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What's Next: our recommendations
- Congress should fully implement the Women, Peace, and Security Act and other relevant policies that promote women's inclusion in security efforts
- Congress, corporations, and nonprofit organizations should invest in programs that advance economic opportunity for women
- The private and public sectors need to ensure foreign assistance and corporate social responsibility programs are reflective of local needs and priorities
Domestic Excellence: · Immigration · Trade · Central America · Veterans · Education
Global Leadership: · North Korea · Democracy · Global Health · Burma · Women's Leadership · Youth Empowerment
It has been proven that women drive education, economic growth, and self-reliance in their communities. They help build societies based on social connections, trust, and inclusion, and participate in peace-building at all levels. This is as true in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as it is all over the world.
Yet, women and girls are still denied full access to and inclusion in society due to factors like institutionalized bias, insecurity, poverty, and gender-based discrimination.
Only 25 percent of women in the MENA region are in the workforce despite higher rates of education. In many MENA countries women do not have equal rights to property or inheritance. They can be locked out of crucial business conversations due to segregation and social taboos, and are subject to “protective” labor laws that limit their professional opportunities.
Equality and inclusion matter. The International Monetary Fund estimates that from 2000 to 2011, $1 trillion in cumulative output could have been realized across MENA economies had the gender gap been narrowed.
One of the most influential ways we can support the growth of peaceful, prosperous societies is through direct investment in women leaders. When we treat women’s rights as a niche and independent issue, we undermine every other aspect of those strategies. To achieve lasting prosperity, all citizens must have equal opportunities to fulfill and maximize their potential.
Research shows that women improve conflict resolution efforts by promoting dialogue and trust, mobilizing coalitions, raising issues vital for peace, and prioritizing gender equality. A study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries over the last three decades found that women’s inclusion in peace processes resulted in the greater likelihood of an agreement, implementation of the accord, and sustainability over the long term. The United States and the international community must do a better job of championing policies and programs that integrate women’s empowerment into foreign policy and defense strategies.
CONGRESS SHOULD FULLY IMPLEMENT THE WOMEN, PEACE, AND SECURITY ACT AND OTHER RELEVANT POLICIES THAT PROMOTE WOMEN’S INCLUSION IN SECURITY EFFORTS
Congress’ passage of the 2017 bipartisan Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act is an important milestone. However, the WPS legislation has yet to be fully implemented. The legislation requires a government-wide strategy and training for diplomats, development professionals, and security personnel to support these efforts. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether any funding has actually been allocated for these purposes. And though the Act requires reports to Congress on the financial contributions of each department or agency, there are limited resources available to do so adequately. Without additional support and accountability, agencies are forced to either redirect funds from other vital initiatives or delay implementation entirely.
Congress should allocate funds more directly for the implementation of this law, ensure proper oversight, and work to fully implement the WPS Act.
CONGRESS, CORPORATIONS, AND NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD INVEST IN PROGRAMS THAT ADVANCE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY FOR WOMEN
Women make significant contributions to the economies of the MENA region, whether as business owners, academics, economic development practitioners, or bearers of the burden of household labor. Still, women are disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination, and exploitation in the global economy. In addition, women’s economic opportunity is tied to other outcomes such as gender equality, the well-being of children, and inclusive growth and prosperity.
Women must have an environment that removes physical and social barriers to their participation so they may realize their full potential in the market. Programs enabling these outcomes include, but are not limited to:
- Training and mentorship to ensure qualified women rise to positions of leadership and decision-making
- Advancing human resource policies to better support women’s participation in the workforce
- Ensuring access to capital and finance to promote entrepreneurship and the full participation of women in the formal economy
Public, private, and nonprofit sector leaders should increase investment and prioritize efforts that aid the economic empowerment of women in the MENA region. The George W. Bush Institute’s WE Lead program, which equips women from the MENA region and Afghanistan with the skills to become more-effective leaders, is an example of such a program.
THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTORS NEED TO ENSURE FOREIGN ASSISTANCE AND CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY PROGRAMS ARE REFLECTIVE OF LOCAL NEEDS AND PRIORITIES
Sustainable change requires the engagement of stakeholders at all levels. But when it comes to international engagement, local perspectives are too often overlooked to the detriment of effectiveness and sustainability.
Working toward a common goal in collaboration with local innovators affords an unparalleled opportunity to cascade knowledge, build affinity, and ensure that solutions are adequately serving the populations they aim to engage. This is vital for women and girls — their voices matter. In the MENA region and beyond, we must do a better job of embracing their viewpoints and the long-term value of their participation.
When women hold equal and active roles in society, societies are more prosperous and stable. The United States has a vital role to play. By investing in women, we are investing in peace and stability across these regions and the wider world, we are undermining extremist narratives, and we are championing future generations of leaders that will help their countries thrive.
Uprooting poverty, violence, and injustice, gender empowerment is a proven force for transformation. Women in the Middle East and North Africa deserve our support now more than ever.
Natalie Gonnella-Platts serves as the Director of the Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Natalie is responsible for research and programmatic efforts that empower women worldwide to lead in their communities and countries. This includes the work of the First Ladies Initiative, which aims to enable and support First Ladies from around the world in effectively using their platforms to empower women and children in their countries. Additionally, she is the host of the Bush Institute’s award nominated podcast, Ladies, First; the co-author of a first-of-its kind analysis on global first ladies, A Role Without a Rulebook; and served as a project lead on the development of the Bush Institute’s 2018 special exhibit, First Ladies: Style of Influence.
Natalie studied Communications and International Studies (Peace and Conflict) at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia. She earned an MA in War, Violence and Security studies from the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom. Prior to joining the Bush Institute, she held roles in New York City at American International Group (AIG), and in London at ConservativeHome USA, the Legatum Institute, and BBC Worldwide. She is a member of Akola Project’s Advisory Council; a co-founder of Each Inc., a non-profit that seeks to provide innovative technology tools to organizations that care for and protect orphans and vulnerable children; and has previously served as a project strategy advisor to Stop the Traffik’s Finance Against Trafficking initiative.Full Bio
Farhat Popal serves as Senior Program Manager, Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Farhat leads the WE Lead program and is responsible for research and programmatic efforts that empower women worldwide to lead in their communities and countries.
Farhat studied Political Science/International Relations and History of the Near East at the University of California, San Diego. She earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining the Bush Institute, she worked on human rights programs in Afghanistan and Central Asia at the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Washington, DC, and evaluated reconstruction projects in Afghanistan with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. While with SIGAR, she spent considerable time conducting field work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In addition to her international work, Farhat evaluated the effectiveness and efficiency of local government programs at the City of San Diego and City of Oakland’s Offices of the City Auditor.Full Bio
Dreamer to Achiever
In Egypt, it was not common for women to run or play sports in public. 2013 WE Lead Scholar Mariz Doss worked to change that perception.
WE Lead Graduation
The inaugural class of WE Lead scholars graduated from the 5-month program on March 21. WE Lead seeks to empower and equip women to become more effective leaders and to advance economic opportunity in their communities and countries.
Q&A with WE Lead Scholar Nadia Behboodi
Nadia Behboodi, a 2019 WE Lead Scholar from Afghanistan, is CEO of the Afghan Women’s Organization for Research, Learning, and Development. She volunteers with Seeds of Change, a network of professional women and men standing for female leadership at all levels, and manages Afghanistan’s first circle of the Lean In network, which promotes female empowerment.