Policy Activity in the Office of Global Women’s Issues, US Department of State 1995-2015

June 27, 2016

Richard C. Eichenberg, Tufts University

Elizabeth Robinson (Tufts 2015)

with the assistance of

Lily Hartzell (Tufts 2018)

Lara LoBrutto (Tufts 2017)

First in a series of posts

Update 7/12/2016: codebook now available


In August 1995, President William Clinton established the President’s Interagency Council on Women and declared:  “We are putting our efforts to protect and advance women’s rights where they belong–in the mainstream of American foreign policy.”  In January 2013, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential memorandum on the “Coordination of Policies and Programs to Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women and Girls Globally.”  The memorandum directed the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to establish an inter-agency working group to coordinate government-wide implementation of policies to promote gender equality and advance the status of women and girls internationally.

There has been some scholarly attention to the subject. Karen Garner chronicled the origins and development of the policy in the Clinton administration and analyzed the role of important political figures in the pursuit of gender equality.  More recently, Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl traced the evolution of the policy through the Obama years and offered critical analysis of its implementation.  Helen Laville reviewed critical perspectives on the role of women’s rights in American policy since 1945.

Nonetheless, questions remain about the priority that is placed on the pursuit of women’s rights in foreign policy.  Has declaratory policy actually led to increased policy activity?  In what policy areas?  Is the policy focused on specific countries or regions? Which presidents and secretaries of state have been most active in the pursuit of global gender equality, and on which policy problems do they focus?

In this and subsequent posts, we describe a new data set that documents the volume of policy activity announced by the bureaucratic organization that is most responsible for the pursuit of gender equality in US foreign policy: the Office of Global Women’s Issues in the US Department of State (OGWI –the name has varied over the years). In this first post, we provide a brief description of the procedures that we employed to collect the data and an overview of the number of policy actions in the years 1995-2015.  Subsequent posts will focus on the apparent priority placed on gender equality by different secretaries of state; the programmatic focus of policy; and the regional focus of policy actions. (A separate data collection on gender equality actions in USAID is underway)


Measuring Policy Activity

We define policy activity as any policy action that is publicly announced or otherwise reproduced on the OGWI website. These actions appear on the main webpage of the Office of Global Women’s Issues (on the “Releases” link on the left sidebar), which further links to the following two categories: “Remarks, Testimony” and “Other Releases.”  (A list of links for all actions since 1995 are reproduced in a Codebook that we will eventually distribute with project materials).

Within the two categories above, we counted any occurrence of the following types of actions: a government official speaking in public; all remarks, testimony, speeches, round table discussions, interviews, and public appearance; and all press releases, reports, fact sheets, newsletters, op-eds, legislation, and blog posts.

Two examples illustrate the sorts of “action” that we count.   In June of 2008, First Lady Laura Bush traveled to Afghanistan to meet with a variety of women’s groups and to announce several grants to support universities and literacy programs.  More recently, in March 2016 Secretary of State Kerry announced a $47 million initiative for a Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.

We do not claim that this measure of the policy output of one office provides a comprehensive picture of the government’s commitment to women’s rights in foreign policy. That will require a fuller study of the budgetary resources and personnel that are committed to the policy, together with a qualitative assessment of the depth and persistence with which the policy is pursued. A full picture would also include a study of legislative actions, such as the Women’s Peace and Security Act, which is now making its way through both houses of the US Congress.

Nonetheless, the OGWI is the US government’s primary implementing office in the pursuit of global women’s rights, and we believe that a description of the volume of its policy activity and its programmatic and geographic priorities represents an important tool for tracing the evolution of an important foreign policy priority.


Overview: Total Policy Actions, 1995-2015

The graphic below displays the number of policy actions announced by the OGWI in each year since 1995.  Three features of the data stand out. First,  the priority of women’s rights in American foreign policy has indeed grown.  In the last two years of President Clinton’s first term, a total of 12 policy actions were announced.  In the last two years of President Obama’s first term, at least one policy action was announced every two to three days (151 actions in 2011).  Although there was a decline after 2012 in the volume of policy activity, in 2015 the number of actions was nonetheless higher than in any year prior to the Obama administration.










Second, there are two identifiable spurts in policy activity:  during the middle years of the Bush presidency (2002-2006) and most prominently during the first term of the Obama presidency (especially 2010-2012).  In the case of the former, the spike in activity occurs during the most intense years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In a future post, we will explore the extent to which policy activity was in fact focused on those two countries.  In the case of the increase during Obama’s first term, it is of course possible that policy activity was simply following the President’s own priorities, but that explanation falters in light of the substantial decline in activity that occurred after 2012. It therefore seems equally plausible that the peak of policy activity during the first Obama term was due to the personal interest and priorities of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had been the first honorary chair of the President’s Interagency Council on Women before giving her famous 1995 speech to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.  In a future post, we will explore the extent to which each Secretary of State was personally associated with the policy actions announced during their tenure.

Third, although policy activity does grow incrementally, there are also periods of decline, specifically at the end of the second Bush term and the end of the first Obama term.  In each case, the likely explanation is a pressing competing priority on the agenda of the Secretary of State (the Iraq surge under Secretary Condoleeza Rice and the negotiations with Israel, Palestinians, and Iran undertaken by Secretary of State Kerry).  Nonetheless, each decline is followed by a period of increase, which suggests that women’s rights have become an institutionalized priority in American foreign policy.


Technical Note

Because of the large spike in policy activity during the tenure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the political interest that surrounds her candidacy for president, we invested additional effort to double-check the accuracy of our data for the period of her tenure as Secretary and the period following her tenure.  The data through 2012 were originally collected by Coder 1.  To double-check her work, two additional coders replicated the data collection for the period 2009-2015.  For the period of overlap (2009-2012), the number of policy actions recorded by Coder 1 and Coder 3 were nearly identical, but Coder 2 counted fewer actions in two years (22 fewer in 2011 and 17 fewer in 2012).  For the period 2013-2015, Coders 2 and 3 were nearly identical in their counts.  We chose a conservative method for reconciling the two years of difference during 2011 and 2012 and all other years of overlap: we averaged the number of policy actions recorded by the three coders.  This method has the effect of slightly lowering the totals for these two years in particular.  For other years, as noted, the counts for all three coders are nearly identical so that averaging has little impact.



Europeans’ Support for Defense Spending is Higher Than Any Time in the Last Fifteen Years

June 15, 2016

A recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project observes that a lack of support for increased defense spending suggests that Europe is “reluctant to support the use of hard power.”

“Only in Poland (52%), which spends 2.2% of its GDP on the military, and the Netherlands (49%), which spends 1.2%, does roughly half the public support increasing outlays on national defense. Despite commitments by their governments to boost military spending, around half the public in France (52%) and Spain (52%) want to keep defense spending the same as it is today, as does a plurality in Germany and Greece (both 47%). A third of the public in Spain (33%) and about a quarter in Italy (23%) favors cutting military outlays.”

I believe that these percentages substantially underestimate Europeans’ support for defense spending.  Most scholars of defense spending focus not on a single percentage favoring increases or decreases, but rather on the balance of opinion between these two categories (the signal work is by Christopher Wlezien).  After all, for elected leaders, the important political question is whether constituents want more or less defense. Further, most scholars tend to ignore the response category that says spending should “remain the same” or that it is “about right.”  Some citizens may feel this way, but many choose this neutral option because their opinion is not intensely felt one way or the other.  In other words, “keep the same” is not as politically relevant as the percentage of citizens who actually want an increase or a decrease.  Further, most politicians will want to know if and how opinion is changing.

I address both of these issues in this post.  First, I recalculated support for defense spending in the Pew survey using a simple formula for the balance of opinion that wants an increase or a decrease in the defense.  This measure –net support–  divides the percentage who want an increase by the total percentage who favor an increase or a decrease (% favor increase / %favor increase+% favor decrease).  Put simply, this measure summarizes support for increasing defense spending as a percentage of the total who want a change in spending.  Second, using surveys conducted by the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends project, I compare this year’s findings from the Pew Survey to earlier years.

The results for four countries are shown in the graphic below.  Clearly, this measure of support for defense spending is higher in the three European countries than it has been since 2002 (in France and Germany considerably so).  Were I simply to show the percentage who favor an increase, the trend would be exactly the same. Paradoxically, support for defense spending is lowest in the US in 2016.















The same increase in support for defense since 2002 is evident in the other countries sampled by Pew, but showing them all would take considerable space.  Instead, in the graph below, I summarize net support for increased defense spending in 2016 compared to the average net support from 2002 through 2012.  The increase in support over the last fourteen years is considerable in all but Spain. Before 2016, support for increased spending was a majority in only two countries, the UK and Poland.  In 2016, it is a majority in all but Spain. In France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, the increase over the recent average is particularly large.












To summarize: I have argued that net support for defense spending is a preferable measure of citizen preference because it summarizes the balance of opinion between those who want increases and those who want cuts, which I argue is a more politically relevant measure.  Second, by comparing the recent Pew question on support for defense spending to past surveys, we see that citizens are more receptive to increases in defense than at any time in the last fourteen years. Whether this means that Europeans are reluctant to embrace “hard power” is a different question, but for the moment lack of support for defense spending is not a source of that reluctance.

Full disclosure: I served as an academic adviser to the GMFUS Transatlantic Trends project from 2004-2014; the views expressed here are my own.