Presidential Memorandum to Strengthen Our Work to Advance Gender Equality Globally

By Juliana Thong

Many steps have been taken during the Obama administration to elevate the issues of global gender equality. Perhaps the most critical thus far occurred on January 30, 2013, when President Obama signed a presidential memorandum focusing on these issues. This is important to Global Washington and our member organizations, as it displays our government’s commitment to global development.

The memorandum focuses to better promote gender equality and to empower women and girls globally. It accomplishes this by strengthening and expanding U.S. government capacity and coordination across all its agencies. President Obama’s strategy is to go forward with a collective impact method to translate commitment to results by making gender equality a priority across the federal government. First, the memorandum acknowledges the need for dedicated professionals with expertise and stature to lead efforts and maintain accountability. It directs the Secretary of State (Secretary) to designate an Ambassador at Large to report to the Secretary and lead the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. The mission of this Ambassador is to advise on issues related to advancing the status of women and girls and to coordinate with other countries, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.

The memorandum maintains the power of the Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to advise the USAID Administrator on key priorities for U.S. development assistance. In addition, it establishes an interagency working group on international gender issues, chaired by the National Security Advisor. This working group will provide strategic guidance, promote government-wide coordination, and spur new action across agencies from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to the Peace Corps to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In effect, President Obama is institutionalizing the efforts made during the last four years by executive departments and agencies to issue policy and operational guidance on gender equality. For example, former Secretary Clinton—with the assistance of our first-ever Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s issues, Melanne Verveer—has worked hard to launch the issue of gender equality in our diplomacy and ensure this progress for generations to come. President Obama and newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry have both given their commitment to these issues by assuring a future and centralized theme of global equality and development. Kerry has said, “…at my confirmation hearing, I spoke with Sen. Boxer about the importance of maintaining the momentum Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Melanne Verveer have built through their innovative office and laser-like focus.”

President Obama knows that promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls around the world is “one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time, and one that is vital to achieving our overall foreign policy objectives.” As we know, empowering women and girls promotes economic growth, improves health, and decreases corruption in communities and nations. This is not only a matter of international morality and citizenship but also national security.

Global Washington and our member organizations are pleased to see the U.S. government affirm the critical linkages between gender equality and broader development goals. This gives our country more power and focus as a force for global development, in the state of Washington.