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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Cultural Collaboration: USAID and Japan Invest in the Future of Women and Girls

USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Susan Markham
Washington, DC
September 16, 2015

Date: 09/16/2015 Location: Washington, DC Description: USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Susan Markham briefs foreign journalists on collaborations between USAID and Japan. - State Dept Image

10:30 A.M. EDT


MR ZIMMER: Welcome. Sorry to keep you. So we’ve met, but my name is Mark Zimmer. I’m the – responsible for East Asia and the Pacific here at the Foreign Press Center. Very grateful to you for joining us today, and thanks to my colleagues who have helped set things up. We’ve got colleagues in New York online. We’re also recording the session, so it’ll be on the record. We’ll publish this transcript later on and go from there.

So with that, we’re very pleased to welcome USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Ms. Susan Markham. She will have an opening statement and then we’ll open it up for questions. With that, welcome. Thank you for being here.

MS MARKHAM: And good morning, everyone, and thanks for taking time out of your busy day to join me to discuss USAID’s work to increase gender equality and women’s empowerment, and share a solidified commitment with the Government of Japan to improve the lives of women and girls.

Just a few weeks ago I traveled to Japan to meet with key government officials from around the world attending the World Assembly for Women – WAW! 2015, chair the Equal Futures partnership, and highlight USAID’s commitment to partner with Japan to seek ways to promote peace, resilience, and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region and around the world as part of the U.S.-Japan Development Dialogue.

It was quite a busy schedule to say the least, and I hope to make it back to Tokyo sometime to see sights beyond the walls of the conference rooms where I sat – (laughter) – but I do have to say all of our Japanese hosts were so friendly and provided a great trip.

As the world comes together to develop a global development agenda for the next 15 years, the critical question in 2015 is not why women’s participation is important, but how to ensure that governments and the private sector are developing and implementing policies in this regard and actually making change. For more than 50 years, USAID has been a leader in empowering women and girls globally, because the evidence shows that investing in women and girls accelerates progress in every area. From ending extreme poverty to countering violent extremism, women are not only impacted by these issues, they are invaluable and have knowledge on how to solve them.

That’s why USAID has gender programs in over 80 countries. And we know that women are key drivers of economic growth. Investments in women and girls are not only right, they’re smart. According to the World Bank, countries with greater gender equality are more prosperous and competitive. Women account for one-half of the potential human capital in any economy. More than half a billion have joined the world’s workforce over the past 30 years. Yet women hold fewer assets, earn less, own a fraction of the world’s enterprises, and are often denied more opportunities than men when they have the same or higher level of education.

Despite making up more than 40 percent of the world’s farmers, only 3 to 20 percent are landholders. In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses. In South Asia, only 8 percent of small and medium-sized businesses are women owned. But in order to end extreme poverty, feed the planet, and build vibrant economies, women and girls must gain access to capital, land, markets, training, and leadership opportunities.

One of the first events I attended in Tokyo was the Shine MetLife Symposium. There I made many of these points in a speech entitled, “Why Empowering Women is the Smartest Investment We Can Make.” Later that day, I attended the World Assembly for Women – WAW! 2015 – and these issues were also highlighted, and a call was made for robust action to close these gaps for a brighter future, both in Japan and around the world.

And most importantly, WAW! focused not only on women and girls, but rightly and continually pointed out that changing attitudes and behaviors of men and boys are needed to empower their daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, colleagues, and friends, and that that’s key for a real change.

In Prime Minister Abe’s remarks at WAW!, he made an important call to action. He said: “The final curtain has been drawn on the era in which people ask why we promote the dynamic engagement of women in society. Now is the time for us to discuss how to bring it into reality.” It was an important message to bring home to the United States and also when we met with other world leaders attending WAW! to find out how we can work together to move a shared agenda forward.

Another event I attended while in Tokyo, I represented USAID at a signing ceremony for an important memorandum of cooperation with Japan to work together to empower women and girls in Afghanistan through a program called Promote. It is USAID’s largest women’s empowerment program in USAID history, and it’s aimed at advancing opportunities for Afghan women to become political, private sector, and civil society leaders. As President Obama said last November at the launch of Promote, “Together, we can help empower the next generation of professionals, entrepreneurs, and engaged citizens who will lead Afghanistan to the more secure and prosperous future that all Afghans deserve.”

I was actually at the launch in November in Kabul, and there I met and met again so many inspiring young women, remarkable stories on how they had to overcome many barriers in their daily lives to attend school. But the one common theme I heard was that although they have been attending school and many things have changed in their daily lives, there are still many challenges that lay ahead. They don’t have the skills to move into the formal workforce; and the workforce, whether it’s civil society, business, or government, are not open to having them in the workforce. And so Promote is really empowering women as leaders in all of these sectors.

And we know, as we’ve seen in the past years in Afghanistan, when women are participating in politics there it really has tangible gains for democracy. The parliament there has greater responsiveness to citizen needs, and there’s been greater cooperation across party and ethnic lines.

Another event I attended while I was there, I actually chaired an Equal Futures Partnership meeting and led a discussion on how members of Equal Futures intend to move beyond discussing best practices and focus on how we can hold one another accountable, including our domestic colleagues, to achieve results that we’ve promised for women and girls everywhere.

The Equal Futures Partnership is an innovative, U.S.-led, multilateral initiative designed to encourage member countries to empower women economically and politically. Equal Futures partner countries commit to taking actions, including legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to ensure women fully participate in the public life at the local, regional, and national levels. So once again, the challenge isn’t just to share best practices, but holding ourselves accountable to making progress in those areas.

It was a good meeting and we were thrilled that many members there are making significant progress in fulfilling their commitments. We’re also working towards pairing countries maybe who have made more progress in an area with countries that are tackling similar issues to have one-on-one learning. I know that the U.S. is currently working with Mexico on a specific issue around economic empowerment for survivors of gender-based violence.

Finally, while in Japan I also met with the Government of Japan with the Japan International Cooperation Agency to meet Prime Minister Abe’s call to action to promote a brighter future for women and girls. Two years ago, the UN General Assembly, the Government of Japan committed to implement more than 3 billion in official development assistance over the following three years. Then there was a second Japan-United States development dialogue in February 2015, but since that time there’s been a lot of progress and work to collaborate on several projects.

Earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Japan. And while she was there, the Government of Japan and First Lady Abe committed to provide 340 million to fund empowerment and gender-sensitive specifically education programs. The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers will also cooperate with the U.S. Peace Corps to focus on educating girls. And that was a great commitment, and we thank Japan for their remarkable efforts there.

So during our time, we met with JICA and had a broader gender dialogue which include this issues, but also to find ways that we can work together to address other challenges around the world. It currently spans different agencies and functional fields. It builds on our experiences, resources, and shared values. But we’re really trying to expand it and be more concrete about the ways that we can work together. As I said before, we had already collaborated on WAW! and the Equal Futures Partnership and Let Girls Learn. We’re also looking at AWEP and We Create, other specific economic programs.

So this dialogue that we had with JICA laid the groundwork for new and increased collaboration on leveraging the private sector, civil society, and foreign governments for a more sustainable, inclusive, and locally owned model of development.

So today, and as I did then, we thank Japan for their commitments to building a better, brighter future for women and girls everywhere. And we look forward to working together, leveraging each other’s work and expertise, to ensure we have a meaningful, enduring impact. Thank you.

MR ZIMMER: I’ll open it up for any questions at this time.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a question. How do you see Japan as a partner to promote the gender equality? What is advantage from the perspective of the United States to kind of have the cooperation with Japanese Government?

MS MARKHAM: Well, obviously, we always are looking for partner governments around the world in the places that we work. They bring resources to the table. We all have limited budgets at this time, and so whenever we can reach out and partner with governments so we can have complementary programs – we’re not overlapping, we’re not doing the same thing – but really, whether it’s in different areas of the country or different sectors, we like to cooperate there on bringing our resources to the table.

But it’s also important, when so much of the work on gender equality and female empowerment is about changing attitudes, that we need to have a unified voice so that when we’re working with developing country governments that they know that as donor governments come in we’re working to change those attitudes and behaviors as well. And that’s really needed for – as I said, because that’s the long-term work. Besides the schools and global health, the gender equality and women’s empowerment is only going to happen when we have greater change.

QUESTION: My name is Kakumi Kobayashi with Kyodo News, Japanese wire service. I’m wondering if you could – to elaborate on what did – what you discussed about the attitude for men and boys for the gender equality issue.

MS MARKHAM: Right. So when we think about gender at USAID, it isn’t just about women and girls, because if we are just working with women and girls, we’re singing to the choir already. What we need to do is change attitudes and behaviors and systems and structures. So we think of it on three levels. We work with individual men, women, boys, and girls to make sure that they have the skills that they need, the opportunities they need to take advantage of programs that we’re providing. We also look at – we call the structural level. So whether it’s the legal system, the political system, the economic system, there are some barriers that exist to women being able to take full opportunity, whether it’s land rights, who can vote, who can get access to a bank account – all these sorts of different legal systems. Sometimes citizenship is passed from male to male, and so women – their citizenship isn’t always assured. So it can be as basic as that or as complicated as legal or economic things. So we have to change the structural.

And then we have to change attitudes. Men and women in many places around the world don’t believe women should be in leadership positions. That’s because we all are raised – no one’s born a feminist or not believing that women should be – when you look around society, whether it’s TV or what your parents tell you or who gets to go to school or not, people make value judgments every day about the roles women and men should play in public life. But if you’re only working with women, you’re not really changing the roles that men and women need to play. And so that’s why more and more we’re engaging men and boys in the conversations we’re having about gender-based violence, about economic opportunity for women. We don’t want men to be threatened when we’re helping train women to be in jobs. They need to see how it benefits their family and their community so that they aren’t against it. Showing people how having more women in democratic institutions like parliament or their local council and how changes happen with the budgets that are implemented, the programs that are there – how it actually is good for the whole community to have a broader representation.

So we just can’t work with one part of society. Everyone has to be involved. Gender equality is not a women’s issue. It’s really for the benefit of everyone to end extreme poverty and build resilience.

QUESTION: So did you discuss any specific issues or practice involving Japanese men and boys toward the --

MS MARKHAM: (Laughter.) So we did not, of course, talk about development in Japan.


MS MARKHAM: We are a partner organization, just as they didn’t give us advice on what we could do to do better gender equality in the U.S. It was very much what we do in the countries where we work with our development programs. So we talked a little bit about the USAID new development model. We are focusing a lot more on partnerships and engaging local organizations, and through that process we have a much better sense on how we engage men and boys. So we’re not doing the same thing everywhere, but we can actually work with our local partners to say, “What have you done to engage?” and then be very specific within that context the best way to do it.


MS MARKHAM: It was very interesting because WAW! went back and forth between Japan and development and Japan and the international community that several reporters when I was there was asking me about Japan, but obviously we do not give our partner governments advice on how to do their domestic work, so --

QUESTION: And unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the result of the latest session. How many countries are involved in latest session that you’re referring to?


QUESTION: Yeah, mm-hmm, and Equal Futures Partnership.

MS MARKHAM: So Equal Futures – I think there are 23 partners in the Equal Futures Partnership. So it was started maybe four years ago, and every year we have a couple more countries join. We’ve become more focused on women’s economic empowerment, and this time not just broadly, but as I said before, we focused on economic empowerment of victims of domestic violence. We looked at how do we encourage or increase the number of women specifically at the management level, and also how do we bring more women into the formal workforce. So instead of just kind of, “Yes, we’re for this,” what specifically we – can we do with the minimum wage or increasing child and health care in order to get more women into the workforce. So we continue to evolve in the way that we’re meeting. This was the first meeting outside the U.S. of Equal Futures, but we took advantage of so many governments being represented at WAW! that we had a morning meeting before the session. So we continue to find ways that the partnership can evolve and meet the needs of all the countries represented.

QUESTION: So you found out the kind of – WAW! as a kind of important platform to kind of promote those kind of partnership, including Japan and other countries?

MS MARKHAM: Yes. Right. It was great. I mean, I met – I saw the minister for gender equality from Liberia who was there. I had met with her last year when she was here in D.C., and I got to speak with her about the Ebola crisis. And now that we’re past the initial response, USAID will do further programming there. And so we talked a little bit about that work and how we can continue to support each other to make sure gender issues are considered within the Ebola response. I got to see Mrs. Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan, and we got to talk about – I met her when I was there for the Promote launch, which was now almost a year ago, and got to hear from her perspective how things were going on that program. I met with the minister – Minister Cash from Australia who was there, and we talked about domestic violence efforts.

So it was an – the program itself was quite impressive. The prime minister spent such a good amount of time there. Both days he spent hours and hours there and showed his commitment towards these issues. But there were also many other leaders – Mrs. Blair from the UK, former Ambassador Melanne Verveer from the U.S. And so there were a lot of dialogues going on both at the sessions and in side meetings that I think will continue to push this issue forward.

QUESTION: I have another question about the MOU. You signed MOU between Japan and the USAID as – for the kind of Afghanistan assistance program. Could you elaborate a little bit to the detail in this program? What kind of role Japan could play to promote the laws of the gender equality over there?

MS MARKHAM: So the whole goal of Promote is to increase, to build on what we’ve done. We’ve had 10 years of increasing the number of adolescent girls in school – literally building schools, training teachers, making school available for girls. Now that we’ve been doing it 10 or 12 years, these girls have gone from beginning; now they’re graduating and going to university and other technical trainings post-secondary school. But what we have found is now they’ve had a difficult time making the transition to the workforce. So Promote focuses on general leadership skills for women but then specifically focuses on civil society, business, and government, so that those institutions have jobs that are available for women and it’s appropriate for them to work there.

Japan has also been working in Afghanistan for years, and so through this program, my understanding – one specific thing we talked about is that they’ve had a program increasing the number of women as police officers. So that’s a perfect complement to the work that we’re doing. If some of the women that they’re recruiting to be police officers could go through our leadership training, then we could add another kind of avenue towards workforce if – through the police officers or other uniformed jobs. So I think that’s a great complement of – once again, they don’t have to duplicate the basic training that we’re doing. We can help recruit women to be in their trainings, and they can also provide another avenue for work.

QUESTION: If you have the number, do you know the ratio, the percentage of the women who become the policemen in Afghanistan?

MS MARKHAM: Oh, it’s very small. I mean, literally when they have police, the buildings and the place where police officers go to live and work, there are no restrooms for women. Right? I mean, they were not built for anything but men. So we’re really starting from scratch, and I can get you the numbers, but it is – we really literally have to start with, okay, where would they work? Where would they go to the restroom? Where would they change into their uniform, because oftentimes they wear civilian clothes until they get to the police station? And so we’re really starting from scratch there. But because of the many issues around violence against women in Afghanistan, it’s very important to have women as part of that police force to be able to respond and educate their peers about the appropriate ways to respond to violence.

QUESTION: Do you talk – do you talk about always – about this program with Mrs. Ghani at the WAW!?

MS MARKHAM: I did. I actually --

QUESTION: Yeah. What did she say, I wonder? Yeah.

MS MARKHAM: So it was great. When we were there last November, it was a very theoretical conversation because no program had happened yet. And so – and then I saw her here in March, I think, and she had some concerns about it. So it was great to be able to follow up with her and say, well, what do you think now. And I think she’s pleased about the engagement of USAID with the Afghan Government so that this is a sustainable program. And then the other issue she had, which I think we’ve addressed, is getting outside the major cities. Because of security, we often don’t allow USAID staff to get outside Kabul, but we’ve built a good network so that there are five regional hubs for Promote, and they are even working outside those to reach women that we might not have reached before and make sure that they have the opportunities for employment as well.

I think a lot – in the past, we’ve had more where we bring people to Kabul or we bring them outside Afghanistan, but we really want to make sure through this program that we’re staying in Afghanistan and it’s really spreading across the country.

QUESTION: All right. It’s kind of related with his question about attitude of boys and the gentlemen in the society.


QUESTION: You said kind of to kind of promote gender equality, just to kind of contribute women’s issue is not kind of enough.


QUESTION: So you have to work with kind of attitude of the mens and boys. So as far as Afghanistan, you mentioned about there are so many challenges in terms of this kind of issue. Actually, in your impression, what is the most kind of – the biggest challenge for you to kind of change the attitude, of the kind of men’s attitude in Afghanistan?

MS MARKHAM: Well – oh, that’s hard. I’m not an expert of Afghanistan, so – but I think around the world, not just in Afghanistan, but this idea that in some way by empowering women we are taking away the power of men and that they are threatened that in their home all of a sudden all the power will be off and dinner won’t get cooked and their kids will be raised crazy and that it will be some sort of revolution. But more – I think the more we talk to men and boys about how it will benefit them, right? I mean, for instance, keeping girls in school. When we started in Afghanistan there were almost literally zero girls in school. They did not believe in it. There was no appropriate place for girls to be educated. And by actually showing that by educating girls, they can read and they can be healthier themselves, it increases the age at which they get married, which increases the age at which they have children, which makes the babies healthier, which then encourages them to keep their kids in school. It’s the self-perpetuating cycle that benefits not just her, but her children and the family. And so it really doesn’t take away anything from the father to keep his daughter in school, and especially when we’ve been working to make them free of charge and accessible and not costing them anything.

And so it’s more just having those realistic conversations instead of saying she’s not going to wear the burka and she’s going to be radicalized and not listen to her father anymore and never get married. We’re – the changes that we’re making, we’re doing it to benefit Afghanistan for a long, sustainable future, and that when we actually have conversations with fathers, with brothers, sometimes with – grandmothers are some of our hardest conversations. But when we have them, they understand that it’s not a radical North or Western idea. And certainly in Afghanistan, because they’ve had a long history of women’s empowerment previous to the Taliban, reaching those women who went to college 40 years ago, they see it. And I have to say now with the internet, they know the benefits and that other women around the world are doing similar work. So it’s a good – it’s not as hard as it used to be.

QUESTION: It’s really nice to hear that.


QUESTION: Could you tell us the future kind of plan of the collaboration with Japanese Government to kind of promote just kind of a gender equality in the developing country outside of maybe Afghanistan?

MS MARKHAM: So we will continue to work with JICA. Also at the development dialogue – obviously State Department was there, but also MCC. And so we talked about some specific countries, programs, where there was overlap. Japan has a great program with toilets, and MCC was very interested in learning more about – in the 17 or so countries where MCC is, how they could do more work with wash issues.

We were talking about our new bottle for development, as I said, before with more local partners. And so we talked about how in the countries where we both work, our – in country, not us in the capitals, but in the – if we brought them together to talk about the local organizations that we’re working with so that we can coordinate with that. Certainly with the Peace Corps – there’s going to be a meeting of Peace Corps volunteers or of all – not just Peace Corps but volunteers from many countries that have similar programs. I think it’s going to take place in Tokyo, either later this year – and so that is a natural place that they’re going to coordinate on how we can do more for girls’ education specifically, but just coordination.

So it’s kind of multifaceted across the governments. Certainly, when we were at the ministry of foreign affairs there was an invitation for Mrs. Obama to come back and talk more about the issues that she cared about next year when there’s the meeting there. So --

QUESTION: That’s good.

MS MARKHAM: Yeah. So it was a wide-ranging --

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m really happy to hear that. (Laughter.) Because I’m Japanese. I’m sorry, I’m not naming myself, but (inaudible), so I’m also Japanese. So I’m really happy to hear kind of you are kind of take a very good impression from the Japan --

MS MARKHAM: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- as far as the promoting the gender equality. And also I have the impression about there are so many programs still in kind of (inaudible) in Japan, but maybe they are kind of trying make an effort, so that’s our first step. So I’m really glad to hear your impression. Thanks.


QUESTION: So did you find any remarkable change in the Japanese Government officials – those – the people from many circles toward this issue of the gender equality since Prime Minister Abe took office a couple of years ago? Do you find it? Or --

MS MARKHAM: Well, I have never been to Japan before, so it’s hard for me to talk about the change. But I do think that the prime minister, I mean, he has been very ambitious about his goals with regard to gender equality, but he’s also been doing work along the way to reach those goals. As I said, his commitment while I was there was literally front and center because of his presence there, not just at one but at many events throughout the day – days, I should say, both days of WAW! he was there. And so he’s not just giving speeches about it; he’s actually showing his commitment, putting resources towards it. And so I think there is a greater conversation going on, not just among the government but among society about the role of women.

I should say, one event that I went to I didn’t speak, I just listened, but it was about disaster reduction and response. And they had, after the – a previous earthquake 10 or so years ago, had written a disaster response plan and had really tried to make gender issues part of that response plan. And then after the more recent great east Japan – the earthquake, Great East Earthquake, they looked at how did it happen? Was it really gender sensitive? And there was supposed to be a quota of 30 percent of women on all the response committees, but when they actually went to the meetings there were no women there. And so they took steps right away to make sure that gender issues were taken care of there.

And one thing they did was in the affected areas, they did everything they could to keep childcare centers open because that way, the people who worked there would have jobs, but also it freed up the parents to do the paperwork to go back to the house to see what was left. Like, all the things they needed to do without children – I mean, that was a very progressive, different way to think about how we can respond to this disaster in a way that helps the parents, the men and women, respond to it.

And so hearing that part of the government, where we rarely meet with the response-to-disaster people – but the gender folks within that agency, within the bureau there in the Government of Japan, were very forward-leaning on that issue. And so it’s more than just him talking; I think it’s really filtering down to other parts of the government and then certainly the – just the citizens I talked to, it was in the forefront of their mind as well.

MR ZIMMER: Any closing questions maybe?

QUESTION: Can I have one more? Kind of a detail question about the Peace Corps meeting. So you mention about the possibility of the next meeting of the Peace Corps will be held maybe within this year in Japan, so --

MS MARKHAM: Yes, it’s already set up. It’s not specifically with Japan, it’s from – with volunteers from around the world. I mean, the UK Government has a volunteer program, South Korea has a volunteer program. So I think it’s a international conference of volunteers, but it just happens to be taking place in Tokyo later this year. And so I think there will be a broad conversation and we can get you more details from our Peace Corps colleagues --


MS MARKHAM: -- about that, but ways that volunteers can work together in the countries, because often that overlaps. So in addition to development, the more formal development with the Peace Corps and other volunteers.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.


MR ZIMMER: Well, thank you to Ms. Markham for the time today and thank you to our attendees for a very engaging discussion. We appreciate it.


MR ZIMMER: Thanks.

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