Last week the Senate voted to confirm Mark Green as Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He takes office at a particularly precarious moment, as the Trump Administration seeks to slash foreign assistance and development programs. Women’s and girls’ health and rights look set to be among the biggest casualties.
When Green was nominated earlier this year, the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) pointed to his record on women’s health and rights as a cause for concern. However, many in the development community welcomed his selection because of his history of strong support for US foreign assistance and global leadership. Green’s commitment to these issues will be critically important, with the Trump Administration looking to decimate funding for the agency Green now leads.
Trump has particularly targeted the federal resources that go to provide critical services to the world’s poorest individuals and communities. The President’s proposed 2018 budget cuts USAID and the State Department by over 30 percent and includes devastating reductions in global health funding, including a complete zeroing out of support for international reproductive health programs. The Trump budget not only threatens funding for development priorities, but also the very systems and infrastructure that the United States uses to promote sustainable global development.
In addition to proposed funding cuts, the United States is retrenching its global leadership on human rights, justice, and democracy, which have long been key objectives of its foreign assistance efforts. These attacks come at a time when the international community needs the United States to step up, not retreat from its global commitments. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are barely two years old. To translate the SDGs into reality, donor countries—including the United States—need to act now to fully integrate the Goals into their development policy.
As USAID Administrator, Mark Green will need to chart a strong and independent path forward. In light of the destructive policies and rhetoric we’ve seen so far from the Trump Administration, IWHC urges Ambassador Green to take on the following five priorities in his new role:
1) Protect US development spending against Trump’s continued efforts to underfund or even eliminate critical programs. We are extremely concerned about the Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 budget, particularly the efforts to eliminate funding for critical areas like reproductive health. The budget represents a large-scale US retreat from global leadership and would have devastating impacts on people and communities around the world. In his new role, Ambassador Green must be an internal champion for fully funding global health and other development priorities.
2) Bolster American development infrastructure and resist attempts to make foreign aid spending further subservient to other US goals, such as security or economic interests. Reports suggest the Trump Administration is considering folding USAID into the State Department. Even more disconcerting, the White House has proposed eliminating the development assistance account, a USAID funding stream that prioritizes development outcomes where the need is greatest. Trump would instead divert a lesser amount to the economic support fund, a State Department-administered pot of money that prioritizes US political or strategic interests. If actualized, these changes would represent a seismic shift in US foreign assistance and would have devastating global consequences. Ambassador Green must fight to maintain the independence of USAID and ensure that funding for development is not guided solely by what benefits the United States.
3) Continue to align US development spending and priorities with the global agenda laid out in the SDGs. In 2015, 193 countries agreed to the SDGs, the most comprehensive and ambitious global development agenda ever. Like other members of the international community, the United States is responsible for fulfilling its obligations under this agreement, both within the country and globally as a donor—regardless of who is in power in Washington. Ambassador Green must place the SDGs at the center of his priorities at USAID—including Goal 3 on health and Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment. These two goals promise universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. As head of USAID, Ambassador Green must chart a course toward achieving all of the Goals, not just the ones that suit this Administration’s ideological preferences.
4) Embrace comprehensive solutions to complex challenges and continue to move toward holistic, whole-of-government approaches to improve the lives of women and girls globally. In recent years, the United States has made enormous strides in addressing the root causes of gender inequality, violence, and discrimination against women. The recent US Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls took an inclusive approach by looking at the full spectrum of challenges girls face and enlisting all arms of the US Government to address them. Efforts like this are essential to achieve gender equality. We urge Ambassador Green to embrace the Global Strategy and to seek integrated ways to promote the health and rights of women and girls around the world.
5) Refuse to allow ideology to supersede evidence-based interventions for women’s and girls’ health and human rights. From the beginning, the Trump Administration has taken aim at women’s access to health care, acting counter to scientific evidence and best practice. By putting in place the expanded Global Gag Rule and defunding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Trump Administration has erected ideologically-based barriers between women and necessary sexual and reproductive health services. These policies make it harder for qualified providers to offer comprehensive care to women and girls around the world, undermine US development objectives, harm health systems, and have devastating consequences on women and girls. If the United States is going to be a true leader in promoting sustainable development, Ambassador Green must pursue policies rooted in facts and evidence rather than those guided by political rhetoric, expediency, and ideology.
As he takes office, Ambassador Green faces immense challenges, both from within the Administration in which he serves and from crises around the world. However, at this critical time, the United States cannot afford to retreat from the international community or its global commitments to sustainable development, human rights, democracy, and justice. Ambassador Green should champion development spending and evidence-based policymaking, and he must ensure the United States supports the people and the programs where the need is greatest.