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Can the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Be Loyal to Women and Girls?

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate will hold a confirmation hearing for Kelley Eckels Currie, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. The Ambassador is the leading diplomat dedicated to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment and oversees the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) at the Department of State. For over two years, this position remained empty while the Trump administration’s foreign policy agenda undermined the health and rights of women and girls, as well as global commitments to gender equality.

The Ambassador and the S/GWI have been critical components of the gender infrastructure within the U.S. government for more than two decades. The office takes a leading role in crafting, updating and mainstreaming policy around gender equality priorities—including women, peace and security, gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment, as well as the empowerment of adolescent girls. In addition to driving policy and strategy, the Ambassador represents the U.S. on important delegations to the United Nations (U.N.), notably the Commission on the Status of Women.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are intrinsically linked to the work and priorities of the S/GWI. During the Obama administration, PAI and other advocates lamented the office’s hesitancy to be bolder on SRHR. Now, the mission risks subversion and its leader could become the mouthpiece for a more extreme agenda. After all, the Trump administration has made clear where it stands on sexual and reproductive rights, having expanded the already harmful Global Gag Rule and aligned itself with some of the most extreme delegations at the U.N. on issues related to reproductive health and family planning.

As for President Trump’s nominee, Currie falls short of being an ideal candidate to lead as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, having little to no expertise or experience working on gender issues. She has staffed the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and served as the U.S. Ambassador on the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. under the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley. While reports suggest that Currie occasionally pushed back against the extreme rhetoric of other lower-level Trump officials, she ultimately proved herself willing to toe the line for the administration. In fact, Currie presented the U.S. position to disassociate from language regarding sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in U.N. resolutions in the Third Committee, stating that the language has “… accumulated connotations that suggest the promotion of abortion or a right to abortion” which are considered “unacceptable” by the Trump administration.

Considering her background, Currie’s confirmation hearing provides an opportunity for the Senate to highlight the consequences of the Trump administration’s actions, interrogate her understanding of the administration’s expectations for the role and to put her on the record about where she stands on supporting the health and rights of women and girls. Some questions for the Senate to consider:

  • Does Ambassador Currie recognize the rights of women and LGBTQ individuals as human rights? Will she be willing to defend those rights as a representative of the United States within the U.S. government and Department of State?
  • Does Ambassador Currie recognize that a holistic approach—including the SRH needs of women and girls—is required in order to effectively tackle issues related to women, peace and security, gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment, as well as the empowerment of adolescent girls?

For women, girls and others impacted by U.S. gender policies and positions—such as the LGBTQ community—the answers to these questions are not simply a matter of partisan U.S. political posturing. As the world looks ahead to 2020, a year that marks the 25th anniversary of the landmark adoption of the Beijing Declaration at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, as well as the first five years of the Sustainable Development Goals, Currie is in line to take on a position of influence. That sphere of influence is not limited to crafting U.S. policy, but also extends to the international community on issues that impact women and girls most—like their health and rights—during a critical time when the world will be reflecting on progress and challenges in achieving gender equality. The unfortunate reality is that when all is said and done, Currie would be joining an administration that has implemented harmful foreign assistance policies and sought to weaken consensus language and resolutions on gender at the U.N. If she plans to last, she will be expected to fall in line.

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