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Today, the Trump administration rolled out the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP). According to an op-ed by Ivanka Trump in the Wall Street Journal, the initiative “establishes a cohesive three-pillar structure to support governmentwide programs and partnerships.” 

Pillars one and two seem to suggest a rebranding of existing funding for women’s economic empowerment efforts in USAID and a repackaging of previously announced initiatives at the World Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The only money announced is old money: a $50 million reallocation to a fund in USAID. (It is worth comparing that to the $300 million in cuts to women’s reproductive health and family planning that the administration proposed for fiscal year 2019.)  

But the third pillar is potentially more encouraging. To quote Ivanka Trump, it “focuses on eliminating the legal, regulatory and cultural barriers that prevent women from participating in their local economies. According to the World Bank, more than 100 countries prohibit women from working in specific industries, which means 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working and earning their own income. In many more, women are unable to inherit land or open bank accounts without permission.”

Quite what is being proposed in this area isn’t yet clear. But Ms. Trump is surely right that legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers are a huge problem. On laws in particular, World Bank and IMF research, as well as research at CGD, has linked discriminatory legislation with lower women’s labor force participation and weaker economic performance, amongst other ills. In the countries with the worst legislation, the extent of legal discrimination amounts to gender apartheid—women are simply barred from large parts of the economy and subject to domestic “pass laws” where they have to get their husband’s or father’s permission to leave the house. And there is a lot the US could do to combat such laws, including making legal reform in this area a precondition of trade agreements.    

Previously, I’ve proposed a US response to gender apartheid modeled on the 1980s legislation (P.L. 99-440) that was designed to pressure South Africa to change its racial apartheid system. It would encourage US multinationals to mitigate the impact of local discriminatory legislation to the extent possible within the host country’s domestic laws by following a code of conduct regarding women’s employment. The legislation could go further and involve targeted sanctions on male leadership of countries that retain massive legal gender discrimination on the books. 

I hope that Congress and the administration build on the language of W-GDP and the recent Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment (WEEE) Act to pass meaningful legislation that helps American enterprises to unleash the immense economic potential of equality worldwide.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.