11/01/2011 02:24 pm ET Updated Jan 01, 2012

Foreign Development and its Impact on Women

Growing up, I heard countless stories of my grandfather's service in WWII. I will never forget how my grandpa's face would light up when he reminisced about he and "the boys" aboard the USS Bogue. I loved seeing my grandfather that happy, so one day I asked him why he enjoyed being in the Navy so much. He said that he was proud to serve in the Navy because he knew that America was willing to take risks to stand up for what is right and that the work he did "meant something" in that fight. Consequently, I developed great respect for the men and women who served our country in order to keep it safe.

I learned that those American values of our Greatest Generation took the form not just of military action, but also investment in international development. American military and governmental leaders knew that it was not enough to win the war; we also needed to invest in rebuilding Europe and Japan. Today, we can count them among our strongest allies as a result of our commitment to valuing goodness as well as strength during one of the most difficult times in our nation's history. Additionally, women entered the workforce, forever changing the notion of "a woman's place" and empowering women to challenge traditional roles in society.

Now, we face new challenges. Our sputtering economy has Americans anxious about the future as well as our changing role on the international stage, even as countries like China and Brazil continue to grow. Additionally, women around the world are widely excluded from economies, causing women to be 70 percent of the world's poor. Globally, one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. And according to WHO, 20 percent of women and 5-10 percent of men report being victims of sexual violence as children. Poverty, violence, and disease disproportionately plague women and create increased social & political instability.

Amidst all of this uncertainty, I think about the America my grandpa told me stories about and how we can return to our place of strong leadership on a global scale. We must learn from the lessons of our grandparents to make the world safe for democracy, which requires much more than military action alone. In order to maintain our strength in leadership as well as keep America safe, we must follow the example of our greatest successes by investing in international development.

We can fight pandemic disease; uncover and eliminate human trafficking and aid countries in tracking extremists within their borders. According to the Center for Health & Gender Equity (CHANGE), HIV is the leading cause of death & disease in women of reproductive age worldwide. The United Nations Global Compact reports that 161 countries are affected by human trafficking as a source, transit, or destination count. Development offers a new arsenal of tools to defeat potential threats to our national security. Ultimately, we can protect human rights and create increased international stability through the employment of foreign development programs.

On October 23, 2011, the President recommitted America to "our close cooperation with our international partners and the UN Support Mission in Libya to help advance a stable, democratic transition." Secretary Gates & General Petraeus have both supported funding increases to foreign development and the State Department, as well as championed increased support to international development. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has consistently been a tremendous leader and advocate for development, fighting to keep America secure. In addition to keeping a focus on the strength that development demonstrates on behalf of the US, Secretary Clinton has heightened our awareness of how development can significantly & exponentially effect women and girls all over the world. Our nation's security leaders understand the lessons of our grandparents, the lessons that conservatives refuse to learn: investment in international development makes America safer and stronger while protecting the world's most at-risk populations.

Last week in Tunisia, we saw how political organizing promoted democratic values, which in turn supported free elections and the possibility for eventual regional stability. This stability will offer security not just to the Tunisian people, but to the region and the entire international community. However, despite these signs of positive change, women still fear that new Islamist leadership could reverse the advances they have gained. The Arab Spring offers the possibility of similar outcomes for Libya, Egypt, and many other countries, which in turn would make our world a safer place. Thus, we must remain fully invested in the creation of societies that share our values of security and freedom for all people. By protecting vulnerable populations while also investing in our national security, the United States has an opportunity to be a strong and principled international leader once again.

Currently, development programs amount to less than one percent of our federal budget and save us additional billions of dollars by preventing future conflicts. International development is a smart investment. But in order to balance the budget, Congress is considering cuts to international development, allowing our national security and the fate of millions of women & girls to hang in the balance. To face 21st century threats, the United States needs 21st century solutions. The Truman National Security Project has launched the Make US Strong campaign to bring together national security professionals who are sending a clear message to Congress: eliminating foreign development is a national security threat we cannot afford.

As a Truman National Security Project Partner, I joined the Make US Strong campaign because I wanted to take action that "means something" for our national security as well as protect women & girls worldwide. Please join us and let your voice be one more tool we can implement to protect foreign development. Our national security -- as well as the destiny of the world's women and girls -- depends on it.