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US Initiative Gets $122 Million to Benefit Mideast Women

W-GDP plans to improve access to work and economy for what amounts to half of region’s population

Ivanka Trump, first daughter and special advisor to the US president, on Tuesday announced $122 million in new programs and partnerships for the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative.

Trump established the W-GDP initiative in early 2019 with the goal of empowering women around the world. Its work is segmented into three pillars: the labor market, entrepreneurship and participation in the overall economy.

The initiative hopes to help 50 million women by 2025 after impacting 12 million in its inaugural year.

“This is the type of bold action to expand the efforts of the federal government, the private sector and other partners that restrict women’s ability to participate in their local economies that has been the American model for success,” Trump said during Tuesday’s announcement.

She was joined at the State Department by Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, USAID deputy administrator Bonnie Glick and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Kelley Currie.

“Nations with a greater balance of men and women in the workplace and workforce have greater growth, innovation and stability,” O’Brien said. “Conversely, the larger the opportunity gap between men and women, the more likely a country is to suffer from economic deprivation or to be involved in violent conflict. So not only is empowering women the right thing to do, but global peace and prosperity require it.”

Very little in the fund’s work will change as a result of the novel coronavirus, which has disproportionally hurt women. Currie attributes this to “a very well-designed initiative that was able to be applied directly to the current context without too much adjustment.”

Additional funding for women’s empowerment is desperately needed in the Middle East and North Africa, a region that regularly scores the lowest in global surveys on gender equality. However, the Trump Administration says that women’s rights there are improving thanks to initiatives like W-GDP.

“We’re really excited about some of the movement that we’re seeing in the Middle East,” a senior White House official told The Media Line, asking not to be named.

We’re really excited about some of the movement that we’re seeing in the Middle East

“We’ve supported a coalition in Jordan led by Mayyada Abu Jaber to get policymakers to change laws that limit women’s ability to work at night and their availability to work in key sectors,” the official said.

“The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have gotten into almost a virtual competition to see who can move up the Women, Business and the Law ranking the fastest,” the White House official added, alluding to an index published by the World Bank. “Other countries are moving in after them to change laws and restrictions on women, especially economically, which we’ve seen in Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.”

The official says that as a result of the increased funding, the administration will be able to continue supporting regional initiatives.

“In these countries, we think that it’s really important to work ‘within the grain,’ as we say. It’s about making sure we are recognizing that they’re doing it and encouraging it, and looking for opportunities to cooperate with them in terms of funding,” the official said, adding: “A lot of it is just sharing experiences and being a good partner to them as they work through this.”

According to a press release, W-GDP plans in the Mideast involve helping countries enforce laws dealing with discrimination and women’s rights, and advocating for women to have greater access to work, including by holding workshops with the US Department of Commerce.