Women's economic empowerment is a national security issue

For quite some time, the public and private sector, from the United Nations to major global corporations, have argued for more female leadership in the workplace and more women-owned businesses. While many laudable initiatives have been pursued by NGOs, the U.S. government for the first time is taking a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to ensuring that women’s economic empowerment is not only a priority but a part of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE’s national security strategy.

The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, or W-GDP, is the brainchild of Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpTrump awards Yankees legend Mariano Rivera the Medal of Freedom The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico 2020 is not a family affair, for a change MORE, senior adviser to the president. Having convened a panel with not only Ivanka Trump but with Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Overnight Defense: Trump says he has 'many options' on Iran | Hostage negotiator chosen for national security adviser | Senate Dems block funding bill | Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4K at Trump's Scotland resort GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi MORE (R-S.C.) at the Munich Security Conference last month, I know firsthand that this important plan is blind to political parties, race, country or religion: The focus is purely on advancing women. Furthermore, this plan is the recognition, finally, that women’s economic success is tied to a country’s national security interests.

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There have been fewer than 20 National Security Presidential Memorandums (NSPMs) from President Trump, thus highlighting the importance of W-GDP, given its launch as a NSPM. In non-government speak, this means the president has directed the entire national security community to focus on advancing women — which has never been done at this level.

Given my own experience in national security, I have seen while serving abroad just how important women’s economic empowerment is to national security. Two years ago, I went to Kabul to visit the campus of the American University in Afghanistan (AUAF), as I sit on the board of the Friends of AUAF. My visit happened a few months after the campus reopened for classes, following a fatal terrorist attack the year prior. The young women there were undaunted in their pursuit of higher education, many striving to open businesses upon graduation. I knew then that the years of American military intervention ultimately wouldn’t be the final blow to the Taliban — it would be the enablement of these women to have a voice in government and business.

From a legal perspective, the barriers to women’s economic success is systemic. As Pillar 3 from W-GDP points out, “In 104 countries around the world, women are prohibited in working in specific industries. This equates into 2.7 billion women legally restricted from having the same job as a man. In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working and earning their own income. Women are also unable in some countries to inherit land or open bank accounts without permission.”

These are just a few examples of how pervasive the challenge remains, globally, to encourage countries to free themselves of regulations that prevent full utilization of women in the workforce. The foreign policy community in Washington has been arguing that America must put our values at the head of our foreign policy once again — and I couldn’t agree more, so let’s start by leading on women.

The president and Ms. Trump’s strategy to position women’s empowerment as a national security priority should be widely lauded and accepted, and it would behoove Congress — especially the newly-elected women legislators — to support W-GDP’s aims of doing so. It’s important to note that W-GDP focuses on women internationally, as opposed to its sister domestic program, the WEEE Act (Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018), which passed unanimously in the House and had bipartisan majority support in the Senate. Congress rightly advanced WEEE and should support W-GDP with the same bipartisan gusto.

Prior to this generation in Congress, the small cadre of elected women in both parties in Washington were known for their practical approach to politics: getting the job done, forging consensus in tough debates and making Washington work when politics paralyzed the process. The freshmen women in Congress, however, often have been provocative and garnered negative headlines, only two months into their terms.

Supporting W-GDP would give these women in Congress a real chance to show their might by supporting a program that will not only help women around the world but force the U.S. government and the national security apparatus to put women at the forefront of their agenda.

Despite policy differences on the left and the right, women in Congress should agree with Ms. Trump that pushing W-GDP and global women’s empowerment to the front lines of our foreign policy is vital to our own security.  

Morgan Ortagus is a Fox News contributor, a national security analyst and a U.S. Navy Reserve officer. She formerly was the deputy U.S. Treasury attaché to Saudi Arabia.