2023 Women, Peace, and Security Strategy: A Conversation with Rachel Vogelstein

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This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on March 15, 2024. Watch the full video here.

Katherine E. Bliss: Good morning. It’s March 15th, which means that we are just about halfway through Women’s History Month. Last week, the global community came together to commemorate International Women’s Day with the theme this year being “Inspire Inclusion.” Earlier this week, on March 12th, the United States recognized Equal Pay Day, which calls attention to the pay gap between men and women. And the United Nations also hosted the Commission on the Status of Women. Next week – or, really over the next few weeks – communities around the country and, really, around the world will be hosting art exhibits, concerts, film screenings, and even 5(K) and 10K races and beyond, really to just to draw attention to the often-overlooked achievements of women throughout history.

So, sitting here in Washington, D.C., as we are, it’s a good moment to examine both in the United States and abroad where the movement for women’s rights has been, what the situation is currently, where things are headed, and what are the forces creating change. Is it advocacy from below? Is it policy from above? Is it connected to larger social, political, and economic forces? Or is it all of the above?

I’m Katherine Bliss, senior fellow with the CSIS Global Health Policy Center. And it’s my pleasure to join my CSIS colleague Hadeil Ali, director of the Diversity and Leadership in International Affairs Program, in hosting Rachel Vogelstein, special assistant to President Biden and deputy director of the Gender Policy Council, to discuss some of these very questions.

Now, just over three years ago on International Women’s Day in 2021, President Biden established the Gender Policy Council by executive order. And the goal underpinning the order was very straightforward: to ensure that the federal government is working to advance rights and opportunities regardless of gender or gender identity in advancing domestic and foreign policy, including by promoting workplace diversity, fairness, and inclusion across the federal workplace and military. And the council is really charged with coordinating federal efforts and working across executive departments and agencies in support of that goal.

Now, from the perspective of the Global Health Policy Center, we’ve been following the work of the Gender Policy Council carefully. Back in 2023, we launched the Bipartisan Alliance for Global Health Security really with the goal of understanding how U.S. diplomacy, bilateral engagement, and work through multilateral organizations supports research, policy development, and program implementation in support of pandemic preparedness and response.

And one of the important lessons revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic was that there is no health security without health equity – that is, equitable access to health services and innovations meant to respond to health crises such as outbreaks of infectious disease, but also natural disasters and other emergencies. Through our research, working groups, and convenings like this session, we’ve come to see that in order to have an effective response, it’s critical to think about inclusion and access from the very beginning of research and development processes and program design. How will the most vulnerable people be able to take advantage of new products? If women are not part of clinical trials processes or their needs aren’t taken into account in thinking about product delivery, how will they be served?

And so, as we’ve thought about inclusion and gender dynamics, we also look at the health workforce. We know that women comprise a majority of health workers, and health programs rely on women to deliver services such as immunizations to remove and often conflict-affected settings. But the – when those women face insecurity and even violence in the course of delivering services, it puts them in harm’s way and it undermines the very programs they’re trying to implement. So we really can’t talk about health security without talking about human security, which means talking about gender equality on security.

So, Hadeil Ali, I am so excited to be able to join with you in welcoming Rachel to this conversation. DLIA has been working a great deal on these issues, both within the international affairs workforce but also in what it means to be inclusive and use a gender lens when thinking about foreign policy and diplomacy. So it’s really great to have you here today.

Hadeil Ali: Thank you so much, Katherine, for this wonderful framing, and thank you so much for having me here.

Rachel, it’s an honor to host you at CSIS, and thank you for your leadership. What I hope to do is to share a little bit of how this work is connected to DLIA, the program that I lead here at CSIS, and make a few points on the strategy that hopefully will open up our conversation here today.

So the Diversity and Leadership in International Affairs Project at CSIS is one of the only standalone programs within the think-tank space, if not the only program, that looks both inwardly at our own organization as we think about issues of inclusion and equity – like you alluded to, Katherine – but also what does that mean for foreign policy and national security. I think internally, for our own organization, I think that’s quite similar with what we’ve seen with the federal government ensuring that it is a model employer on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and accessibility.

On the second part of it, thinking about what is the intersection between DEI and national security, and making sure that it’s not understood as a social justice program or – but it’s really – it what makes our country better, we like to make sure that people understand that embracing diversity’s not just a moral imperative; it’s an equally essential strategic advantage for U.S. national security. If we don’t do that – if we don’t have people that look like the diversity of the United States – it ultimately will hurt the credibility of our policies and what we look to do both at home and globally.

We see that research shows that – research from especially on the corporate side shows that when we welcome and support diverse individuals, we have better outcomes. We have a wealth of perspectives, ideas, and solutions, and that allow us to equip us to respond to the ever-growing challenges that we have been seeing today.

A lot of the questions that we like to ask ourselves in our program – and I think those are very similar to the questions that I saw in the National Gender Strategy – is: Whose voices are elevated? Whose voices are missing? Whose voices tend to be at the table? Whose voices are part of decision-making processes? Who’s in leadership positions? Are there equitable policies and processes that are in place to allow everyone to fully participate? Not only within our organization, like CSIS, but also you can take that same question to our country, to the scope of the United States. And again, as I mentioned, I think all of these questions are embedded into the national strategy.

I would like to make five very quick points on the strategy that I think will open up the discussion that I think were very important to the work that we’re doing here at the Center.

One is, when we talk about women, making sure that we’re always thinking about all women, right? At times, I see that we talk about women and then women of color, right, as separate categories. Now, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s certain considerations that need to be – to be made for Black women or indigenous women as we think about health-care access, like you were talking about, Katherine; but again, making sure that the assumption is, when we talk about women, we are embedding the diversity of all women in the – in the United States or globally.

The second point is on unpaid labor. And, Rachel, we were talking a little bit about this before our conversation here. Women take up that burden, unpaid office work and unpaid labor at home as well. Two-thirds of the world’s 400 million care workers are women, right? Their work is quite often undervalued and unseen, but it’s critical to the global economy.

The third piece – and I know Katherine and I will be talking about this – is how the domestic and the global is intertwined, right? We can’t do and lead on the global stage if we’re not leading domestically. And for me, ultimately, it’s a – it’s an issue of reputation.

The fourth point is on the – I think on the progress report I saw, that all the issues that you address in the strategy are interconnected, right? Each element reinforces one another. And I think that’s a very important point that we’re thinking about it reinforces economy, security, growth, and development. If we invest in healthier women, the economy will, ultimately, grow.

And the fifth and last point here is – because we follow the – we follow backlash or misunderstanding of issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, or gender or so on, really making sure that folks understand that this is an issue of democracy, right? It’s an issue that matters to all of us. It doesn’t just matter to women. Or it’s how we advance our national security both at home and abroad. And democracy and equity are, ultimately, intertwined. So we want to make sure that we are at our best. The only way to do it is to make sure that everyone in our society is included, and that means all women as well.

Dr. Bliss: Well, I think we’ll have no shortage of issues to talk about.

Rachel, it’s such a pleasure to have you here. I know you said this has been your own kind of March madness of a month, right, with events and the commission and all kinds of issues, but really appreciate your coming here.

And so I wanted just to start out – it’s been three years since the launch of the Gender Policy Council, and I know that it in some ways builds on the Council on Women and Girls that President Obama had established and earlier initiatives. But you know, the choice of the name and the focus on gender is deliberate. And so I wanted to ask you just to say a bit about, you know, the focus of the council, how things have evolved since it launched three years ago, and what you’re really seeing on the landscape for the remainder of 2024.

Rachel Vogelstein: Well, I want to start by thanking you, Katherine, Hadeil, for your kind introduction and for hosting this important dialogue; and express my gratitude as well to Steve Morrison at CSIS for his leadership and partnership on gender-equality issues. It’s really terrific to be with all of you.

As you noted, the Gender Policy Council at the White House was established three years ago by an executive order of the president on International Women’s Day, which is commemorated in March every year. And since then, together with our partners across the federal government, the U.S. has taken really important steps to elevate gender equality and the status of women and girls, both here at home and around the world. And we really view this work as both a moral imperative and, Hadeil, as you said, as a strategic imperative. We know that societies, including our own, do better when women participate and have equal opportunities. We know that economies grow, that education rates and health outcomes improve, that political instability and violence decline. So, put simply, the status of women and girls and the stability and security of nations are inextricably linked.

So, to achieve the vision of the Gender Policy Council, the Biden-Harris administration has marshalled historic resources, has mobilized new partnerships, and really spoken out in support of the rights of women and girls everywhere. Domestically, I’ll note that the president just unveiled his fiscal year 2025 budget, which features critical policies for women and their families across the country by supporting and strengthening the care economy – an issue, Hadeil, that you just mentioned – including through calling for the provision of paid family and medical leave; expanding access to high-quality health care including, importantly, reproductive health care; and preventing and addressing gender-based violence, both on- and offline. And we have taken really significant steps globally, as well, doubling our foreign assistance focused on advancing gender equality from 1.3 (billion dollars) to 2.6 billion (dollars). We have increased our investment in care infrastructure globally and committed to cutting the global gender digital divide in half by 2030, together with our G-20 counterparts. We continue to be the largest donor to family planning assistance worldwide, and we are taking additional action to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad. And we are strengthening the government’s exercise of financial, diplomatic, and legal tools to, importantly, promote accountability for conflict-related sexual violence, including by imposing the first-ever set of sanctions focused solely on that particular aberrant human rights abuse. And we are also addressing the alarming rise in technology-facilitated gender-based violence and its chilling effect on women’s political participation and, ultimately, on democracy. So this is just a sample of the work that we’re currently doing at the White House Gender Policy Council, importantly in close partnership with our colleagues across the U.S. government.

Dr. Bliss: You’ve mentioned a lot about partnerships and, you know, the role that partnerships kind of across civil society and the agencies, and I think also with academia and the private sector, can play in bringing attention to some of these critical challenges. But you know, you’ve really also, I think, highlighted the – maybe the double-edged nature of digital access – on the one hand, really an amazing tool for bringing people together and raising awareness; but also potentially a way that can lead to the exploitation of some groups instead.

I want to turn to you, Hadeil, to reflect a little bit on that. You started talking about the national strategy and some of the – some of the ways that you’ve been thinking about these issues of partnerships and intersectional work. And you know, really say a little bit about how you’re seeing some of those play out, both in the work you’re doing here at CSIS and further afield.

Ms. Ali: Absolutely. Thank you, Rachel, for your opening remarks.

Something that I really appreciated in the national strategy is a clear component on intersectionality and making sure that we’re understanding the unique challenges and circumstances that women of color might be facing as we talk about education, health care, and other issues as well. How are you seeing the Gender Policy Council addressing the structural and economic barriers that especially women of color face, both in the workforce but also political participation and political representation?

Ms. Vogelstein: That’s a terrific question, and I’ll just take a minute to highlight the administration’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which was mandated by the president in the same executive order that created the White House Gender Policy Council, and has led to the issuance of our country’s first-ever strategy on this set of issues in 2021. And it’s a strategy that guides our work both on domestic and foreign policy pursuant to the observation that you made, Hadeil, that we need to be working on these issues and making progress both here at home and, of course, in our work abroad. Importantly, having a strategy like this that is nationwide is a step that only a handful of countries have taken, and it’s really guided our work not only at the White House, but also the work of federal departments and agencies across the administration.

The strategy itself identifies 10 overlapping strategic priorities to guide our work on gender equality, including issues like advancing women’s economic participation, combating gender-based violence promoting the health and education of women and girls, advancing equality under the law, and promoting women’s leadership. And in all of the work that we’re doing, the strategy itself explicitly calls out the importance of representation and of inclusion. And so we have really seen that the language in the strategy that recognizes multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination is the bedrock that we continue to return to, both in our domestic and our global work.

And there is an express focus on democracy, representation, and leadership. And the administration’s focus on gender parity in democracy, representation, and leadership really starts at home. So while he was running for office, President Biden made a pledge to reach gender parity in our national Cabinet, and that’s a pledge he has fulfilled. So for the first time in our nation’s history, we have an equal number of men and women serving as Cabinet secretaries. And of course, the election of our history-making vice president, who is the first woman, the first woman of color to serve in that role, really sends a message every day about the importance of women in leadership.

So under our national strategy, we have really advanced this priority of women’s political participation and leadership not only as a gender-equality issue, but also as a core pillar of our work to advance democracy around the world. And I think Vice President Harris really put it best at the 66th Commission on the Status of Women at the U.N. two years ago when she observed that the status of women is the status of democracy.

But we also know that while women at the decision-making table makes democracies more stable and secure, that there are significant gaps in women’s political participation and leadership; that women remain grossly underrepresented at all levels of government. Today, women serve as heads of state in only 26 out of 193 countries around the world. Women have reached gender parity in national Cabinets in only 13 of 193 countries. And we see gender parity in parliament, in legislatures, in only six countries around the world. So there’s a lot of work to do.

And in this particular moment in the 21st century, we see that women in public life are facing online harassment and abuse for raising their voices. Issues like doxing, targeted disinformation campaigns, deepfake nonconsensual intimate images, these threaten women’s participation in the political sphere, in public life, in leadership. And that, in turn, undermines democracy. So that’s why closing gender gaps in leadership and participation has been a pillar of the Summits for Democracy that President Biden has led, and this will be an issue that’s featured again at the upcoming third Summit for Democracy that will be hosted by our partners in the Republic of Korea later this month.

And since President Biden hosted the first Summit for Democracy in 2021, the administration has invested about $50 million in programs to dismantle barriers to women’s political participation and help build the pipeline. And we’re also working with 13 other countries as part of what’s called the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse to tackle threats against women leaders online – which, as I observed, really imperil not only the wellbeing of individual women and safety of individual women, but actually women’s participation in democracy.

But we know there’s a lot more work to be done. And so just recently, when I was in New York at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women that met this month, we announced that the Biden-Harris administration is launching a new partnership to increase resources that are focused on closing this gap in leadership, including through programs that address threats to women leaders on- and offline. And so the goals of the initiatives are really threefold: first, to invest in programs that build and sustain a diverse pipeline of women leaders; second, to address barriers to women’s political participation on- and offline, including addressing technology-facilitated gender-based violence; and third, to establish a global community of practice of leaders, of organizations that are working on this critical issue. We are inviting other governments and multilateral organizations and foundations to join us in this critical work, and we are hopeful that combining our efforts together we can help to narrow this gap.

Ms. Ali: So you’ve talked a bit about the role of the United States at the Commission on the Status of Women and in crafting some of these partnerships to, you know, really look at the challenge of – well, the issue of gender equality within democracy and also some of the digital challenges that you’ve talked about. Let me ask you a little more, though, about the practice of diplomacy. When we look at – there’s the – you know, the bilateral relationships, the work with the U.N., the – you’ve talked about the increase in foreign assistance from USAID and other agencies around not only political participation and access to reproductive health care and some other issues like that, but when it comes to the kind of daily practice of diplomacy at the – at the embassy level and, you know, within those relationships with different countries, do you see kind of the – a feminist foreign policy kind of permeating all aspects of the practice of U.S. diplomacy? And how easy or difficult is it to really kind of ensure that thinking about gender becomes part of all aspects of the diplomatic engagement, whether it's trade or work on military issues or democracy?

Ms. Vogelstein: That’s a great question. And I think the strongest sign of this administration’s commitment to advancing gender equality through our foreign policy, through our diplomacy, is the issuance of this first-ever Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which really has elevated this issue across the entirety of the work that we’re doing in the federal government, including, of course, in all of the agencies that are working on foreign policy and national security every day.

But let me give you a concrete example, because one of the priorities that’s identified in the strategy is the importance of elevating gender equality in security and humanitarian relief. And pursuant to that priority, last year we released a Women, Peace, and Security Strategy and National Action Plan. And our new strategy identifies new and emerging challenges, and outlines several priority themes.

So, first, it addresses the importance of elevating women’s leadership and participation in fragile, crisis, and conflict-affected settings and contexts, including by advancing accountability for conflict-related sexual violence.

Second, the strategy deepens our efforts to address climate security and elevating the role of women as leaders in climate-risk mitigation, adaptation, and response.

Third, the strategy promotes digital inclusion and addresses this rise in technology-facilitated gender-based violence, which disproportionately affects women public figures, as we discussed.

And then, finally, the strategy advances women’s participation and protection in the defense and security sector, particularly through the elimination of barriers to their recruitment, their retention, promotion, and modeling accountability for gender-based violence within our own system, our own armed forces. And implementation is already underway, so I’ll give just a few examples.

Certainly, the administration has taken many steps to promote women’s participation and protection in the U.S. military. So, as commander in chief, President Biden has really made it a top priority to eliminate obstacles to women’s military service, including advancing historic military justice reform and expanding support for military survivors of gender-based violence.

In addition, under the Biden-Harris administration we’ve seen women commanders really rise to unprecedented levels in the ranks – the first woman now to serve as the chief of naval operations and on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We’ve seen the first woman to serve as commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, the first woman service chief of any U.S. military service. That’s really important progress as well.

We’ve also strengthened women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution. For example, we have expanded our Women, Peace, and Security Incentive Fund, which invests in women’s leadership and empowerment to help break cycles of conflict and crisis and counter violent extremism. And since its launch, this fund has provided more than $70 million in 17 countries, including most recently in Haiti, in Burundi, in Libya, and Armenia. And while there’s clearly more work to do on this important imperative, this work demonstrates a commitment to elevating gender equality in our national security efforts. And we have also advanced women’s and girls’ civic and political participation.

But I think with respect to your question about how we can ensure this work continues and how it has changed our diplomacy, I think it’s actually worth taking a step back and looking at the history of U.S. commitment on women, peace, and security over the last 15 years, really from the launch of the first National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which was overseen by Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2011 and then concretized in an executive order issued by President Obama; then the enactment of the bipartisan Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, which was signed by President Trump and followed up by an updated Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security issued in 2019; and now, of course, we have the Biden administration’s strategy and national action plan, which takes the work forward in the ways that I described. But I think looking at the important commitment that we’ve seen to these issues across administrations really is a testament to how we are seeing this issue begin to be integrated into our national security and our diplomacy more and more with each passing administration.

Dr. Bliss: So you’ve laid out kind of a timeline that probably goes back even further than those 15 years, right? I mean, there have been the moments of U.N., you know, bringing people together to really kind of focus international attention on many of these issues, and then of course the – some of the different policies and strategies that you’ve outlined. Within the recent Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, you’ve talked about the challenge of, you know, when women are really targeted in the context of conflict with sexual violence in particular, whether by armed forces or by – or by other forces. And I just wanted to ask if you could say a little bit – I mean we’ve certain seen, you know, with conflicts – I mean, you talked about, you know, what’s happening in Haiti; certainly, the conflict in Israel and Gaza; Ukraine; you know, we’ve seen accounts of sexual violence in the streams of migrants from – through Central America and Mexico. Like, how, from the perspective of the Council, are you working, you know, across the agencies and through these partnerships to really, you know, I guess focus on understanding the perspectives of the – you know, the people – the women who are experiencing this and ensuring that their voices and their experiences are really taken into account at the highest levels?

Ms. Vogelstein: Well, you’re absolutely right that conflict-related sexual violence continues to be a pervasive security threat and human rights abuse in conflict situations around the world. You mentioned many of the places where we see this occurring, from Ethiopia to Ukraine to, of course, recent reports of violence used by Hamas as part of the October 7th attacks. And we know that accountability for rape in more time remains exceedingly rare, but we also believe that this outcome is not inevitable and that we can and must take steps to address this crime.

And pursuant to the history of U.S. leadership that you were referencing, that on women, peace, and security, through our own laws and policies, goes back 15 years. But you’re absolutely right that there’s a longer history in terms of our engagement at the U.N. on this issue, including under the Bush administration when the United States championed the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1820 which first recognize that sexual violence used as a weapon of war can constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity or a constituent element of genocide.

And that was followed in the Obama administration, under Secretary Clinton’s leadership, with the introduction by the U.S. and ultimate adoption by the Security Council of Resolution 1888, which created the position of the special representative to the secretary general on sexual violence and conflict, and facilitates the investigation of these situations of particular concern in real time. In fact, the Special Representative to the Secretary General Pramila Patten, who’s serving in that role now, just returned from a trip to Israel and to Palestine, and issued a report about the findings that she accumulated there.

Under this administration, improving accountability for conflict-related sexual violence has been a really top priority to President Biden and to Vice President Harris, who have both worked on this issue for a long time. Despite this international framework, there’s too long been a gap between rhetoric and action that has really left perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence unpunished. And importantly, to your point, Katherine, survivors without access to justice. And we have met with and listened to survivors in formulating the policy that we have pursued in the Biden administration that’s really focused on helping to close this gap and to address the cycle of impunity by issuing a series of new policies to both prevent and also to address this crime.

So, first, to ensure that sexual violence and conflict is addressed at the outset of any conflict the U.S. has expanded our flagship humanitarian initiative called Safe from the Start, which ensures that gender-based violence prevention and response is part of our humanitarian response. Second, to document sexual violence wherever it occurs we’re supporting civil society efforts to investigate and document the crime, including a new 10-million-dollar investment in line with the Murad code, which is named for Nadia Murad, a courageous Yazidi survivor of sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS who’s really been driven by survivors in the work that she’s put forward.

And, third, to promote accountability for perpetrators and enablers of sexual violence. In 2022, President Biden issued a presidential memorandum on promoting accountability for conflict-related sexual violence, which really strengthened the standard under which the U.S. can impose consequences, including sanctions and visa restrictions, for those who perpetrate this crime.

So I think the bottom line is that we – if we’re listening to survivors, we can’t expect them to report these crimes, often at a great personal cost, without also being prepared to do our part to address these crimes. And that’s why our policy has really focused on moving from condemnation to implementation. And as we implement these policies, we’re also expanding the work that we’re doing in coordination with others, including with our allies, for example, in the U.K., who have championed this issue for a long time, so that it will maximize the effectiveness of our accountability tools by really working in partnership with others.

Dr. Bliss: And so the memorandum, it sounds like, really opens up opportunities and resources for – or tools for the sanctions and for other – really bringing all of those together into a focused effort.

Ms. Vogelstein: Yes. I mean, essentially for too long this issue has been taken less seriously than other war crimes or serious human rights abuses. So what the president’s memorandum does is it closes that gap in our own sanctions regime. So prior to this action, conflict-related sexual violence was one of just many factors that could be considered by U.S. officials in imposing sanctions or other consequences on human rights abusers. As a result, while sanctions for conflict-related sexual violence could be imposed, they rarely were. What the 2022 presidential memorandum does is change our policy to permit the imposition of sanctions solely on the basis of conflict-related sexual violence. And that means that for the first time, U.S. departments and agencies are now required to ensure equal consideration for acts of sexual violence in conflict when employing sanctions authorities.

And that has resulted in some change. We have seen the imposition of sanctions, first last June which marked the first time that we saw a dedicated focus on conflict-related sexual violence leading to the imposition of sanctions. These were sanctions that designated political and military targets from South Sudan, who oversaw the rape and murder of civilians during the civil war there and two ISIS terrorists who are responsible for the rape and torture of Yazidi women and girls. And then this past December we announced a second round of sanctions then against 13 targets from four countries, for their connection to acts of sexual violence. Which was the largest set of financial sanctions and visa restrictions the U.S. has ever imposed against individuals who are connected to this human rights abuse.

And that included designations against, you know, individuals from armed rebel groups in the Central African Republic who forced girls into sexual slavery and perpetrated rape and sexual assaults, gang members from Haiti responsible for or complicit in the sexual violence and abduction of folks, one of whom – one survivor who actually identified someone as directly responsible for more than 1,000 documented cases of sexual violence in 2022 alone. So these are really serious crimes. And with not only the issuance of this presidential memorandum but its implementation, we are doing what we can to close this gap between rhetoric and implementation, and to ensure that we are imposing accountability where we are able to do that.

Dr. Bliss: Really a comprehensive approach. Kind of taking the conversation back here to the domestic experience, certainly, you know, the last four years have been a tumultuous period for many reasons, not least we just celebrated – well, celebrate is probably not the right verb. (Laughter.) But commemorated the announcement of COVID-19 as a global emergency. And certainly, women have really been at the forefront of the response and the experience of COVID. I know we did quite a bit of work on the international dimension, but, Hadeil, you’ve looked at some of those, particularly through the domestic lens.

Ms. Ali: And I want to echo a couple of points that you made, Rachel, just earlier in your remarks on – that representation matters. But moving beyond that, to the retention piece, promotion, pay equity, and benefits. Often we see – data shows that that’s where we see a gap. We’ve been doing better on bringing in more women to the workforce, but what happens when they are in the workforce? Are they getting the promotions? Are we – are organizations able to retain them? And then the second point that you mentioned on that making sure that women, peace, and security principles are integrated across all U.S. policies and programs.

Earlier, Rachel, you talked about the global community of practice. I really love that term and thinking about how government and civil societies are supporting each other. And I think about the global fight for women’s rights. Of course, as Katherine mentioned, in the past few years, we’ve seen, especially with women both at home in the United States but across the world, have struggled with keeping their jobs, access to health care, and so on and so forth. I assume that there’s still some positive stories that we’ve – that we’ve seen. Where are some of those stories of success that we’ve seen with the global fight for women’s rights, women supporting each other across borders, but I’m sure some other cases as well. The COVID-19 pandemic was a painful reminder of the of the gaps and disparities, from education to health and economy. So would love your thoughts on these issues.

Ms. Vogelstein: Well, we are certainly doing our part to help recover from the setbacks that we have seen, both at home and around the world, during the pandemic, with respect to the lack of care infrastructure that was made painfully apparent to those who weren’t already aware of it, the rise in gender-based violence that we saw, and challenges in access to healthcare. There are so many issues that really came to the fore that have been exacerbated that have shaped our strategy in responding in this moment, both here in the United States and globally.

But I think it’s important to note that, despite the hardships that so many women have faced over the last several years, that women around the world have continued to fight for their rights and participation. And so when I think about the women who have been on the front lines of the fight for women’s rights over the past few years, I think about women in Iran, for example, who responded to the killing of Mahsa Amini with a historic movement, the Women, Life, Freedom Movement, calling for women’s rights and for a free and democratic future in the face of really brutal oppression and violence. That’s a movement that not only affected Iran. It inspired people across the globe who are tirelessly advocating for gender equality and for respect for human rights.

I also think about women like the Nicaraguan activist Suyen Barahona, who was unjustly imprisoned for two years in Nicaragua for her advocacy for democracy, for justice. You know, upon release from imprisonment, after being stripped of her citizenship, Suyen has refused to back down and she now serves as the leader of a new effort to advance women’s political participation and leadership globally to ensure that women’s voices everywhere are protected, are supported, are heard.

And I think about the 12 women who just received the International Women of Courage Award that is handed out by our First Lady Jill Biden and our Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Twelve women who are really bravely leading the charge in fighting discrimination, oppression, violation of women’s human rights, in every corner of the globe from, you know, pushing for the rule of law in Burma to those combating female genital mutilation in the Gambia. So these are the leaders on the frontlines who have persisted against impossible odds in these really challenging last few years. And they deserve our investment, our support, and our partnership.

Ms. Ali: And, as you alluded to, although the examples might be different in terms of the cultural context – from Nicaragua, to Iran, and other countries – but ultimately, this women are fighting for the same thing, the same – the same ideals and the same values. And for them to be able to also come together and exchange ideas and support one another, I think, ultimately helps move all of us forwards.

Ms. Vogelstein: Yeah. And I think one of the differences in the work that we’re doing to advance gender equality in this administration under the Gender Policy Council is really joining our domestic efforts with our foreign policy efforts under one umbrella. And recognizing that we have a lot of work to do to advance women’s rights here at home. Certainly, when you take an issue like women’s reproductive rights, we’ve seen the devastating effects of the reversal of Roe v. Wade on women’s health here. And the administration has taken considerable steps to address that challenge.

But also that we have a lot to share as well, in terms of ways in which we have made progress and can help support and advance women’s rights in other countries. So that is really the philosophy of having one council that is focused on these issues, both domestically and globally. And that’s why our national strategy addresses these issues from both a domestic and global perspective.

Dr. Bliss: So looking at another topic that really kind of crosses across the domestic and the global. I mean, they all do in many ways, but this one, I think, has been on a lot of our minds as yesterday here in Washington it was almost 80 (degrees) and now it’s supposed to get cold again next week. (Laughter.) And, you know, we’re looking at the issue of climate change. And you mentioned, you know, a bit about the role that the council has been playing in terms of looking at the impacts of climate change on different communities and how to mobilize their response. We know that women are, in many ways, vulnerable to the challenge of climate change, both, you know, in terms of their work, in terms of their homes, and their family life. But that, as you pointed out, they also have a very important role to play in raising awareness of the challenges and making use of some of these newer tools, like digital resources and connectivity to, you know, make their experiences known.

So I just wanted to ask you to say a little bit more about how in your work across the different agencies you are, you know, able to weave a consciousness about gender into the work that the different agencies are beginning to undertake, whether on climate and health, or kind of mitigation or adaptation, kind of looking at those broad issues. And where do you see opportunities for the United States to partner with others, in really kind of helping to continue to raise attention to the important element of gender within climate?

Ms. Vogelstein: Well, thank you for this important question, because it’s an issue – gender equality and efforts to combat climate change – that is not always thought of as a top priority. But under this administration, promoting women’s participation in efforts to combat climate change is really a top strategic imperative. As you said, we know that climate change presents unique threats and challenges to women and girls. For example, extreme heat and air pollution impose particular health consequences on women. We also see unique economic consequences. So climate-related disasters can be especially devastating for women because they are less likely to have emergency savings as compared to men. And climate-induced migration and resource competition really increase the risk of gender-based violence.

But women and girls are not only at disproportionate risk of harmful effects of climate change, they’re also a critical part of the solution. And that’s what we’ve really been focusing on in our efforts. Women are the leaders in their households, in their communities. And we know that they’re often on the frontlines of adaptation and mitigation efforts. And women’s participation in green and blue industries that are so critical to economic growth and to the health of our planet – from energy fields like solar, wind, to ocean conservation, to recycling and waste management – women’s participation in these industries is really critical to fuel the progress that we need and would like to see.

Despite this, we know that women remain dramatically underrepresented in these industries. So in 2021, women held approximately 29 percent of the 88 million jobs in the green economy. Globally, women hold only 32 percent of jobs across the renewable energy sector. And this is true in the U.S. as well. In 2022, a disproportionate percentage of the U.S. energy workforce, 73 percent, was male. So this gender gap is especially apparent in access to climate finance. We know that women around the world, including in the climate sector, are much less likely than men to have access to finance to grow and start their green businesses. So unless we act now, these gender gaps will only continue to grow.

So, for example, by 2030 the green economy is expected to generate 67 million new jobs. But current estimates project that women will hold only a quarter of these. So to meet this challenge, not only of the climate crisis but also to promote economic growth and women’s economic security, we need women’s full participation in these sectors through better access to jobs, to training, to finance, and to leadership opportunities. And so our administration is really addressing this challenge head on. And last year, Vice President Harris launched an initiative called the Women in the Sustainable Economy Initiative, known by the acronym WISE, which is a public-private partnership between governments, the private sector, philanthropy, civil society organizations, multilateral organizations, to really help close the gender gap in green and blue industries.

And so this initiative, the WISE Initiative, really aims to improve women’s participation in blue and green sectors by promoting access to high-quality, well-paying jobs for women in these sectors by supporting women-owned, -led, and -managed businesses in these sectors. And by eliminating other barriers to women’s economic participation. And to date, we’ve mobilized over $1.4 billion to the Women in the Sustainable Economy Initiative, including more than 600 million (dollars) from the U.S. And we continue to expand this historic partnership by securing new commitments.

And I’ll give you an example of some of the work that we’re doing. One of our flagship programs under this initiative is called the Climate Gender Equity Fund. USAID has launched this fund, alongside members of the private sector, Amazon, the VISA Foundation, Reckitt, The UPS Foundation, to increase access to climate finance for women. And this Climate and Gender Equity Fund aims to raise 60 million (dollars) in capital from corporations, foundations, multilateral organizations, and others for grants that support women-led climate solutions.

And so far, they’ve already raised 20 million (dollars) in their first year. Just this week at the Commission on Status of Women we announced the two awardees from its first round of grants that have helped to fund accelerators and incubators that support women-led startups and entrepreneurs working on clean energy, on smart agricultural solutions, and other solutions that are focused on addressing the climate crisis. So as we grow this initiative and implement it, we want to partner with more folks who are focused on elevating women’s participation in this critical fight against climate change. And we hope that many others will join us.

Dr. Bliss: Lots of wisdom in those words. (Laughter.) Hadeil.

Ms. Ali: As I’m hearing all of that, I know I’m ticking away a few things that you’re saying, Rachel, that are really resonating. One, the importance of partnerships, both at home, and then globally as well. You said how critical it is that women are part of the solution. I think that’s sometimes something that’s overlooked. The communities that are closest to the issues are the ones that have the most informed solutions. And so making sure that women are always at the table, not only at the table but also making sure that their perspectives, their solutions, and their ideas are incorporated, as we’re thinking about any of the set of challenges that you’ve – that you’ve highlighted here.

Something that I’m always thinking about in terms of the diversity, equity, inclusion work, both at CSIS but also within national security and foreign policy, is the question of accountability. And I think you’ve talked so much about the gap between rhetoric and implementation, and how do we make sure that we are keeping ourselves accountable and ensuring clear results. I know that’s something that can be the most challenging to do. And folks looking from the outside, that’s what they’re – that’s what they want, is that accountability piece, seeing that we’re closing the gender gap. So looking forward to seeing the continuation of all of these projects, and that it is a priority to make sure that that accountability piece is central to everything that you are doing.

Ms. Vogelstein: That absolutely is a watchword for us in the work that we’re doing. And I’ll give an example of how we’re promoting accountability through some of the initiatives and policies that we’re leading, and also how we’re promoting accountability in the work that we’re doing at the Gender Policy Council. So one example I will give is our work on the Women and the Digital Economy Initiative. Vice President Harris on her trip – her first trip to the continent of Africa announced that the U.S. would invest in a new fund. the Women in the Digital Economy Fund, to help close the gender gap in access to the internet. This is a challenge to women’s economic security. It’s a challenge to women’s political participation. In the 21st century, the gender gap between women and men in access to the internet is really a rights issue.

And we have worked together in the U.S. government to elevate this issue and took it to the G-20. And worked with G-20 leaders to secure really an historic commitment to close the gender digital divide, to help cut it in half by 2030. And so that type of a commitment that’s G-20-wide – it was in the G-20 leaders declaration last year – will help us promote accountability. We now have a concrete target that we are measuring ourselves against. And this new Women in the Digital Economy Initiative that we have launched is yet another public-private partnership with governments, with private sector, with multilateral organizations, to help mobilize towards meeting that goal. But having a target in the G-20 leaders declaration was a really important element of ensuring that we have accountability and a goal that we will be measuring ourselves against as the work continues.

And that’s true with the work that we’re doing in the Gender Policy Council. So if you look at our national strategy on gender equity and equality, we have a section that’s focused specifically on implementation, on ensuring that we’re using this lens in not only development of policies and programs, but also in strategic planning and budgeting, in metrics and evaluation. And we are required to provide a report to the president on our progress each year. And, of course, we make a version of that report – our progress report, available for the public to hold us accountable. So we are really focused on the importance of moving from rhetoric about how important gender equality and women’s rights issues are to implementation. And hopefully, the strategy and the mechanisms around it will help us achieve that goal.

Dr. Bliss: Well, Rachel and Hadeil, we’re getting close to the end of our time here. And I want to ask each of you to take a chance to look ahead beyond 2024. Rachel, you’ve mentioned 2030 a number of times. Certainly, that’s when the Sustainable Development Goals are coming into focus or, you know, the – we’ll be taking stock of what we’ve achieved at that point. But, you know, 2030 and beyond, like, where do you see the work that you’re doing now, you know, really having the – an impact kind of in 2030 and beyond? You know, what do you hope to see? Or what are you most optimistic, you know, about, as you look ahead to the end of the decade? And, you know, Hadeil, similarly, like, where – as you think about your own work, and the work that the Gender Policy Council is doing, you know, what are the milestones you’ll be looking for, you know, at that – at that point, and beyond?

Ms. Vogelstein: Well, I am relentlessly optimistic, which is a blessing or a curse depending on who you’re talking to. (Laughter.) But one of the reasons for my optimism is this rising generation of leaders. And not only did we bestow International Women of Courage Awards at the White House last year and this year, but last year we also, under Dr. Biden’s leadership, under the leadership of our first lady, issued our first set of awards for Girls Leading Change. And we were able, through this program, to honor and recognize girls who are at the forefront of pushing for human rights, for progress in their communities.

And those leaders of the future are the reason that I am optimistic that we will continue to make progress. And we’ve already seen important ways in which our government bureaucracy has shifted to accommodate and incorporate these issues. Women, peace, and security was one example of that. But it is these leaders of the future who I believe will take this issue and mantle and continue to run with it, and why I believe we’ll continue to see positive change.

Ms. Ali: I couldn’t agree more, as pertains to the work that we’re doing at CSIS. For better or for worse, a lot of the pressure is coming from Gen Z-ers and younger millennials that want to make sure that issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, ethical leadership, are at the center of everything that we’re doing here. They’re holding us accountable, exactly like you were saying, Rachel. And they’re also making sure that we understand that these are issues of human rights. Ultimately, it’s not just the issue of women’s rights. It’s human rights. It’s issues of democracy. And to make sure that our reputation, both domestically but also abroad, that is really tied into how we’re thinking about issues of social justice, issues related to equity, in education, in health care.

We can’t be doing that work, both at home or abroad without that next generation that’s really holding us accountable. So they’re the ones giving me hope. They’re putting the pressure on us in terms of our work and making sure that it really is seen as a priority. And making sure that I emphasize, it makes us all better, right? These are issues we talked a lot about, about gender. But ultimately, it makes all of our society much better, and really making sure that that is understood. And very similarly, with issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, it makes all of us much better and more supported.

Dr. Bliss: Well, on behalf of our programs here at CSIS, Rachel, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve shared a vision of gender equality and security, the work of the Gender Policy Council. We’ve talked a lot about partnerships, about the role of that new resources – newer resources, I guess, like digital tools, like new modes of ensuring access to financing, and other kinds of legal instruments can play a role in ensuring gender equality. And, you know, really, I think, you know, have made very clear the case for thinking about gender and security as a critical element of national security. As I think Hadeil started at the beginning, it shouldn’t be whatever the topic is and gender, but it should be – or, and women. But it should – we should really be thinking about these issues in a very integrated way.

So thank you very much for joining us today. And I want to thank our audience for joining today to talk with – to join this conversation about the – during Women’s History Month, about the Gender Policy Council and a little bit about where, you know, its origins, where the policy has been, what some of the current issues are, and what we can hope to see around the movement for women’s rights, for political participation, and economic integration in the years to come. We’ve talked quite a bit about the impacts of conflict, the pandemic, and climate change on women and women’s organization. And I hope you’ll agree with me that as we think about not just Women’s History Month but the theme of International Women’s Day, inspire an inclusion that – it was an inspiring discussion about the importance of including women in all aspects of discussion around security. Thank you.