The U.S. Congress is poised to codify Obama administration gender policies at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). If signed into law, the Act would empower USAID bureaucrats to stop USAID from partnering with groups that oppose abortion and contraception.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton attempted to institute a feminist U.S. foreign policy. She created ambassador for women’s issues at the State Department to align all U.S. policy with feminist goals and launched the Gender Equality and Female Empowerment policy at USAID with an elaborate suite of other gender policies. Since then, gender integration and gender-analysis have become system-wide requirements. Any policy, grant, or program at USAID must undergo gender analysis at all stages of planning, implementation, and monitoring.

The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act, or WEEE Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote in July, and is under review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If passed, will make these policies permeant requirements of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act.

Ostensibly, gender analysis and gender integration ensure that all policies and programs focus on women and assess social inequalities between men and women to find ways to eliminate disparities in social and economic outcomes.

Among other things, USAID has interpreted Obama-era gender policies as mandating the provision of reproductive health and family planning for grant recipient organizations as well as requiring LGBT-related programming.

At least one faith-based group has had to turn down USAID funds it was awarded after reviewing the gender requirements. That is because they include sexual and reproductive health and LGBT components which violated their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Requiring organizations to provide sexual and reproductive health counters the President’s Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, since most all organizations involved in sexual and reproductive health promote or perform abortion.

The brevity and vagueness of the WEE Act leaves USAID latitude to implement it. Codification will make it more difficult for the Trump administration to improve on Obama-era policies and allow groups that oppose abortion to partner with USAID.

According to its authors, the WEE Act was primarily meant to help women participate in the economy on an equal basis as men. It amends U.S. foreign aid law to expand finance projects for poor women beyond microfinance to include small and medium-sized businesses

These reasons ensured bipartisan support for the bill. But the noble aims may have also obscured the dangers of the gender component of the legislation, which applies to the entire 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, not just microfinance.

Few of the groups that helped draft the legislation and push it through the House work primarily on economic empowerment. The Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment, which worked on the legislation in recent months, is made up predominantly by feminist organizations and family planning groups that are known to promote abortion and LGBT rights.

One of the organizations, Smash Strategies, is led by former USAID Senior Gender Coordinator in the Obama administration, who drove the Obama-Clinton policies to their final shape last year. Other groups in the coalition are also led by former Obama political appointees.

If the WEE Act is to be consistent with the administration’s pro-life foreign policy, it must include a conscience and religious freedom clause in the legislation to amend the Foreign Assistance Act so that no religious organization or group that objects to abortion can be turned down, or be rendered unable, to partner with USAID. The bill must also include a definition of the term “gender-analysis” that respects the common understanding of gender as men and women, a definition agreed to by nations at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women at Beijing.

Stefano Gennarini writes for the Friday Fax of C-FAM.



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