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The future of global women’s rights under Trump? ‘It could be devastating.’

The request from Donald Trump’s transition team set off alarm bells within the small world of groups that promote global women’s rights. 

Trump’s team wanted details about the US State Department’s spending on gender equality, and names of people whose primary function was to promote gender issues.

“It wasn’t a benign request,” said Ambassador Cathy Russell, head of the Office of Global Women’s Issues in Barack Obama’s State Department, whose office fielded the request. “They were looking for the family planning money and the LGBT programming and spending.”

She didn’t give them the information. Weeks later, President Trump signed an executive order cutting off US funding to global women’s health organizations worldwide if they counseled, referred or advocated for access to abortion.

Trump has also threatened to end funding for the UN and specifically the UN Population Fund, which provides contraceptives to tens of thousands of women in Africa and in some of the poorest regions of the globe. Some of his advisers have described US gender programs as “dangerous” and part of a “radical feminist agenda” that promotes prostitution, sexual promiscuity and breaks up families around the world.

All of this has rattled the tightly knit, yet influential world of women’s rights advocates in Washington, DC, many of whom worked closely with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state and considered her a champion of global women’s issues. Some among these groups accuse the current administration of showing little interest in advancing women’s rights — others fear something worse: a conspiracy-laden, anti-abortion-driven agenda to dismantle decades of work promoting women’s inclusion in national security, access to family planning and economic empowerment.

“Whoever the administration is talking to has a hobby horse and age-old commitments to oppose things like the rights of women,” says Melanne Verveer, former chief of staff to Hillary Clinton and a former head of the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. “It’s where that crowd comes from and they’ll flex their muscle now, but the degree to which, and the specifics of, I don’t know.”

On listservs and in planning meetings, women’s advocacy groups — most of whom have close ties to Clinton, are watching for any signs of who has the president’s ear. Internally, they’re strategizing over whether they should quietly work behind the scenes, or campaign openly in opposition to any threats to funding for women’s issues.

The ascension of global women’s issues

In the two decades since the UN’s 1995 Beijing conference for women, billions of public and private dollars have gone toward advocating for and advancing issues that affect women globally, as well as the inclusion of women in typically male-dominated sectors, like defense and national security.

Supporters say this effort is bipartisan, research-backed and that promoting women rights internationally has demonstrated effectiveness in increasing global stability, reducing poverty in developing nations and fueling economic growth. Many nations now recognize including women and advancing women’s rights as integral parts of their foreign policy, including Canada, the UK, Japan, Australia and the Scandinavian countries.

However, some of Trump’s advisers include representatives of right-wing, religious organizations with a deeply suspicious view of the ascension of global women’s issues.

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[Photo Credit: Abhishek Chinnappa/Reuters]
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