G-20 gives Trump opportunity to champion women’s empowerment

G-20 gives Trump opportunity to champion women’s empowerment
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When the Group of 20 convenes this weekend in Argentina, all eyes will be on the United States, watchfully waiting to see if President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat MORE arrives determined to turn his back on multilateralism as he did at this year’s G-7 in Canada, or, hopefully, prepared to engage in constructive dialogue with the world’s other leading economies. On the heels of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, which failed to produce an outcome agreement for the first time since it began in 1989 because of U.S.-China tensions, this is a particularly daunting challenge.

An area that holds some potential for agreement is women’s economic empowerment. This is an area in which China has key interest and a long history of women’s economic participation; it is also one of the few topics related to global women’s issues in which the Trump administration has attempted to strike new ground for the United States. Although the Obama administration led initiatives to combat gender-based violence, promote girls’ education and advance women’s participation in peace processes, there was never a major, inter-agency effort to articulate U.S. foreign policy goals and mobilize significant resources with regard to women’s economic empowerment.


This is an opportunity for the Trump administration, which champions women’s economic empowerment and is rumored to be developing a global initiative on the issue. Early in the administration, the White House tapped Goldman Sachs’s Dina Powell as an adviser who would help to develop efforts on women’s economic empowerment. Shortly thereafter, the Trump White House partnered with the Trudeaus to establish the Canada-U.S. Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders.

And most recently, Ivanka Trump announced at the U.N. General Assembly in September that she would launch an umbrella initiative focused on three pillars of vocational education and skills training, the promotion of women entrepreneurs, and “eliminating barriers and creating enabling environments so that women in the developing world are able to freely and fairly participate in their local economies.”

It would make sense to do so at the G-20. The Trump administration seems to like using the G-7/G-20 platform for this sort of thing: Ivanka Trump’s first international trip was to the 2017 W-20, an official stakeholder group of women from the G-20 countries organizing to offer recommendations to their leaders ahead of the heads-of-state meetings. She used the platform to incubate the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, or We-Fi, which she subsequently announced with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders at the German G-20 the following June, promising to mobilize more than $1 billion for female entrepreneurs around the world.

Even this summer, while President Trump was busy blowing up the Canadian G-7 talks and blowing off a G-7 discussion on gender equality, a senior U.S. official at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the United States’s development finance bank, was successfully launching a multilateral initiative to increase global lending to $3 billion for businesses run by women or creating products made by or for women.

So there’s reason to hope there might be some good news for gender equity coming out of Argentina, which has pledged to use its G-20 presidency to promote gender equality, women’s financial inclusion and women’s work. Given this, unveiling Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico 2020 is not a family affair, for a change Katy Tur says it is 'shameful' that Congress hasn't passed new family leave law MORE’s promised initiative on women’s economic empowerment would be a logical place to begin the United States’s badly-needed return to multilateralism and global economic cooperation.

To be successful, this initiative must, first and foremost, bring new resources to the table, as the We-Fi and 2X initiatives have. This is difficult, but not impossible, for an administration that consistently promises to cut foreign assistance generally, and has directly targeted assistance for women specifically. But it must go beyond a narrow focus on female entrepreneurs, as promising rhetoric about “eliminating barriers and creating enabling environments” seems to imply that it will.

This is where it gets particularly complicated for the Trump administration, as many of the barriers that prevent women from advancing economically are the very issues it has targeted for attack, such as recent efforts to deny asylum for survivors of domestic violence, one of the leading issues suppressing women’s economic participation, or efforts to reduce lifesaving access to family planning and reproductive health care, which are perhaps the most critical components enabling women’s economic participation.

Together with other advocates, I’m calling for meaningful investment in women’s economic empowerment, which is a smart investment for America, but only if done right. That means unlocking the full potential of women as active citizens in their families, economies and societies, by leveraging the power of U.S. leadership across aid, trade and diplomatic engagement.

Women’s economic empowerment requires that we invest not only in unlocking financial resources, but in an enabling environment that fosters women’s economic activities. We need rules and regulations to ensure that women-owned businesses can access government procurement systems and compete for business like male-owned and managed companies in global supply chains. Women workers and entrepreneurs need access to social protection and health care, education, child and elder care and reproductive health services.  

The United States can have global reach on these issues, and has accumulated knowledge and practice that can lead and inspire. Let us bring this knowledge and practice to the table with resources and creativity at the G-20 this weekend.

Lyric Thompson is director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). She is an adjunct professor at George Washington University, where she teaches a graduate-level course on women’s rights advocacy. Follow her on Twitter @lyricthompson.