By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. | December 20, 2018 (C-Fam)
Pro-life groups are deeply disappointed in a new law aimed at helping women enter the marketplace that will likely prevent USAID from working with faith-based groups unless they violate their conscience in order to partner with the U.S. government.
The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act (S. 3247) passed last night as part of the U.S. Congress’s end-of-year spending bill. The purpose of the law is to reduce disparities in economic participation between men and women. It aims at going beyond micro-finance schemes to expand small- and medium-sized businesses.
Social conservatives were alarmed when they discovered that an entire section of the law about “gender” does not deal with specifically with women’s economic opportunity, but rather codifies core elements of Obama-era gender policies at the U.S. Administration for Aid and Development (USAID).
The law will mandate that USAID perform “gender analysis” and “gender integration” in USAID policy planning and implementation. It will give USAID gender specialists the authority not just to “analyze” the impact of USAID policy, but also to impose requirements on USAID partners to ensure gender equality. The two requirements were first adopted by the Obama administration, and become permanent statutory requirements when the President enacts the WEEE Act into law.
The mandates of “gender analysis” and “gender integration” are already used to require USAID grantees to comply with requirements relating to “reproductive health” and discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Current USAID gender analysis, even under the Trump administration, identifies restrictive abortion laws in countries such as Guatemala and Mexico as obstacles to women’s equality. The analysis furthermore requires organizations to use funding and programming meant for women and direct it to men who identify as homosexual or transgender.
When the Trump administration took office, C-Fam, publisher of the Friday Fax, and other faith-based groups, expressed concern about the unfairness of USAID gender policies toward people of faith.
Attempts at revising the policies to align them with Trump administration priorities were not carried to completion and so they do not contain conscience protections.
Faith-based groups alerted the bill’s sponsors in the U.S. Congress about the problematic policies, urging them to insert pro-life protections and define gender as referring to men and women only, or else remove the problematic gender policies. Senators Lankford (R-OK) and Lee (R-UT) put holds on the legislation, appealing to Senate leadership not to attach it to the spending bill, but rather to give Senators time to thoroughly review USAID policies to ensure protections for faith-based groups.
White House advisor Ivanka Trump announced her support for the bill and White House staff lobbied Senators to improve the bill. When that failed, they encouraged Senators to pass it in its current form. During the drafting process, representatives from USAID had assured Senate staff that they should not worry about gender analysis.
The administration has told faith-based groups that their concerns would be addressed in a presidential memo, called a signing statement, issued when the bill becomes law. The statement does not affect the law’s statutory requirements but indicates the way the current administration will apply them. Senior staff also said the White House would work to get USAID gender policies into alignment with Trump administration priorities in the area of religious freedom, human life and the family.