The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Trump’s budget is an attack on women around the world

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Getting a good education has always been difficult in rural Pakistan but things were made even harder after 2010’s flooding destroyed numerous schools. The poor standard of school buildings highlights the limited government investment in education (less of its national budget is spent on education than in other South Asian countries). Outdated teaching methods, lack of equipment and facilities, coupled with patriarchal attitudes, make things particularly difficult for girls, evidenced by higher absenteeism, drop-out rates and levels of illiteracy. (Photo: Irina Werning / Oxfam)

Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign aid puts programs for women and girls on the chopping block in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

Women all over the world feel the weight of poverty. They feel it in their shoulders, their feet, and their tired legs. They carry the burden in the water and firewood on their heads and their children on their backs, fighting to feed their families and hoping for a better future.  They are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, are disproportionately affected by disasters, are less likely to receive an education or have access to financial resources, and in many countries face legal restrictions on their employment and ability to own property, and lack the freedom to travel without permission.  The good news is, if the burden of poverty and inequality can be reduced so women have equal access to opportunity, everyone would benefit.  The global economy would grow by $12 trillion, 100 million less people would be hungry, and children would be healthier and less likely to die way too young.

President Trump’s budget simply ignores all of this. Instead, it severely cuts (and in some cases eliminates) funding for accounts that address the needs of women in the developing world and drastically cuts poverty-fighting programs overall, which will disproportionately affect women. While the international affairs budget (which President Trump has proposed cutting by 32 percent) funds some specific women’s empowerment initiatives, most foreign assistance programs integrate the needs of women and girls into programs that provide essential services like healthcare, education, and food security, making the across the board cuts to foreign aid an attack on women.

Since the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) “gender marker” (a note that indicates that program funds were used at least in part to support gender equality and women’s empowerment) is not linked to US foreign assistance funding accounts, it can be difficult to parse out the gendered effects of cuts to these programs. Using the 2016 and 2018 Foreign Operations Budget Justifications, and the funding accounts we know have components that support the advancement of women and gender equality (i.e. Global Health, Development Assistance, Migration and Refugee Assistance, the Economic Support and Development Fund, contributions to International Organizations, and many more), we can piece an estimate together. Here’s what we know:

Programs with an exclusive focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment are cut by 61 percent in the Trump Budget– much higher than the overall 32 percent cut to international affairs – and yet another clear sign that women will be hurt most by this budget. For the programs that have a gender component but don’t have gender equality as their primary goal, most fall within global health, which the President’s budget has proposed cutting by over 26 percent (or about $2 billion) from current funding.  Governance and civil society, education, agriculture, water and sanitation, economic development, and humanitarian assistance programs all also have significant gender aspects, and are all being cut between 28 and 60 percent.

Cutting these programs will have devastating effects on women and their families.  In recent years, US foreign assistance has supported access to primary education for over 3 million girls (in 2015 alone), has trained female election monitors, judges, and peacekeepers; has ensured millions of women with maternal care, and provided support to women and their families in times of conflict and disaster. Efforts like these not only provide critical support in times of need, but also empower women to have more voice and power in in their homes and communities. Cutting these programs could have detrimental effects on women’s ability to speak out and address problems in their countries and access critical life-saving services.

And unfortunately, the World Bank’s Ivanka Trump-backed fund for women entrepreneurs won’t even come close to making up for the damage done. We need to continue to champion the message that women’s rights are human rights, and double-down on efforts to empower and support women, not scrap them. Congress must reject the Trump administration’s budget. Doing so is what’s best for women, and what’s best for the world.

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