Show Me Your Budget: The President’s Foreign Aid Request and Women, Peace, and Security

   •    July 29, 2013

In the letter to Congress accompanying the State Dept.’s first budget request under his leadership, Sec. John Kerry quoted Vice President Joseph Biden: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Inclusive Security celebrated the 2011 launch of the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (US NAP) as a major leap forward. At the same time, we wondered whether the Obama Administration would ultimately seek sufficient funding to support the plan’s vigorous implementation at all levels, from the interagency in DC to the US Mission in Monrovia.

With the release of its Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations (CBJ) for FY 2014, State has provided the most comprehensive insight into its thinking and values vis-à-vis women, peace, and security since the US NAP’s release.So, what exactly does the CBJ show us?

The Good: More Money for Women, Peace, and Security

The CBJ—a 600-page tome accompanying State’s annual budget request that provides detailed justifications for the expenditure of taxpayer dollars—demonstrates that the Administration is heading in the right direction.

The overwhelmingly positive news is that State intends to put $25 million under the direct authority of the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI). Critics will charge that $25 million is “peanuts” compared to peace and security assistance as a whole. Nonetheless, it’s a dramatic, overdue bump in funding that has the potential to enhance the office’s intradepartmental clout and its ability to affect foreign assistance programming in fragile states like Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

If Congress fully appropriates the amounts requested, S/GWI will direct three distinct funding streams:

  • $15 million for a Full Participation Fund to incentivize “innovative” initiatives that instigate implementation of the Policy Guidance on Promoting Gender Equality to Achieve our National Security and Foreign Policy Objectives issued by Sec. Hillary Clinton in February 2012
  • $5 million to support US NAP commitments through small grants to women-led civil society groups actively working to mitigate conflict, stabilize regions, or steer political transitions
  • $5 million to improve the capacity of US diplomats to advance women’s inclusion and protection through their respective assignments

The CBJ also indicates that USAID is pursuing $20 million through this year’s appropriations process to reinforce its revamped Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy.

In total, that’s $45 million dedicated to implementing a suite of national policies—including the US NAP—designed, in one way or another, to tap into women’s leadership in halting deadly conflict. Interestingly, this figure approximates the $50 million in the Senate version of last year’s Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, which should now be seen as a “trial balloon” paving the way for this substantial increase in funds for gender-based strategies.

In addition to $45 million for S/GWI and USAID, the CBJ details reforms to State and USAID’s strategic planning and budgeting processes that bode well for effective implementation of the US NAP. Most encouragingly, the Administration added a new Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) attribution. For the coming fiscal year, the CBJ reports that $154 million in foreign aid is tagged with the WPS attribution, amounting to slightly less than 13 percent of the $1.2 billion requested for gender-related programming.

The attribution is significant. For example, when the US Embassy in Juba wants to support a program to strengthen the negotiation and mediation skills of South Sudanese women participating in talks between the Sudanese and South Sudanese governments, they’ll have the option of “tagging” that initiative with the WPS attribution as an activity that ties directly to US NAP obligations. In this way, attributions provide an invaluable baseline for evaluating whether missions are truly carrying out policies—including the US NAP—and directives from Washington.

The Bad: Inclusion and Transparency Aren’t Priorities

As this is the first budget planning cycle with the WPS attribution, a sweeping analysis of trends isn’t fully possible. However, some issues are troubling.

For starters, the vast majority of gender-related dollars come from social and economic assistance accounts rather than traditional security accounts. Consider the International Military and Education Training (IMET) account, which funds professional training at US military schools for foreign military personnel: the Administration requested only $90,000 through IMET to increase women’s inclusion in these programs and only for participants from Nepal. Similarly, nearly $50 million from the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) account is slated to address gender. Yet program descriptions in the CBJ’s Regional Perspectives annex emphasize women’s protection (e.g., from trafficking in Tajikistan), but not US NAP promises to advance women’s inclusion in security forces or raise awareness of women’s operational value add.

Second, the WPS attribution is the only one of four gender-based attributions reported in the CBJ for which a country-level funding table isn’t provided. The lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess whether the $154 million is concentrated in a handful of frontline states (e.g., Afghanistan and Pakistan) or spread more broadly. If the former is the case, then the overall level of funding attributed to WPS is far less impressive, particularly since it’s likely to decline as the US adjusts its posture in South Asia.

Last, without more information, we can’t utilize the eyes and ears of women on the frontlines who are best positioned to monitor and report on the impact of US foreign aid.

Throughout the CBJ, the Administration highlights women’s roles in advancing US foreign policy and national security interests. Yet greater budgetary transparency is needed to gain a complete picture of the US NAP’s influence on foreign assistance and determine where women’s contributions are being leveraged in pursuit of sustainable peace and security. As the Vice President knows, when it comes to what the US truly values, the annual budget will continue to tell the tale.

Through July 24, Travis Wheeler was a Senior Policy Adviser at Inclusive Security Action, where he shaped advocacy, analysis, and technical assistance to advance implementation of the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.

Inclusive Security Action partners with The Institute for Inclusive Security to increase the participation of all stakeholders—particularly women—in preventing, resolving, and rebuilding after deadly conflict.

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