the results of this study and subsequent production and distribution of this immunization, if proven safe and effective, could still take 12-18 months. Additionally, medications used for treating malaria including chloroquine and other anti-viral drugs such as Remdesivir are currently being evaluated in clinical trials for treatment of COVID-19.

With three serious global coronavirus outbreaks occurring over the past two decades, exploring the feasibility of a universal coronavirus vaccine and establishing a national vaccine production center would be extremely worthwhile investments. Incentives should be provided to support public-private partnerships that help to mitigate the financial risks of developing life-saving vaccines.

Investigating Sex Differences

Emerging data indicates that while there are similar numbers of COVID-19 cases among women and men, more men than women are dying of the disease. This trend has been consistent across many countries severely impacted by the virus, including confirmed cases in China, hospitalized cases in Italy, and confirmed cases in South Korea, where men were 65%, 75%, and 89% respectively more likely to die than women. At this time, it is unclear whether these sex differences are due to biological differences such as hormonal or immunological factors, or behavioral factors such as higher smoking rates among men, a risk factor for severe disease.

As more data is collected about this pandemic, sex-based analyses should be conducted. Gender norms, roles, and behaviors that influence women's and men's differential vulnerability to infection, exposure to pathogens, and treatment received should be considered and addressed. Understanding how pandemics affect females and males differently would be an important step forward in illuminating the effects of a health crisis on individuals and communities and for establishing equitable, effective policies and interventions.

Leverage Technology to Inform and Connect Us

Mobile devices present important platforms for instantaneously sharing information, tracking disease spread in real-time, facilitating professional training and research collaborations across communities and countries. Public health officials must work closely with the media to ensure accurate reporting of outbreaks and counter disinformation that can occur in social media.

Moreover, as individuals across the United States use social distancing and proven public health practices to #FlattenTheCurve, the media, the Internet with resources like coronavirus.gov, and social media can provide important information as well as connectivity that can serve as an antidote to feelings of loneliness and isolation. The MIT Media Lab, in collaboration with Tufts Public Health and other organizations, has launched a creative social media campaign, #BeatTheVirus that is engaging celebrities, athletes, and citizens in implementing the personal actions that can help decrease viral spread.

Health in all Policies

The coronavirus pandemic has significant implications beyond health. Its economic toll must be urgently addressed with increasing unemployment and a plummeting stock market. Congress has passed several bills, including $8.3 billion to ramp up vaccine research, provide funding to state health officials, and boost prevention programs. On March 18th, the Senate approved a $104 billion bill that would provide direct help to Americans with expanded sick and family leave. What is now being negotiated in Congress is $1.8 trillion plus economic stabilization legislation to address the needs of individuals and businesses that have resulted from this devastating pandemic.

Additionally, as schools close their doors indefinitely and move online, approximately 30 million children who rely on the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs for daily meals risk going hungry. Legislation must address ways to provide nutrition for these children. Moreover, for the five million households with school-age children who have no access to broadband Internet at home, school closures represent more than a temporary inconvenience. That is why the E-Rate should be expanded from public schools and libraries to homes so that children in low-income families can keep learning during this public health crisis.

At the state and local levels, officials are making critical decisions in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Absent clear direction from the federal government, ten states including Massachusetts, California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Louisiana, and Ohio have asked residents to shelter in place. One in three Americans have been told to stay at home amid this pandemic. The federal government should expand its coronavirus response guidelines to adopt consistent recommendations nationwide so that there is clear messaging for everyone. Social distancing and personal hygiene can only be maximally effective if every state and every person puts these practices into action.

Looking to the Future

Not since the 1918 pandemic flu, has there been an infectious disease outbreak that has threatened the health and economy of our country and world with such devastating and rapid impact. Making significant investments now to increase the scientific knowledge base, developing new technologies that can be deployed in combination with proven public health practices, as well as strengthening health systems, businesses and schools with coordinated, permanent public health preparedness plans, will boost our ability to better contain spread of this life-threatening coronavirus outbreak as well as fight other emerging disease threats more swiftly and effectively in the years ahead.

The United States is at a critical inflection point in our pandemic response, reporting cases at the level of Italy two weeks ago. In the coming days and months ahead, the choices we make will shape the trajectory of this pandemic. From the White House in Washington, DC to every other house across America, everyone must play their part to #BeatTheVirus and #FlattenTheCurve. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said during World War II, together, “we must face the arduous days before us in the warm courage of national unity” if we are to ensure that COVID-19 is a disease found only in history books.

Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal Markey, MD (ret) is former US Assistant Surgeon General, Senior Fellow in Health Policy at New America, Senior Medical Advisor at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, and a Clinical Professor at Tufts and Georgetown University Schools of Medicine. She is the Public Health Advisor and co-creator of the #BeatTheVirus campaign. Matina Kakalis is a Research Associate in Health Policy at New America.


Rear Admiral Susan J. Blumenthal, MD (ret) is former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, Senior Fellow in Health Policy at New America, Senior Medical Advisor at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, and a Clinical Professor at Tufts and Georgetown University Schools of Medicine. She is the Public Health Advisor and co-creator of the #BeatTheVirus campaign. Matina Kakalis is a Research Associate in Health Policy at New America. susan-blumenthal.org

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Coronavirus Could Bring the United States’ East Asian Allies Closer to Beijing

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world, the unfolding economic and public health crises may see China’s neighbors shift their attention back towards Beijing, potentially threatening the United States’ leadership position in the region and its ability to maintain its advantage in strategic competition with Beijing. Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi recently warned that China is moving quickly to position itself as the global leader of the pandemic response, while the United States is struggling with its efforts to battle the virus at home. As many of the United States’ most important allies and partners rely heavily on China economically, Washington needs to coordinate not only with its allies and partners, but also with China, to fight the global pandemic and minimize its economic impact.

Since the coronavirus was first detected in the city of Wuhan in November 2019, China and its neighboring countries have been hit severely by the outbreak. As the crisis worsened mostly in Asia in January and February of 2020, the international community speculated that the coronavirus would undermine the legitimacy of Chinese leadership, following charges of authoritarian misgovernance by Beijing and a lack of transparency about the virus. Due to the widespread lockdowns across the country, China suffered a supply shock with its factories unable to operate. Its industrial output tumbled 13.5 percent in the first two months of the year, representing the largest contraction on record, and its gross domestic product is estimated to have fallen 13 percent in the first two months of 2020.

When the virus started to spread to neighboring countries, it also disrupted supply chains across the region. Hyundai and Nissan had to temporarily suspend production lines in their factories in South Korea and Japan respectively in February, due to shortages of automobile parts from China. Samsung and SK Hynix, which make 75 percent of the world’s smartphone Dram memory chips, as well as Samsung and LG, which produce 94 percent of high-end global smartphone screens, are likely to be exposed to supply chain disruption through the rest of the year, due to a shortage of raw materials, tighter restrictions in the movement of people, goods, and services, and production line closures.

Although it is too early to know the consequences of coronavirus on the global and regional economy and supply chains fully, some of China’s neighboring countries and their firms were already moving or considering moving production lines to other countries, as well as reviewing their corporate strategies to reduce their dependence on China and their vulnerability to supply chain disruptions. These shifts have also been driven by pre-existing supply chains disruptions in China due to the US-China trade war and potential decoupling.

Since early March, however, the rhetoric has completely changed as China and its neighbors demonstrated their ability to control domestic outbreaks quickly and effectively, while the crisis intensified in the United States, Europe, and around the world. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in particular, has shifted its narrative from covering up the accuracy of its data to amplifying reports of the success of its response to pandemic. Although China has yet to return to business as usual, it is likely that China will be the first critical link in reviving the global and regional economy as it begins to restore its supply chains.

With these developments, companies that were trying to reduce their heavy reliance on China cannot help but reverse their moves to keep their supply chains open and operating. It is critical for countries like Japan and South Korea—whose electronics and automotive industries were seriously hit by COVID-19—to promote recovery in their key industries, as their financial markets continue to reel. As soon as China returns to business as usual, it is likely that Beijing will offer diplomatic and economic incentives to restore and boost its trade and investment with its neighboring countries to offset the risks of decoupling from the United States and give itself more leverage in its strategic competition with Washington.

In light of China’s likely campaign, the United States must step up its efforts to coordinate closely and effectively with its allies and partners in the region in order to protect its share of global supply chains. It might be time to re-evaluate its protectionist trade policy and export controls driven by its skepticism in globalization. This approach might have thus far helped the United States gain advantage in its economic competition with China, but these policies have damaged Washington’s relationship with its allies and partners, as well as its standing as a global leader.


Dr. Miyeon Oh, director and senior fellow of the Asia Security Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, has significant experience in both academia and working in the public sector with the United Nations and Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This article was originally published by the Atlantic Council

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