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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at the full Committee hearing, “Beyond Microfinance: Empowering Women in the Developing World:”

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing.

“To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Ambassador Verveer, I’m especially grateful that you were able to join us. I know you had to rearrange some travel to be here.  Your work as our country’s first-ever Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues made a lasting difference all over the world.  And I hope that the Administration sees the value of this position and appoints a new Ambassador soon, along with so many other positions at State awaiting nominees.

“We use the word.  And, I want to thank Dr. Suri and Ms. Iskenderian–hope I didn’t butcher that—thank you so much.  We look forward to all of you testifying.

“We use the word ‘empowerment’ a great deal when it comes to women’s and girls’ issues.  And honestly, I think it’s a bit of a misnomer.

“Women and girls are powerful, and we know what happens when that power and potential are unleashed.  Communities thrive.  Local and global communities grow.  Societies prosper and become more inclusive and equitable.  If women were full participants in the global economy, we would see an additional $12-28 trillion dollars in growth in global GDP by the year 2025.

“Certain innovations, such as microfinance and mobile banking, have driven progress in women’s economic participation.  But they aren’t close to a silver bullet. 

“A woman without a mobile phone cannot take advantage of these tools.  A woman without a birth certificate might not even be able to open a bank account.  And in too many places around the world, much bigger roadblocks stand in the way of women exercising their full potential—roadblocks caused by poverty, or lack of opportunity, or by legal barriers, or cultural and societal norms that treat women as second-class citizens.

“So when it comes to promoting economic access and participation for women, I think we should focus on getting these obstacles out of the way and make it easier for women and girls around the world to put their power to work.

“Now, in my view, making economies more inclusive for women is simply the right thing to do.  It’s just wrong that women anywhere are denied access to the same economic opportunities as men—and that’s true in the United States as well.  We might not want to deal with it, we might not want to confront it, but it’s true.

“But this is the Foreign Affairs Committee, so we also need to ask: why is women’s economic opportunity a foreign-policy priority?  Well it’s easy.  All those benefits of women’s full economic participation I mentioned earlier—stronger, more stable societies—are also in our national interest. 

“We want to see economies thrive, governments become more responsive, countries become stronger partners on the global stage.  Full participation of women is directly tied to these outcomes.  So from a strategic standpoint, this is good, smart policy that strengthens American security.

“The aim of our policy, then, should be to identify and meet the challenges that hold women back from full economic participation.

“When we start to look at those challenges, we find that women’s economic participation is closely tied to a range of other issues that disadvantage women and girls in the developing world.

“For example, a young girl who’s denied an education won’t become financially literate or learn the skills needed to compete in the marketplace.  Girls forced into child marriage won’t have the chance to contribute to their local economies.  Women who are victims of gender-based violence and domestic abuse are less likely to get ahead economically.

“Perhaps most importantly, access to quality health care—including family planning—is critical to women’s economic success.  The evidence is indisputable: improving women’s access to contraception improves their economic wellbeing.  Women who are able to plan and even delay child birth are more likely to get an education, raise their standards of living, and climb out of poverty.

“That’s one reason American policy has focused on expanding access to family planning around the world.  These efforts have seen good results.

“In the 27 countries with the biggest USAID-supported programs, the rate of modern contraception use has risen from under 10 percent a half-century ago to 37 percent today.  A good jump, but it shows we still have a long way to go.

“Now, the Trump Administration has said that it supports efforts to empower women and girls around the world.  But its budget proposal tells a different story.

“The Trump budget completely zeroes out funding for international family planning and reproductive health, and eliminates American support for the United Nations Population Fund, the largest purchaser and distributor of contraception globally.

“On top of that, the Administration has reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which we know has devastating effects on women’s health around the world.  This is a disgrace which will set women back across the globe.

“Addressing women’s economic participation requires a broad-based, integrated, detail-oriented, and comprehensive approach that deals with all the issues I mentioned plus a host of others.

“The wrong approach is to cut our diplomacy and development by nearly a third.  Fortunately, Congress has the last word on how much we spend on foreign policy priorities, and I’ll continue to fight for a robust investment in these areas.

“So I look forward from hearing from our three excellent panelists on these issues, and I thank you again Mr. Chairman for calling attention to this issue.”

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