Frontiers in Development
Good afternoon and thank you for having me. It’s a true privilege to be in this room, surrounded by the leading minds and voices in foreign policy today. I hope that the conversations and debates you’ve had over the past three days have been enlightening and productive as we determine the future of foreign assistance and international development efforts. I want to especially thank Administrator Shah for having me here today. You should know that you have done a truly fantastic job leading USAID at a particularly crucial time in the agency’s history.
America is understandably a war-weary nation. As we wind down two wars in the Middle East, we have come to grips with the true costs of war. Most importantly, there are the human costs, which can never truly be accounted for. Then, there are the economic costs, which can be, and the numbers are astounding. The United States spends more on our military than do China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, and Germany put together. This status quo is not only staggering—it’s completely unsustainable.
Within the three critical pillars of foreign policy—defense, diplomacy and development—one pillar is clearly dominating at the expense of the others. I believe that our focus on development should complement the commitment we currently show to defense and diplomacy to fulfill our moral obligation to help reduce global poverty, while strengthening America’s national security.
I want to reiterate that Administrator Shah has thus far done an exemplary job of leading USAID, and making a case for why a strong USAID is critical to reducing global poverty, strengthening our national security and fulfilling a moral obligation to assist those in need.
But the fact of the matter is, our budgets here in America do not at all reflect where we need to be in terms of prioritizing development assistance. Less than one percent of the total federal budget goes towards supporting critically important development assistance programs worldwide. You’d think with all the criticism of foreign aid spending on Capitol Hill these days that we spend fifty percent of our budget on these programs, when in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yet, development assistance is one of the most important tools we have to ensure America’s national security.
When countries have sustainable economic promise, they are more stable. It’s poverty that breeds instability, and instability that leads to power vacuums. And those who thrive in those power vacuums do not often have our best interests in mind.
We can never forget that plans hatched in the poverty-stricken villages of Afghanistan forever altered Manhattan’s iconic skyline, and shook a confident nation to its very core.
Never before has United States faced such a complicated set of global challenges – from global food insecurity and mounting humanitarian crises, pandemics to the rise of extremism, crippling poverty to the consequences of climate change. The challenges we face on the global stage are complex, but our goals are simple: we need to support more sustainable economies around the globe. I’m lucky that we share so many of the same prioritizes for the future of foreign assistance in this country.
One of the best ways to ensure sustainable economic development is to support women. Secretary Clinton said it best in China in 1995: “Women’s rights are human rights.” I believe in the power of women to change the world. And to help them hasten that change, any legitimate U.S. international assistance policy must address and remove barriers between women, women’s rights and economic empowerment.
Empowering women is one of the most critical tools in our tool box to fight poverty and injustice. Integrating the unique needs of women into our domestic and international policies is critical. As Chairman of the International Development and Foreign Assistance Subcommittee of Foreign Relations, I can attest that this must be the bedrock of our foreign assistance programming if it is to be successful.
I can also attest to this personally, as a husband, father and grandfather of strong women. Women make smarter investments than men—just ask my wife. But in all seriousness, decades of research and experience prove that when women are able to be fully engaged in society and hold decision making power, they are more likely to invest their income in food, clean water, education, and health care for their children.
We need to ensure that women across the world have the liberty to determine the scope of their own lives and futures, and that they have the tools they to achieve their full potential. When women are able to earn their own living, society benefits, and the statistics speak for themselves. According to the World Bank, women reinvest 90 percent of their income in their families and communities. Women are also more likely to repay their loans, and are more likely to use their profits to help the poor and hire other women to work for them. Now that’s the true definition of a “job creator!”
As you can see, women are investing in the resources that foster sustainable economic growth in their communities, and not guns. Women are indeed the barometer of a nation’s success, and of its stability. All of this investment creates a positive cycle of change that lifts entire communities out of poverty.
Unfortunately, there are incredibly significant obstacles to women in too many nations. A woman’s ability to earn a sustained income is severely limited by cultural norms and lack of opportunity in too many countries – which explains why women represent nearly 70 percent of the world’s poor.
And if extreme poverty and destitution weren’t enough, women around the world are under attack. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. Women and girls in emergencies, conflict settings, and natural disasters often face extreme violence, including being forced to exchange sex for food. The World Health Organization reported that up to 70 percent of women in some countries describe having been victims of domestic violence at some stage in their lives. That’s 70 percent of the world’s poor, and 70 percent experiencing domestic violence—two statistics I won’t stand for. I also know it’s one that those of you in this room cannot allow to persist.
When we discuss the issues of poverty and violence against women, we cannot think of them in isolation. They work in tandem, feeding off of one another. Violence against women and girls is both a major consequence and cause of poverty; the two go hand -in hand. Violence prevents women and girls from getting an education, going to work, and earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty. It’s a vicious cycle we’ve got to cut off.
We know that one in three women will be the victim of physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. But we also know that women have the potential to lift families and communities out of poverty. That’s why U.S. international assistance policy should and must address and remove barriers that keep women from reaching their full potential.
Now I know I’m preaching to the choir a bit here today, because you at USAID understand the importance of empowering women. I was pleased to see that USAID prioritize this issue by releasing a “Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy” in March of this year, which makes badly-needed updates to guidelines that were over thirty years old. This policy recognizes that the integration of women is basic to effective international assistance across all sectors like food security, health, governance, climate change, and science and technology.
This new policy is as welcome as it is necessary. To again quote our wonderful Secretary of State, “Achieving our objectives for global development will demand accelerated efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. Otherwise, peace and prosperity will have their own glass ceiling.”
I believe that with the dedication and commitment of the people in this room, the United States can help empower women across the globe to break this glass ceiling. Our nation has the potential to be a true leader in empowering women across the globe, ending gender-based discrimination in all forms, and ending violence against women and girls worldwide.
When I say worldwide, I mean here at home as well. If we hold that the rule of law and equal justice under the law are universal ideals, then we must uphold human rights everywhere, for people of all nationalities. And when it comes to garnering the support of our allies, how we practice the principles we preach in our own country is of paramount importance.
Investing in and focusing on empowering women and girls is one of the most efficient uses of our foreign assistance dollars and one of the best ways to make the world more peaceful and prosperous. By promoting both gender equity and good governance in the countries which receive our assistance, we can ensure that it is being spent efficiently and effectively.
The Administration has said it wants to make our aid more transparent and better measure the long term results of our aid investments. Collecting and sharing that kind of information not only gives us in Congress more oversight but also helps average people in poor countries blow the whistle on corruption or ineffective aid. I would urge you to continue your efforts to promote transparency, and to prioritize monitoring and evaluating aid implementation. We must also ensure that these efforts are being shared with citizens in aid recipient countries. Whistleblowers in poor countries must be empowered to use this information to call out corruption or waste in their own governments. I very much look forward to monitoring your progress as you move forward.
Another barometer for measuring sustainable economic growth is food security. With over 1 billion poor and hungry people around the world, there is no time to wait. Food security was a key item on the agenda of last month’s G-8 Summit in my own State of Maryland.
President Obama invited the Presidents of Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Tanzania to participate in the summit and strategize on ways in which we can all work together to accelerate progress on food security. The commitment of the G8 and African leaders to take on the challenge of global food security in partnership with the private sector is an important step to address this problem.
Another crucial effort is the U.S.’s collaborative global hunger and food security initiative, the “Feed the Future” program, which your agency is leading. I’m glad you’ve prioritized small farmers, particularly women. This effort helps countries to develop their agriculture sectors to generate opportunities for broad-based economic growth and trade, which in turn support increased incomes and help reduce hunger. I look forward to hearing more about the Feed the Future success stories in the months to come, and I promise to keep a close eye as you develop and release accountability reports on the program.
As someone who cares deeply about the status of women worldwide, I want to underscore some other elements of the program that I feel are critical to its overall success. First, Feed the Future developed and launched the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, a research method which measures the quantity and quality of gender integrated programs. This is essential if we are to continue designing better development programs.
Feed the Future has also harnessed the capabilities of other U.S. Government partners such as the Department of Agriculture to develop science-based solutions to many of the problems faced by women farmers.
You’re doing exemplary work, but I know that there are some in the House of Representatives who seem to be making it difficult to do your job. Don’t worry—you are not the only bull’s-eye on their target; you’re in pretty good company, in fact. But in this era of budget cutting, our foreign aid budgets have been under especially intense scrutiny. It’s easy for critics to hone in on foreign assistance spending, especially when it can be hard to quantify the long-term benefits.
This year’s Republican House budget slashed the foreign affairs budget by nearly $5 billion, or 10 percent. But I think the Republicans are missing something. Foreign aid is not an expense: it is an investment. Our International Affairs budget is a one of the best investments we have. It is a strategic, cost-effective investment in America’s global leadership and vital to our future national and economic security.
In my capacity as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I’m using my platform to advocate for an increased focus on development aid and the critical work you do here. You know well the value of the work you do here, from both a national security and a moral imperative standpoint. I’m making it my personal mission to ensure that the rest of the country understands it too.
There are those who might call my mission quixotic, but with sustained and relentless dialogue and action, I really do think we can change the way we think about foreign aid in this country. We can do it with foreign aid, because we were able to do it with a perhaps even more polarizing topic—healthcare.
Now maybe I’m crazy bringing up health care in an otherwise completely civil discourse, but bear with me for a moment. If there’s one phrase that’s made its way into our vernacular throughout the health care reform process, it’s “preventive care.” I believe that a great deal of the American public at last accepts and understands the rationale that preventive care saves money, and more importantly, lives down the road. For instance, we know that screening for diabetes can prevent a significant number of heart attacks, deaths, and diabetes-related health complications and add years of healthy living.
I believe that example is analogous to the rationale inherent in development spending. By supporting sustainable economic development, stronger government institutions and civil society, we can ward off the root causes of conflict and extremism. We can respond to humanitarian crises, create new markets for our goods, and create a more stable world. It shouldn’t take war, terrorist attacks and famine for America to realize the value of development assistance. We don’t board our windows after a hurricane has already hit—the same should be true with respect for foreign policy.
I’m sure those of you in this room understand the practical and strategic benefit of investing in foreign aid, but I imagine that something deeper motivates you to devote your lives to this cause. It’s your compassion, your sense of justice, and your unyielding impulse to serve mankind that brings you here. And it’s that very spirit and resolve that we need in order to refute those who see no merit in foreign aid. Naysayers may decry that because we cannot cure all of the world’s ills, we shouldn’t even try. They say that we have enough problems at home, and that America is worse off if we try to make things better abroad.
But as Edmund Burke wisely said, “nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” And if we have a budget that reflects America’s true values, including the belief that “all men are created equal,” we can do more than a little. By prioritizing foreign assistance, we can build a safer, more prosperous and more peaceful world that will benefit not only those beyond our borders, but those within it as well. From strangers in foreign countries, to our own children, we’re all better off. Isolation and retreat are options, but they certainly aren’t American ones. When we lead by example, our nation and our world are better for it.