WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State John Kerry has continued to be an active supporter of gender equality and the advancement of women and girls. Kerry recently released policy guidelines to reinforce the firm precedent he set last month at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
The guidelines ensure that the advancement of women and girls retains its spot in the center of U.S. foreign policy. Embassies and bureaus around the world were told to focus on the issues highlighted in the guidelines. The issues are to take precedence and be the organizing factor around which all diplomatic, development and operative activities revolve. They read as follows:
- Promote women’s economic and political participation;
- Support U.S. strategic initiatives to gender-based violence and women, peace and security;
- Empower adolescent girls;
- Prioritize gender equality in international forums;
- Lead by example.
In Secretary Kerry’s words, the issue of sexual violence and gender inequality “ought to be personal for every man, woman and child on Earth, because it degrades and defiles the very idea of civilization.” Not only is it a question of moral sensibility, but also of economic efficiency.
Studies have shown time and again that when girls are excluded from the market, economies suffer. As the first educator of the child, it is of utmost importance that women are educated. It goes beyond the well-being of individual females, and into the well-being of countries and societies as a whole.
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict took place in early June in London. At the summit, Secretary Kerry delivered his remarks which described the U.S.’s stance on sexual violence. He likens the violence to chemical and biological weapons and atomic bombs, both of which left the world in shock after their usage.
Norms were subsequently established to ensure that those types of weapons would never be employed again. Of course, the norms have been broken since, but Secretary Kerry highlights the importance of them regardless: “They draw a line, a firm line, a clear line, and they tell everyone who would dare cross it that the civilized world will not tolerate that transgression.”
Just as chemical and biological weapons and atomic bombs have been excluded from legal warfare, so can sexual violence. Secretary Kerry recalls his youth, as a new prosecutor in the late 1970s and early 80’s, when violence against women was not universally seen as a crime. “We chipped away at that old thinking,” he states. Progress has been made, and is continuing to be made.
Secretary Kerry stresses the importance of both individual and governmental commitment to the cause. He outlines steps the U.S. has already taken toward gender equality: financing humanitarian organizations that respond to threats of violence, sending public support toward individuals who fight human rights abuses and domestic efforts to include more women in the policy process.
The message Secretary Kerry delivered in June was one of hope and solidarity. The new guidelines uphold and strengthen that message, and are another small step in the long battle for equality.
– Julianne O’Connor