The Slatest

Trump Transition Wants Info on State Department Women’s Programs. What Could Go Wrong?

Woman rally as part of a nationwide protest against President-elect Donald Trump outside of Trump Tower on December 12, 2016 in New York.


Well, this is horrifying.

Donald Trump’s transition team asked on Wednesday for the State Department to hand over all information regarding “gender-related staffing, programming, and funding,” according to a report in the Washington Post.

It’s unclear why Trump’s team would specifically want information about the department’s bipartisan supported international efforts to promote women’s equality and prevent violence against women. Perhaps the incoming administration wants to bolster these programs. Or perhaps it is looking to cut them. Considering the team’s similar recent request of the Energy Department surrounding climate change officials, it should be incredibly worrying to say the least.


The notice from the Trump transition team, as reported by the Post, demanded that all information about programs that “promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.” be handed over by Wednesday. The request asked that the information provided “should note positions whose primary functions are to promote such issues.”


As the Post’s Josh Rogin noted, the Trump transition team faced pushback last week after it asked the Energy Department for names of officials who worked on the Paris climate accord, a request the department refused. The transition team eventually said the request had not come from its leadership.

More from Rogin:

The Trump transition team did authorize Wednesday’s request and the State Department did fulfill it, three State Department officials told me, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. One senior State Department official said that because the Trump team’s request did not ask for names, only positions of staffers who work on gender and women’s issues, the State Department felt compelled to cooperate.


“It’s not clear to us what the intent is behind this request,” the official said. “The Trump team could be looking to advance gender issues and make it a priority — or you could look at it as a witch hunt.”

Despite that ambiguity, fears spread quickly Wednesday throughout State Department headquarters that the incoming Trump administration might use this information to single out both political appointees and career officials who worked on these programs.

“These types of requests send a cold chill through the Department and career diplomats dedicated to their work and service to the country,” a different State Department official told me. “It’s devastating to morale.”


The programs in question seemed to be previously uncontroversial, focusing in part on responding to gender-based violence like female genital mutilation, child marriage, and gender-biased sex selection. Under Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, Trump’s former presidential opponent prioritized these sorts of issues. Current Secretary of State John Kerry has continued that position, having announced in March a strategy for combating gender-based human rights violations like forced marriage, genital cutting, sexual violence, and denial of access to education.


These efforts appeared to be bipartisan. From the Post:

The House voted unanimously to pass the Women, Peace and Security Act just last month, which was meant to make the State Department’s initiative permanent.

“Transition officials need to explain, immediately, why this alarming demand was made,” Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Post. “It’s troubling that the Trump transition team seems to be singling out this issue and those who work on it.”

Trump’s transition did not respond to Rogin’s request for comment. Slate has also issued a request, to which we have not yet received a response.

During the campaign, Trump was accused by a series of women of sexual assault and misconduct. A tape was also released of the now-president elect having boasted about his ability to grab women “by the pussy” without consequence in an apparent admission of sexual assault, which Trump disclaimed as “locker room talk.” On the campaign trail he said that if a woman has an abortion she should face punishment, and since winning the election he has restated his desire to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the right to have an abortion.


According to the State Department, one in three women worldwide experiences gender-based violence. “According to UN Women, violence against women causes more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44, than do cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war combined,” the department has noted.

Update, 5:00 p.m.: New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the highest ranking woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has released the following statement on the Trump transition team’s request:

In light of previous requests made by the Trump transition team, today’s report that the incoming administration is requesting all information related to State Department programs that promote gender equality is concerning and the transition team should clarify their intent. Women and girls’ equality is transformative for communities and economies, and 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. These are vital foreign policy programs that promote stability, peace and development around the world. I pledge to work with the incoming Administration to advance policies that support and protect women and girls worldwide, but I can promise that if the next administration intends to roll back programs designed to lift women up, it will very quickly meet stiff opposition in the Senate.