INTERNATIONAL: Women and Girls are Key to Security

Monday, March 8, 2010
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United States of America
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PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

What do women fishing, school building and better farming skills have to do with U.S. national security? A lot — and that's a bipartisan consensus.

Democrats and Republicans agree there's a connection between America's security and smart, effective development. Encouraging education, economic opportunity and good governance helps to build a more secure and safer world — and that includes investing in women and girls. This is worth noting on International Women's Day.

To see what we mean, check out the International Affairs budget — the 1.4 percent of the federal budget that funds the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and various other agencies like the Peace Corps. While small in monetary terms, it has a big impact around the world.

The news from Haiti in January is a powerful reminder of what a difference U.S. help can make. We can be proud that American assistance over the years — from vaccines to food aid to clean water — has saved millions of lives and improved living conditions for millions more.

But this year's budget recognizes an important reality: Smart development is in America's self-interest. Stable, democratic nations are far less likely to engage in war or host terrorist organizations. Stronger health infrastructures enable all of us to fight the danger of international pandemics. Investing in programs that build healthy, educated societies is a big part of making our country — and the world we live in — safer.

Pakistan is a telling example. Recently, Gen. David Petraeus talked about how addressing illiteracy in Pakistan was a top priority for U.S. efforts to stabilize that country and fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “We've almost found it more helpful to teach [Pakistanis] to read up to an eighth-grade level than anything else,” Petraeus noted.

Pakistan's public-school system has been unable to provide education to large numbers of children. U.S. support for education is an essential to fighting poverty and illiteracy there, as well as reducing the influence of the madrassas that are tied to extremist, anti-American groups.

Investment in women and girls' education and empowerment is increasingly recognized as a linchpin to advancing social, economic and political progress in most poor countries.

Girls with just one year of formal education are less likely to suffer from illness or hunger and are more likely to avoid teen pregnancy, and their children are less likely to die in infancy. Microfinance loans for women entrepreneurs build more stable communities, because they invest proceeds in their families and communities.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “Women and girls are one of the world's greatest untapped resources. Remember the proverb, ‘Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime?' Well, if you teach a woman to fish, she'll feed the whole village.”

Spending on human and economic development now — on education, basic health and infrastructure — is a smart investment. That's why Democrats and Republicans agree that more resources are needed for these programs, including funds for agricultural development, health and women and girls.

As Congress begins debate on the president's budget request, they would do well to consider just how much funding the International Affairs budget matters to the United States' security and future. In today's world, it is imperative that we adequately support our diplomacy and development efforts.

This is a worthwhile investment to help keep our nation safe and build the peaceful future we want for everyone's children.