Trump team requests roster of gender equality programs: Is that unusual?

While some officials see nothing out of the ordinary in the incoming administration's request for a 'Flash Transition Tasker,' others are concerned that global programs for women may come under special scrutiny. 

Jacquelyn Martin/ AP/ File
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with participants in the 2011 African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), Oct. 3, 2011, at the State Department in Washington.

A recent request by the Trump team has concerned some State Department officials, who question whether programs to support women's education and empowerment could be deprioritized under the next administration. 

On Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team requested a full report on State Department programs aimed at promoting gender equality, as well as staff positions charged with executing these programs. The memo, issued by the State Department at the behest of the Mr. Trump's team and known as a “Flash Transition Tasker,” called for an accounting of “existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.,” according to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the memo.

The memo itself is innocuous, giving no indication of the Trump team’s policy intentions. But in light of a recent information request to the Energy Department, which sought information on employees involved with climate change issues – whose reality Trump has questioned – some State Department staff are now concerned about the future of gender equality programs around the world, The New York Times reports.

“The existing State Department programs have achieved great successes to advance education access for girls, protect women from trafficking, end child marriage, and combat gender-based violence,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) of New Hampshire, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said in a statement. “These are vital foreign policy programs that promote stability, peace and development around the world.”

The State Department has so far issued only three "Flash Transition Taskers," The Washington Post reports: one on counterterrorism, one on countering violent extremism, and this one on gender equality, possibly offering a preview of the next White House's priorities.

But others suggest that the request is nothing out of the ordinary.

“The kind of information that they are asking for is very much in keeping with what I’ve seen in at least the one previous presidential transition that I lived through when I was at the Pentagon,” the State Department press secretary, John Kirby, told reporters on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.

Though Trump has said little about gender policy, some expect the State Department could be supportive of gender issues under the next administration.

“I can’t believe any of this has been shared with the secretary-designate, because Exxon under Tillerson has been extremely supportive of women’s issues,” Melanne Verveer, the first ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, told The New York Times.

When women earn money, they tend to reinvest it in their families and communities, studies suggest, meaning that providing one woman with an education or access to capital for a business can lift many more people out of poverty. Completely closing the gender gap in the labor market worldwide could add as much as $28 trillion to global annual GDP, according to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

“Study after study demonstrates that countries are more stable, peaceful, and prosperous when women are healthy, educated, and able to fully participate in their economies and societies,” Catherine M. Russell, the ambassador-at-large who leads the State Department's Office of Global Women's Issues, said in May.

Hillary Clinton made gender equality a cornerstone of her tenure as secretary of State, creating the role of ambassador-at-large for global women's issues. John Kerry, the current secretary, has continued similar efforts. 

"We are here, all of us, every single one of us, because we believe fundamentally a core value of the Obama Administration – of the American people, I believe – that equitable treatment of women and girls is and always must be a core tenet of America’s global leadership," Mr. Kerry said in March, launching an initiative to support adolescent girls' education. "We're here because we recognize that gender bias and discrimination are not simply affronts to the individual dignity of women or a woman, but they are threats, ultimately, to the peace and the security of an entire community or country."

Michelle Obama, too, has been involved with women’s empowerment through education. The first lady has promoted the “Let Girls Learn” initiative, a program supported by the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, among others, which aims to get 62 million more girls in school worldwide.

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