Ritu Sharma

(WOMENSENEWS)–Getting more women into foreign policy is crucial to global human security, especially now with current U.S. foreign policy being driven by leaders bent on pursuing war. Women can increase the safety of all if our values and holistic sense of approaching issues are brought to the table.

In the critical areas of foreign policy that affect the lives of women and theircommunities –war, trafficking in small arms, global trade, and international corporate investment–women, as well as their values, needs, and creative solutions are totally absent.

To examine women in foreign policy, we must first look at the important posts of ambassadors. Women ambassadors are to foreign policy what women chief executive officers are to corporate America–it is the ultimate job, the yardstick for measuring women’s progress and the means to the end of changing these fields into something more women- or even people-friendly.

In 1949, President Harry Truman appointed the first female U.S. ambassador, Eugenie Anderson, to Denmark as our pioneer. But she was not able to blaze a trail that would be followed by more top female internationalists. In the last 54 years, the United States has had 184 women ambassadors. Currently we have 30 women representing our country out of about 167 ambassadors (18 percent)–better than our representation in the U.S. Senate, but hardly enough to brag about.

The biggest prize of all is, of course, the post of Secretary of State. Our “Amelia Earhart” pioneer is the former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to ever hold that position.

Former Secretary Albright’s mark on foreign policy went beyond her being simply our nation’s first leading diplomat to wear pantyhose (and brooches). She brought a somewhat different perspective to foreign policy that was influenced by her experience as a female and during her tenure she championed women’s issues like no other Secretary of State.

Some Women in Foreign Policy Ignore Women’s Needs

Clearly, not all women bring women’s values and sense of what needs to be done to make this world a secure and prosperous place. Women comprised the majority of President Clinton’s international trade negotiating team; however, these women had to “think like a man” when it came to making international trade policy. Bringing a set of values grounded in women’s priorities for fairness and equality or stopping to examine how U.S. economic policies were affecting women was simply not seen as part of the job.

The irony of a woman making foreign policy like a man could not be more poignant than it is right now with Condoleezza Rice’s role as National Security Advisor. She is one of President Bush’s strongest advocates for the war with Iraq and has been from the beginning. Her worldview is derived from years of study of chess-like Cold War foreign policy–one significant reason she made it to the top. She has shown no interest in women’s issues around the world.

Rice and others like her are missing a whole sphere of women’s issues in foreign policy. War now impacts an ever greater share of women and children civilians as they are increasingly targeted as pawns in combat. International economic issues such as trade are affecting more and more whether women can get jobs, hold jobs or be paid a decent wage.

Yes, generous U.S. assistance over the years has saved the lives of millions of women, provided critically needed basic healthcare and family planning and helped thousands of girls go to school. We know that these kinds of investments in women yield big gains: When women earn a little money they are far more likely than men to reinvest it in their children’s health care, education and nutrition–ending poverty one family at a time and eventually leading to the overall economic growth of a country.

Unfortunately, these beneficial programs are few and far between; overall, U.S. international assistance programs and policies ignore women’s contributions and needs.

In 1993, the Government Accounting Office conducted an independent evaluation of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s progress in meeting the requirements of the 1973 Percy Amendment that requires U.S. aid programs to include women. The report stated that the foreign aid agency “has only recently begun to consider the role of women in its third-world development strategies, despite the fact that 20 years have passed since Congress directed that AID assistance programs focus on integrating
women . . .” Ten years later, there is still little progress.

Women and Their Values Must Be at the Table

The positive evolution of U.S. foreign policy will come through the increased leadership of women, leadership that claims and expressly brings women’s values to the table. We have suffered a temporary setback, but it will come in time.

To speed up the process, the Women’s Edge coalition brought together more than 60 organizations with a bi-partisan group of lawmakers to develop a women’s blueprint for U.S. foreign policy. This blueprint has now been introduced into the U.S. Congress as the GAINS for Women and Girls Act (Global Action and Investments for New Success for Women and Girls).

The GAINS Act is a straightforward instruction manual for how to integrate women’s needs, priorities, and values into 11 different areas of foreign policy from human rights, conflict resolution, and international trade to basic education for girls and access to comprehensive reproductive health care. Already, two pieces of the GAINS Act have become law.

We stand at a crossroads of values in foreign policy. The values currently dominating U.S. foreign policy (security through control, power, and lone-ranger “justice”) do not represent the majority of women. The realization of real human security–being safe in your home and on the street, being able to send your kids to school, having a warm bed and a full stomach, pursuing your potential regardless of your sex, religion or ethnicity–this is the kind of foreign policy we need.

Ritu Sharma is the co-founder and executive director of Women’s Edge.

For more information:

Women’s EDGE–The GAINS for Women and Girls Act:

Women’s Foreign Policy Group:

U.S. Agency for International Development: