Trump's war on women

Op-ed: It is imperative that the Trump administration not normalize gender inequity.

President Donald Trump is waging a war against women. In his first week in office, Mr. Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City policy), which threatens to leave many women without access to sexual and reproductive health services in low and middle-income countries. The new administration has also proposed a plan to drastically cut funding to a number of federal agencies, including defunding the 25 grant programs under the Violence Against Women Act. These programs offer essential services to survivors of gender-based violence in the United States.

Such actions send a message that the Trump administration does not value the lives of women domestically or abroad, and they raise concerns about cuts to other programs that promote the health and human rights of women globally. Indeed, in December, Mr. Trump's transition team asked the State Department for a list of all "gender-related staffing, programming, and funding," including information on existing programs that "promote gender equality," sparking fear about future programming and funding streams that promote gender equity.

Unfortunately, many societies are marked by gender inequity, the process by which resources and decision-making power are unfairly distributed between men and women. Women around the world often have unequal access to education, health care, income-earning opportunities, decision-making in the household and communities, and leadership positions, as compared to men. Additional forms of marginalization based on race/ethnicity, class, education, age, religion, sexuality, and other social positions exacerbate this.

Gender equity is not solely a women's issue, however. It is a public health issue and a basic human rights issue that has wide-reaching implications. For example, gender inequity is associated with increased risk for HIV infection, unintended pregnancies and maternal mortality among women and girls. These disparities are thought to arise from women's limited decision-making power in relationships, which prevents them from practicing safe sex, utilizing contraceptive methods and seeking preventative health care services like maternal and prenatal care. Gender inequity is also a driver of gender-based violence, which is associated with negative health outcomes including chronic disease, mental illness and death, just to name a few.

These trends have lasting impacts not only for women's health, but also for the health of women's families. A recent study using data from 138 countries showed that child mortality is higher in countries where gender inequity is higher.

Programs that thoughtfully promote gender equitable norms and practices have demonstrated success in improving these health outcomes for women and their families. They've reduced gender-based violence and HIV risk, improved children's nutritional outcomes, and lowered maternal and neonatal mortality. These programs also improve household economics and the livelihoods of families, as research has proven that women are more likely than men to save the money they earn and spend it in ways that benefit their families.

Gender inequity is not just an issue abroad. It is rampant in the United States; the absence of paid maternity leave, lack of representation of women in government, and wage differentials are powerful reminders of that. This inequity has demonstrated implications for the health and wellbeing of Americans. About one in every three women in the United States has experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. As in other countries, survivors of violence in the United States experience poor physical and mental health outcomes.

Gender equity must remain a priority for the United States government. Improving women's social positions and addressing power inequalities have profound implications for not only the health and wellbeing of women, but for communities and societies. America's voice is heard around the world, and it is imperative that the Trump administration not normalize gender inequity. Amid the many other calls to action that are being made in opposition to the draconian policies of the new administration, gender programming is a key funding item that Americans must fight for.

Anna M. Leddy (aleddy3@jhu.edu) and Zoé M. Hendrickson (zhendri1@jhu.edu) are PhD candidates at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their research focuses on the intersection between gender equity and public health.

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