I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services. For this reason, I was glad to read the article by Valerie M. Hudson and Dara Kay Cohen, which makes the case for resisting the elimination of these empowerment programs funded by the State Department as an issue of national security for the United States. The US State Department makes small grants to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) all over the world to help make progress in women’s empowerment. The authors offer four reasons why these programs have strategic importance for us here at home and should remain intact:
- Reduce member recruitment by terrorist groups. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in West Africa and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan find recruits among frustrated young men. In the regions where they operate, high bride prices on young women establish the young women as chattel to be bought and sold. These high bride prices frustrate young men who cannot afford them, making it easier for terrorists to recruit them. NGOs funded by the State Department are working to abolish bride prices, thereby reducing the population vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. Young men recruited as terrorists could very well end up attacking US interests in many parts of the world.
- Create more durable peace agreements. A landmark study by the United Nations found that peace agreements lasted longer and were more stable when women took part in the negotiations. One example of a strategic interest for the United States is to get a stable peace accord in Afghanistan. We need Afghanistan to be stable to help stabilize the region with nuclear-armed Pakistan next door. Once stable, Afghanistan will be able to provide its own security so that it is not dependent on the US military, thereby enabling the United States to withdraw from the region. If there is to be a durable peace agreement for Afghanistan, it would be wise to have both Afghan and American women at the negotiating table.
- Stabilize high-conflict regions. More than a decade of research shows that women’s advancement is critical to the stability of countries with a history of ethnic conflict and civil war. When girls are educated and empowered, countries are more stable and secure.
- Deal with matters of life, death, and dignity. The State Department makes small grants to NGOs to help women deal with the aftermath of rape during war, to eliminate genital cutting and forced marriage, and to help girls gain access to education. To his credit, President George W. Bush identified “respect for women” as a “nonnegotiable demand of human dignity.”