The Trump administration’s anti-woman agenda seeks to deny women access to vital health services and stifle their economic security. That agenda—no longer aimed solely at women in the United States—is now transcending borders. Whether it’s the elimination of funding for vital women’s health programs, expansion of the Global Gag Rule, or failure to appoint an ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, President Donald Trump has made it clear that women’s health and livelihoods are not even being considered as this administration develops its policy priorities.
The failure to consider women will have consequences. Women make up half of the world population and contribute to the greater good of our societies and the global economy. Their health, well-being, and ability to thrive are directly linked to world peace and security. The president’s anti-woman agenda not only hurts women here in the United States; it also hurts women in other parts of the world.
Trump is exporting his anti-woman agenda across borders in the following ways.
A budget that eliminates funding for health and development programs
Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was pressed by senators on both sides of the aisle about the massive cuts to international programs in Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2018. Under the proposal, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would experience drastic funding cuts—a total of $11.5 billion, or 29.1 percent of their combined current budgets. This is the largest proposed cut for any cabinet or department in the budget.
Unfortunately, these cuts may disproportionately harm women and girls abroad. The cuts to USAID’s budget seep into programs focused on ensuring access to global health, education, and peacekeeping. Funding for development assistance and food aid would be eliminated altogether. USAID has played a critical role in advancing women’s economic empowerment, security, health, and rights worldwide. The agency has helped women and girls access health services and education, participate in local and international economies, escape poverty, be included in peacemaking processes during times of conflict, and break down barriers to fully participate in society. USAID has also had a key role in preventing and responding to gender-based violence.
The president’s budget proposal for international family planning and reproductive health is particularly ghastly, considering evidence showing that women’s access to educational opportunities and economic security is intertwined with their access to family planning and reproductive health care. President Trump’s budget request eliminates all funding for international family planning and reproductive health. President Barack Obama’s FY 2017 budget requested a total of $620 million for these programs, including $35 million for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which plays a pivotal role in ensuring access to an array of sexual and reproductive health services, maternal health care, and emergency care for women in conflict-afflicted areas.
Funding for the UNFPA was withheld by President Trump earlier this year. The administration applied the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, a prohibition on foreign assistance to any organization that supports coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization, to justify eliminating the U.S. contribution to the UNFPA. It should be noted that the UNFPA’s programs have been evaluated by the U.S. government in the past, and no evidence of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization has ever been found. Blocking this funding would not only affect the ability of women and young people to access sexual and reproductive health care through UNFPA-supported programs, but it would also cripple the UNFPA’s work in the most resource-constrained settings of more than 150 countries.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, eliminating U.S. funding for these vital programs would result in 3.3 million more abortions—the majority of which would be performed unsafely—15,000 more maternal deaths, 8 million more unintended pregnancies, and 26 million fewer women and families receiving services around the world. This funding is a lifeline for women in need of family planning and reproductive health care in the developing world. By eliminating it, women and girls would be robbed of their human rights and the ability to make decisions about their futures and plan their families.
The problems don’t end there. In addition to slashing funding for programs serving women in the poorest parts of the world, the Trump administration also expanded one of the most draconian policies aimed at violating women’s human rights and eliminating access to reproductive health care.
Draconian policy that hurts women
Shortly after his inauguration, President Trump reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule. A policy instituted for the first time under President Ronald Reagan in 1984—and rescinded most recently by President Obama in 2009—it prohibits U.S.-funded foreign nongovernmental organizations from participating in abortion-related speech and activities. These organizations cannot even use private funds to support abortion care. Trump announced the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule on January 23, and on May 15, the State Department announced a process for grantees to implement the policy. The announcement, formally titled “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” stated that the policy applies to approximately $8.8 billion in U.S. funding and made it clear that the Trump administration has expanded the Global Gag Rule across all U.S. global health assistance “provided by any U.S. Department or Agency to the extent allowable by the law,” according to an unpublished USAID document.
Trump’s Global Gag Rule affects global health programs that address health concerns such as HIV and AIDS, maternal and child health, tuberculosis, malaria, Zika virus, family planning, reproductive health, and others. When in effect, the rule has been proven to be a disastrous policy that has caused millions of women to go without access to vital sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning. It has also increased the rate of abortions in the developing world, as opposed to reducing it.
Failure to support women’s empowerment
Although Ivanka Trump is purportedly aiding the World Bank with a new fund for women entrepreneurs around the world, her father’s anti-woman international agenda would likely undermine the fund’s goal of economically empowering women. Studies have shown that when women are economically empowered—when they can attain higher educational levels and join the labor force—economies grow.
Economic empowerment is undergirded in part by affordable and safe family planning and reproductive health services. When women have access to these services, they are more likely to be empowered to have self-determination. Among other things, this means that women are able to decide whether they will work; if, when, and how they will form families; and if they decide to parent, how they will parent.
Threats to women abroad hurt us at home
Many Americans may not understand how certain health and development programs abroad can have economic and security impacts at home. When people are able to get out of poverty globally, partially due to the work of agencies such as USAID, the number of international consumers who can purchase U.S. products increases. Additionally, economically secure countries are also more likely to experience less terrorism, crises, and international crime than economically insecure countries. U.S. national security priority agendas and goals often recognize this inextricable link between global security, promoted by health and development programs, and worldwide economic prosperity.
For instance, in addition to providing development assistance and food aid, USAID has played a significant role in involving women in peacebuilding and peacemaking processes. Evidence suggests that when women are seriously involved in peacebuilding and peacemaking, peace agreements are more likely to be secured and to persist. Despite this evidence, the Trump administration has chosen to slash USAID’s funding, decreasing resources to involve women in peacemaking efforts. These cuts could not only potentially pose a global security threat down the line, but they could also have a detrimental effect on global economic prosperity. Additionally, despite the important role that the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues plays in integrating a gender lens into U.S. foreign policy, among other important work, the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues post remains vacant more than four months into the new administration.
The lives of women across oceans and borders may seem too remote to possibly be connected to an average American’s daily life. While it may be easy for some of us to ignore the president’s appalling funding cuts and draconian policies for women and girls abroad, overlooking these cuts and policies would be a grave mistake. Not only are these actions inhumane, but they may also have an impact at home by undermining efforts to attain global security and prosperity.
Jamila Taylor is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, serving as an expert on domestic and international women’s health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice. Kaitlin Holmes is a research assistant for the Women’s Initiative at the Center.
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Senior Fellow; Director, Women’s Health and Rights