International Women’s Day Must Be an Everyday Commitment

Empowering Girls Today Leads to Stronger Communities Tomorrow

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have written legislation to direct U.S foreign policy priorities, questioned the most influential individuals in our national security structures and traveled the world to promote U.S. democratic values and reaffirm our commitment to our allies. I take my position on this committee very seriously, and as the only woman — Democrat or Republican — I take great pride in ensuring women’s voices are not only heard, but that their rights and issues impacting them and their families remain U.S. policy priorities at home and abroad. But it should not have to be that way. In 2021, breaking down gender barriers that affect the health, education, economic success and overall well-being of women around the world still often hinges on other women taking a stand to be sure fifty percent of the population is not forgotten.

Senator Shaheen meets with the Afghan all-girl robotics team in 2017.

International Women’s Day is a reminder to reflect on the progress we have made as a society in support of women’s rights and achievements and to recommit to finishing the work that remains. This year, I encourage those honoring this day to make that commitment every day because the barriers that affect women do not exist in silos, and the responsibility to confront them should not be designated to one day nor the moral obligation to act on them be constrained to one gender. I serve on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees where I have led efforts on a variety of foreign policy priorities, from holding Russia accountable for its aggression against the United States to reaffirming U.S. commitment to the transatlantic alliance to securing the freedom of Americans unjustly detained around the world and much more. I am in good company with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to raise these policy priorities and make them front and center concerns, as they should be. But when it comes to issues primarily affecting women and girls around the world, the voices we need to help bolster action seem to fall silent.

Senator Shaheen with RoyaRahmani, the first woman to serve as the Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. in 2019.

Tearing down gender barriers and promoting policies that empower women and girls around the world is more than just a moral obligation — it makes a difference in their lives and the vitality of their communities, and changes the outlook for their societies. I partnered with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to pass the Women, Peace and Security Act, which was signed into law in 2017, to bolster the role of women in peace negotiations and conflict resolution around the world. We wrote this bill not only because securing women’s inclusion during negotiations is the right thing to do, but because the data is very clear: when women are at the table, an agreement is more likely to succeed in the long term. In fact, agreements are 35 percent more likely to last 15 years or more when women are involved. The same sentiment is true when we talk about investing in education for women and girls around the world, which is why I authored the Keeping Girls in School Act with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to confront the obstacles impeding adolescent girls in developing nations from accessing quality education. When girls are educated and empowered, we see the ripple effect in the development of their communities and success of their economies. And it is why I have worked with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), as well as Senator Murkowski, to lead legislation in the Senate that would permanently put a stop to the harmful Global Gag Rule that for too long has interrupted or denied access to comprehensive family planning for women and their families in our most vulnerable corners of the world. Investing in the health, education and empowerment of women and girls breaks down barriers for these populations directly, but also indirectly raises up their families and communities.

“Women’s issues” are not just women’s issues, and they should be treated and addressed with the same urgency as other policy priorities. I’m proud to have partnered with a number of lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives who share this belief, and I know our work together is far from over. But as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I hope there is meaningful reflection on the critical work that is needed to confront the issues affecting women and families around the world, and that the passion felt in honoring and working to empower women today is felt tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after.

I am currently serving in the United States Senate and am proud to serve the people of New Hampshire.