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Q&A with USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg

Violence Against Women and Girls

Article Date: 2011-05-18

Donald Steinberg deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)Donald Steinberg is the deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he serves as the agency’s second-in-command. Steinberg will participate in ICRW’s Passports to Progress event on June 13 to discuss the challenges to and opportunities for ending violence against women in all its forms.

As deputy administrator, Steinberg oversees efforts to ensure that gender equality remains a priority within all of USAID’s programming and policy. Steinberg administers the recently established Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and will participate in discussions to update USAID’s official policy on gender equality.

Steinberg recently spoke to USAID’s news publication, FrontLines, to discuss the role of gender in development. Here are excerpts from that interview, originally published in the February/March 2011 issue:

FrontLines: The issue of women and girls is near and dear to your heart. Can you talk a little bit about your personal experiences that have led you to be such a champion of women’s issues and women’s empowerment?

Donald Steinberg: It began with my very first assignment with the Foreign Service. I was 22 years old and was sent to the Central African Republic. One of my first tasks was to help put together a rural health project in the Ouham region.

We started out by going to the region and talking to the health providers, who were nearly all women, and to average citizens. After a lengthy process of drawing on their wisdom, we put together a project that focused on mother-child health care, immunization, and water and sanitation.

By the time I left the Central African Republic two years later, we could already see declines in infant and maternal mortality, as well as a new sense of empowerment for women who were at the center of this project. And realizing that my contributions in part had helped spark that change and had helped women and kids thrive, I was hooked.

FL: In your experience, what is the benefit of involving women in post-conflict resolution? And where has this been done particularly well?

DS: The systematic exclusion of women from the negotiation of peace agreements and implementing bodies is one of the key reasons why so many of these agreements ultimately fail and countries return to conflict. Involving women means that a broad range of issues that are important to the population are addressed, such as accountability for past abuses, psycho-social support for victims of violence, restoration of health and educational systems, reintegration of displaced persons and refugees and trafficking in persons …

Secondly, women bring ground truth to a process. The men involved in the armed conflict don’t have the same sense as to the social and reconstruction needs as women who have remained in their societies [and] who have seen the impact of conflict…

Perhaps most importantly, involving women builds public and civil-society support for a peace process. In too many peace processes, once the momentum for political unification or military disengagement starts to wane, popular support is insufficient to see it through to the end.

The men with the guns have to end the war, but society as a whole — and, in particular, women — must build the peace.

FL: In your three decades of development work, do you have a project or achievement that you are most proud of?

DS: I was quite honored to serve over the past year or so, on the U.N. Secretary General’s Civil Society Advisory Group for Women, Peace and Security … Basically, the group was asked by the secretary general to come up with concrete, time-bound and measurable actions to reinvigorate global efforts to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. This resolution, passed in October 2000, identified dozens of steps that the international community should take to empower and protect women and girls in the context of armed [conflict], and [to] ensure their full participation in peace negotiations and post conflict reconstruction and governance.

Our advisory group put together practical actions, supported by financial resources, to address sexual violence against women displaced by war, to expand livelihood and educational opportunities for women and girls, to train peacekeepers and military forces on gender issues and hold them accountable for abuses, to enhance reproductive health care for women in emergency situations, to bring more women to the peace table, and so on. We also highlighted the need to assist the new agency, U.N. Women, to provide global leadership in these areas under the guidance of the talented Michelle Bachelet…

FL: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing women in the developing world today?

DS: The toughest challenge is to overcome the stigma of victimization that bedevils this whole field. Too many programs and projects in this arena categorize women as victims, rather than the key actors in addressing conflict and development challenges … To address this, we are establishing a four-pillar approach to gender considerations at USAID.

The first pillar is ensuring that gender is mainstreamed and integrated in all our development work, and in particular, food security, global health and global climate change.

Second, we are focusing on women’s empowerment in political, economic and social terms … This involves a focus on partnerships where we can be working with private companies, international NGOs, host governments, international organizations and, most importantly, women themselves in developing countries to take good projects at the grassroots level and bring them to scale on a global basis.

A third area is protection and participation. This effort involves prioritizing issues related to women’s participation in peace processes, preventing and responding to sexual violence in armed conflict situations, implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, and engaging in anti-trafficking programs.

The fourth pillar is walking the walk in-house, ensuring that USAID is a leader in women’s empowerment in our system. We need to make sure that women are recruited for entry into the Civil and Foreign Service, empowered to fully contribute to our development mission, given opportunities through mentorships, treated fairly in the promotion/evaluation/assignment processes and challenged to lead our agency.

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