December 6, 2022


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Senior State Department Official On the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative

18 min read

Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

Press Correspondents’ Room

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thank you, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. I don’t know how many of you were able to join us this morning upstairs, but we had a great event with the Secretary and with Advisor Trump to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Women’s Global Development – Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. It’s a mouthful, even for me, and I say it all the time, so – but we have shortened it to W-GDP, and this is an amazing program. I’m really excited to be working on it and to be able to join the effort that’s already been underway for the past two years with the administration.

It was formally established last February in National Security Presidential Memorandum-16, and the goal is to economically empower 50 million women around the world by 2025. We’re already well on the way to doing that. And it’s the first-ever whole-of-government approach that’s really focused on women’s full and free participation in the global economy.

And the focus has been – it was built out around three pillars which are workforce development and training, entrepreneurship and access to capital, and then the third is the overall enabling environment of policies, laws, and social norms that affect women’s economic participation. And in addition to marking the one-year anniversary of the launch of the program last year, the initiative last year, this event today was also to mark that we are taking a focus on pillar three this year, and we are really going to be drilling down working with our partners around the world to focus on the enabling environment.

And in particular, we’re going to focus on five areas of law, and these were areas of laws that were taken from the Women, Business, and the Law survey that the World Bank has conducted now for two years.

Accessing institutions – thank you – which means restricting their ability to sign legal documents, things like that, contracts, court documents. And creating, building credit, which means access to credit, obviously, and being able to open a bank account, being able to take out a loan, and discrimination on access to credit. Owning and managing property, which is pretty self-explanatory. Also, traveling freely, which means things like being able to get a passport, which a lot of women aren’t able to get without their – without permission from a male guardian or a husband or something like that. And then removing restrictions on employment and making access to different sectors of employment equal for women and men. Those are the five areas of law that we’ll be focusing on working with partners around the world on.

We are really excited to be taking a policy lead here at the State Department and in the Office of Global Women’s Issues because we feel that the department is uniquely situated and positioned to lead on the policy implementation around this, especially pillar three with the legal enabling environment because of our global reach, the skills, and the capabilities of the department’s personnel all around the world and the things – and the leadership that we can bring to this. We also have amazing programs like our international visitors program that allow us to connect women and others who are involved in policymaking on these issues together and bring – improve their skills and then help them to network with one another in ways that reinforce what we’re doing.

So being able to coordinate across the 10 agencies and departments that are signed onto this whole-of-government effort, being able to ensure that we are presenting a unified voice on these issues in countries that we’re working with, all of those things are places where the State Department really excels. So I’m really excited that we’ll be able to have this – have a leadership role in putting this forward.

The mandate that I’ve been given in this area is also – it’s consistent with this focus on legal reform, as I said, because it does allow us to really work with countries in an in-depth way on helping to both address the legal barriers, and then working with them to strengthen the institutions that implement those things.

We’re also really excited about the tools that we have to measure both the impact of what we’re doing, as well as the potential for the other beneficiaries of this program, and that includes things like the new W-GDP index that the Council of Economic Advisers is launching today as well. And that’s – they’re looking at those five legal areas of law that I mentioned. And they estimate, based on the research that they’ve done, that by addressing those areas of law – by eliminating the restrictions in those five areas – that we can increase annual global GDP by $7.7 trillion, which is a huge number. And I think that it’s a number that gets a lot of people’s attention, and we hope that it will get attention of our partners so that they will be looking to work with us on this.

And then I really just want to – I think that you saw, if you were there this morning, but if you didn’t, I encourage you to check it out, the footage or – I think that it’s on BNET if you —

MODERATOR: Mm-hmm, yeah, it’ll still be playing.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I know you all sit around watching BNET all the time – (laughter) – but it was – you could see around the table that we have a really tremendous partnership with USAID, with MCC, with the Development Finance Corporation, with the Department of Labor, with the Department of Commerce, with the Peace Corps. We’re really looking at how we can bring all of the tools that the U.S. Government has at its disposal to bear on enhancing women’s economic empowerment.

And the other thing that was really exciting for me this morning was the continued strong bipartisan support that we enjoy on Capitol Hill for this initiative, and that, as several speakers noted this morning, in this time of very divisive partisanship, that to see a robust bipartisan partnership around this area, I think, shows that we can find areas where we can work together. And this is – it shows how beneficial this is for the United States and for our foreign policy and our national* security that this is an area of such strong agreement and cooperation.

So with that, I think I’ll just stop and be happy to take some questions from you guys.

MODERATOR: Sure. Carol.


MODERATOR: What will you ask?

QUESTION: I have two questions.


QUESTION: One, I was hoping you could address the general issue of why you think you should silo women’s issues? This – the budget for this program has been doubled in the proposed budget from 100 to 200 billion —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm. Well, that’s for one – for the fund, yes.

QUESTION: — for the funding at a time when there are significant cuts in global health, refugees, international organizations. So what is it about this program that justifies doubling now at a time when there are cuts being made in other things?

And the other one is just really the math. As I mentioned to you earlier, the – I don’t understand how you come up with 12 million people have been helped so far this year unless you are counting every woman who lives in a country where a law was changed after Ivanka Trump visited, even if it was already in the works, or mentioning – the woman who was mentioned this morning, the woman from Ethiopia who started one – got some sort of a micro grant and ended up employing 500 people. Are you claiming credit for all 500?

On page 38 of this report that you published, it mentioned that there were 1.9 million women who participated in government-supported workforce training programs, and the number of jobs created was 9,100. That’s less than half a percent. That would seem to suggest that the number of people whose lives you’ve really changed is not in the millions, but the tens of thousands or possibly hundreds of thousands.

Can you sort of break it down a little bit how you are figuring this out? I would like to have numbers in my story that bear some relation to reality.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thank you. So on the first question, I think, actually, that that’s not – I don’t think that we are siloing women’s issues. In fact, I think we’re doing the opposite. We’re trying to integrate this into a number of areas where women’s issues haven’t necessarily been focused on in the past.

I have said multiple times, and I actually even said it this morning to Senator Shaheen, that it – I don’t think it all happened during my term in office, but I think our goal in the Office of Global Women’s Issues should be to work ourselves out of job, because we don’t need the office anymore to remind people to pay attention to these issues because they’re so integrated into everything we do that it just comes naturally and is part of the DNA.

That’s the way that I think about this mission and the way that I think about what we’re doing. And that’s true not just of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which is focused on economic development and economic empowerment, but it’s also true of our Women, Peace and Security Initiative and strategy that the White House has been leading on and which our department, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and USAID are working across agencies to implement a very aggressive and ambitious Women, Peace and Security Initiative.

Our goal is to get to the point where we don’t need the targeted programs because everybody’s – women’s participation is so fulsome and so integrated that it’s not necessary to have to push for these things. So that’s where we’re going. Obviously, that’s a long-term goal. In the meantime, we believe that this is a good investment of resources. What you’re referring to specifically is the W-GDP fund, which is only one element. That is one agency’s commitment. It gets a lot of attention because it was one of the first and most concrete commitments, but the other commitments have included a billion dollar commitment from – is it – it’s from DFC, from the Development Finance Corporation, for the 2X women initiative, or the 2X initiative, that’s really about investing in women.

And using – we’re talking about 10 different agencies and departments that are deploying their resources, and it’s everything from MCC compacts that are requiring that the countries that sign the compacts meet certain legal standards in their compact drafting arrangements and work towards certain metrics with MCC funding, and integrate it into their programming, and everything that we’re doing there, everything that the DFC is doing in development financing, everything that USAID is doing with the W-GDP fund which is the fund that you’re referring to, and the work that the State Department is doing, including a $50 million contribution that we made to the We-Fi initiative at the World Bank, which is impacting women in very significant ways. And then we have an amazing program that our International Visitors Program is doing through AWE, the Advancing Women Entrepreneurs initiative. This is an extremely cost-effective program where we’re training cohorts of women to be entrepreneurs.

And a lot of this, these things do take time from the time you train someone until the time you see the results. It’s not like an instant, just-add-water and entrepreneur then starts hiring 500 people. It takes time for these things to build. And so we’re really proud of the fact that we have been able to impact through workforce training through the Department of Labor’s outreach, through Peace Corps volunteer training, the lives of women. Each agency has developed their metrics to capture the women that they feel have been impacted by their programs. So – but we’re trying to make sure that – the White House’s goal and our goal is to make sure that we are being consistent across those metrics. And I think that we can get you additional information if that doesn’t quite get to your question on that.

Does that get – do we – did that get us there? (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Bottom line, the number of people who are directly impacted – is it more like hundreds of thousands than millions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. We believe this – we believe that this number of 12 million – and again, our goal is 50 million by 2025 – we feel like, based on the metrics – and we work – we have teams in every single agency working on this. And they are – they’re very data driven. We are very focused on making sure that what we’re doing is backed up by the data.

MODERATOR: Jennifer.

QUESTION: How do you square this message of women’s empowerment with the fact that the administration has rolled back a lot of reproductive funding, access to abortion worldwide? A lot of advocates in the field say that’s a huge part of women’s empowerment, is their ability to decide if and when they have a family.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, our – I would direct you to our policy on Protecting Life in Global Health, which sets out the framework for our obligations to give funds within the law, the Helms-Burton – I’m sorry, the Hyde and Kemp-Kasten laws that we are required to adhere to. And beyond that, I think that what we’ve seen – again, we’re looking at the metrics that the World Bank business – Women, Business, and the Law survey has identified as the top barriers to women’s economic participation. We’ve focused on those areas where we believe that we can have the greatest impact and identified, based on the data and the information that has come through in the World Bank survey, and those areas where we have a great deal of convergence, including bipartisan convergence around these issues, and we feel like we can make the most progress by focusing on areas where we have agreement and convergence rather than areas where there are – not just in this country, but in other countries around the world, are very divisive and controversial issues.

QUESTION: So you don’t see any dissonance in those two – the policy of reproductive health, and the messaging on empowerment?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. I think that we are focused on the areas of law that the data has indicated are the biggest challenges for women in their own economic struggles. And that’s where we’re focused.


QUESTION: So civil society, education, microloans, cultural exchanges – these are all hallmarks of foreign aid, something this administration has consistently derided and trying to cut funding for. We were just at a briefing this week where we talked about the State Department and USAID budget being cut 22 percent across the board. So I’m wondering if you can explain to me, other than the presence of the President’s daughter, why these particular programs are so much more supported and are thought of as good investments in these things, where so many other USAID programs that do similar things for women and non-women all around the world are deemed not to be.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, again, I wouldn’t – I’m not going to really accept the premise of the question there because I think that what we heard this morning from all of our senior leadership is that we see this initiative as a worthwhile investment in American interests and American peace and security, that we see that investing in women around the world will help countries to unlock their own potential so that we are – they’re able to be sustainable, they’re able to make progress on their journey toward self-reliance, as Ambassador Green has indicated with the efforts that USAID is focused on.

And I also – I used to work on the Hill, I used to do appropriations work, and I used to fall into this fallacy idea that more money equals we care more about this or that by throwing money at problems we’re going to solve them, because that was the tool that we had when we did appropriations. And then having worked in the field, having worked in some of the most difficult environments for women out in the world, I have seen that it’s not always the biggest, most well-funded programs that have the most impact on women. I think that what we want to do is be good stewards of the U.S. taxpayer dollars at the department and in the other agencies and in this administration as a whole, make sure that we are investing in programs that work, that will have an impact, and that will benefit the American people by promoting global peace, security, and prosperity.

The evidentiary base for this kind of programming targeted at women, who are historically an underserved population, is – I mean, it’s – it should go without – I think it should go without saying, but I think that the evidentiary base has proven that doing these things is a wise investment and that we get back everything that we put into this, and then some.

So we are – listening to Larry Kudlow this morning talk about the hard numbers of what we get from having women being able to fully participate in the economy in this country, from having women being able to fully participate in economies around the world, to me, it’s a no-brainer. I think that’s —

QUESTION: No, I’m not making an argument against foreign aid. I’m just saying we’ve sat at this table for a lot of briefings where foreign aid is being cut to Northern Triangle countries or around the world, and all the arguments we hear against it, it was a bit of a cognitive dissonance this morning because it was a great defense of – in general, almost all those arguments could have been used for foreign aid in many of the countries that we deal with where we’ve seen it be cut. So I’m just trying to figure out why these particular programs get the green light and others that have a similar ethos and similar objectives and similar goals do not.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. I think it’s about being targeted and about understanding that by investing in women, we are making targeted and effective investments in societies.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Just two quick questions. First, on the W-GDP fund, the additional 100 million that was requested, are there specific programs that you’re looking at, specific countries that you’re looking at for that additional money? Why – what’s behind the increase?

And then to follow up on Carol’s question, you said the different agencies have different metrics. Maybe it would be helpful if you could explain what those metrics are for how you reach the number of 12 million.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we – on the – I’m sorry. The first question was – I started thinking about metrics.

QUESTION: Whether the – yeah, the 100 million, the additional —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, I really am going to have to direct you to USAID because they are responsible for managing the fund themselves. Again, we’re trying to carry out this initiative in a way that allows the different agencies to play to their strengths. USAID’s strength here is programming and identifying the best way to invest that fund, and so I would direct you back to them on the fund.

QUESTION: Do you know if there were specific things that they were looking at that’s why they asked for the increase?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t get – that was their internal decision —


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — process. As to the other question about metrics, again, this is – as a new program, we’ve been – we have a working group that the White House leads that has been working to develop metrics across the agencies to make sure that we are measuring like and like, and there’s a lot of research and detail that’s gone into that over the past year with the working group. We can get you some additional information on that. I don’t have it at my fingertips right now. And I know some of it is in the annual report, but – and so I would encourage you to look at the annual report as the primary source, and then if you have questions beyond what’s in the annual report, we can drill down and get back to you on some of those. But a lot of this is in the annual report.

QUESTION: I have a quick question.

QUESTION: I’ve got one more too.


QUESTION: In – I was at the meeting this morning upstairs, and in all the – all of the statistics that Larry Kudlow cited, one number he didn’t cite was the wage gap that women make in this country – what is it, 83 cents for every dollar a man makes. Is there anything in any of these programs that will address the wage gap here or in other countries?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, this is a global program, so it’s not focused on this – on the domestic issue of the wage gap. But my – I would first note that there are multiple factors that go into that disparity. And so think that from our perspective, focusing on the legal and enabling environment that creates a level playing field from the opportunity perspective and allows women to have the same opportunities to then enter the workforce to fully participate is what we are doing. This is – as ambitious a program as this is and as ambitious an initiative as it is, we still have to be targeted because we can’t do all things for all people. So we’re focusing on, again, the five areas of law where we think we can have the greatest impact for the most women and unlock the most opportunity for them. And those are the ones that have been identified by our review of the Women, Business, and the Law survey at the World Bank.

So we feel fairly confident that by taking a lot of these steps that – to the extent that there are wage disparities in countries that are being – that are working on these issues, that by giving women more access to sectors that they haven’t had access to in the economy, for instance, that’s a huge way to help level up women by – if they’ve been locked out of fairly lucrative sectors because it’s against the law for them to work in trucking or mining or you name it, and those are major industries in a country, then giving them access to that field is going to help them. And so this – that’s how we’re – that’s how we’ve conceptualized this and that’s how we’ll be working through it.

MODERATOR: All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you, .

QUESTION: I just want to ask: What are you guys doing in Saudi Arabia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Actually, I don’t know if you know, but the women – if you look at the Women, Business, and the Law survey – and if you can’t tell, we are big fans of the women – the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law survey – Saudi – the changes that the Saudis have made in their laws to allow women to open bank accounts, to get passports, to – that they’ve reduced the footprint of the guardianship practices that – and they are quite committed, we find. In my engagements with them, at least, we’ve seen them be very committed to the path they’re on to empower women to participate more fully in their economy. And we – as Advisor Trump said this morning, I’m heading out to Dubai with her Friday – yes, we’re leaving on Friday – for this weekend, and the kingdom will be very well-represented at the We-Fi summit. They are one of the largest donors to We-Fi, and when we talk to them, they are – they’re all in on trying to open up their economy for women because they know that it’s imperative for them to transform their economy and diversify it away from its current reliance on —

QUESTION: Do you think that’s why – you think it’s less altruism and more, like, a practical – like – they see the practical economic argument which you guys have been making?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that we’re making both arguments. I think we are making – we’re making an economic argument. I think you can look at our society and see the economic argument for yourself, and that when women have an opportunity to participate in the workforce it’s good for prosperity in every country. And so we don’t shy away from making the hard economic argument. That’s the argument that’s going to most likely win the day with people who may or may not share our enthusiasm on a social and cultural level for those.



QUESTION: Thank you.

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