Women in Congress have chance to impact all women around the world

Women in Congress have chance to impact all women around the world
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The record breaking 127 women in Congress not only represent women in the United States, but women globally. They are breaking barriers and giving hope to those who have felt excluded from our democracy. They also shoulder a responsibility to women around the world. While this moment is important, the symbolism is not enough. Domestically and globally, gender empowerment needs to be a priority for all women in Congress. Women drive education, economic growth, and self reliance in their communities. They fuel societies based on trust, inclusion, and social connections, and they participate in peace building at all levels.

A study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries in the last three decades found that the inclusion of women in peace processes resulted in the greater likelihood of an agreement, implementation of the accord, and sustainability over the long term. When women are educated, their families are more likely to be healthy and educated, and they are also better equipped as citizens to challenge poor governance, corruption, and injustice. Women are also a notable catalyst for growth. As the McKinsey Global Institute spotlights, closing gender gaps could add as much as $28 trillion to annual global gross domestic product by 2025.

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However, women and girls are still denied full access to and inclusion in society around the world due to factors such as poverty, widespread insecurity, gender discrimination, and institutionalized bias. The United States must do a much better job of championing policies and programs that integrate the empowerment of women into foreign policy and defense strategy. By investing in women, we are investing in peace and stability, undermining extremist narratives, and championing future generations of leaders that will help countries around the world thrive.

Women in Congress, which include the first Native Americans, the first Muslim women, and the youngest female members to date, have a critical role in advocating for policies that empower women and girls. They can start by fully implementing the Women Peace and Security Act. When Congress passed this bipartisan legislation in 2017, it was a milestone. The law requires a federal strategy and training for diplomats, development professionals, and security personnel to support these important efforts.

Unfortunately, it is unclear whether any funding has been allocated for these purposes. Although the law requires reports to Congress on the financial contributions of each department or agency, there are limited resources available to do so adequately. Without additional support and accountability, agencies are forced to either redirect funds from other vital initiatives or delay implementation. Women in Congress should encourage the allocation of funds more directly to fully implement this law and ensure proper oversight of the Women Peace and Security Act.

Globally, the United States needs to invest in the programs that advance economic opportunities for women, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, exploitation, and discrimination. Economic opportunities for women are also tied to other outcomes such as gender equality, the well being of children, and inclusive growth and prosperity. Women must have a working environment that removes physical and social barriers to their participation so they may realize their full potential in the market. Public, private, and nonprofit sector leaders need to increase investment and prioritize efforts that aid the economic empowerment of women abroad.

Additionally, Congress should ensure United States foreign assistance programs are reflective of the needs and priorities of different regions. Internationally, local perspectives are often overlooked to the detriment of effectiveness and sustainability of efforts. Working toward a common goal in collaboration with local innovators affords an unparalleled opportunity to cascade knowledge, build affinity and community support, and ensure that solutions are adequately serving the populations they aim to engage. This is vital for women and girls. Their voices matter and should be heard.

Women are essential to peace and stability around the world. Their well being and their meaningful participation in society helps to guarantee the well being of all. Women in Congress are uniquely positioned to ensure the empowerment of women is integrated into foreign policy and defense strategy, and that the impact on women is considered when evaluating the costs and benefits of domestic and international programs. Standing on the shoulders of those trailblazers who came before them, women in Congress have the chance to ensure a more prosperous future. More than an emblem for gender equality, they now hold the power to enact change.

Natalie Gonnella Platts serves as the director and Farhat Popal is the senior manager of the women’s initiative at the George W. Bush Institute in Texas.