Getting here was a challenge and on the day we landed, we took advantage of our limited free time to explore the city. But on Sunday, the real work began! All day long, we participated in interactive and engaging round table discussions with some of the world’s most engaged and passionate people on the issues that I believe are vital to the United States. It was a pre-curser to the rest of our week in KL.
We are here to participate in the 2013 Women Deliver Global Conference. This is third international conference of its kind intended to bring world leaders and experts in the field together to discuss one aspect of our foreign assistance agenda. The Women Deliver conference builds on commitments, partnerships, and networks mobilized at the groundbreaking Women Deliver conferences in 2007 and 2010, fighting to end the deluge of preventable deaths that kill approximately 287,000 girls and women from pregnancy-related causes every year.
Many people back home wonder why the United States is engaged in funding activities like global health concerns and sometimes its hard to explain. But when you’re in a place like this, surrounded by people who address these concerns daily, it’s more than clear why.
Despite the fact that many people view foreign assistance as unnecessary – particularly in austere budgetary climates – I would argue that drastically reducing foreign assistance is not the answer to balancing the budget, nor is it our best interest as a nation.
To help frame the discussion, its important to note that sixty percent of people questioned in a CNN/ORC poll conducted early in 2012 said they’d like to put foreign aid on the budget chopping block; however, at the same time, the public grossly overestimated how much the U.S. is spending on foreign aid. Americans estimate that foreign aid takes up 10% of the federal budget, and one in five think it represents about 30% of the money the government spends. The reality is, it amounts to less than one percent of our budget and I contend, it may be one of the most important annual expenditures and investments we make.
We are a nation blessed with an abundance of wealth and opportunity and I firmly believe that we have a moral responsibility to invest in the world around us. For one percent of total federal spending, the United States is able to respond to humanitarian needs, promote a more secure world, help those most in need around the world, and spur economic development to improve people’s lives. But just as important as our moral responsibility in this arena is the fact that these precious taxpayer resources are an investment in America’s long-term national security.
No matter your political persuasion, it is a fact that the money we spend on global health and development is a cost effective investment. The threat of terrorism and extremism are two of this generation’s greatest challenges. Families all around the world want the same thing. A happy, healthy family, one that promotes and stabilizes the family unit, that leads to a strong village filled with hope and optimism for tomorrow, which leads to stable governments, stronger economies, more friends abroad, and ultimately, a peaceful world.
While it might sound naive, it is the truth….promoting peace and stability through effective foreign assistance ultimately means the promotion of healthy societies, which are often the best defense against extremism and protects our overall national security interests.
Today’s briefings and discussions focused more pointedly on women’s health and we had robust discussions with numerous groups working on the ground. We heard from advocates like Mandy Moore and Barbara Bush, plus numerous experts from the field. Funding programs that improve the health and lives of girls and women in the developing world is a smart investment for the United States. Every year of schooling for a girl increases her future earning potential between 10-20 percent. Simply ensuring skilled care during a delivery would reduce maternal deaths by 74%.
Women are important contributors to the global economy. They make up 40% of the global labor force and more than 60% of the workers in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. When women thrive, families flourish, communities do well, and nations grow.
The math is rather simple, investing in women pays dividends. I am looking forward to meeting experts from the field over the next few days and the dynamic conversations that will follow!