The League’s History

The League’s work on development issues began in the 1920s, when members studied the economic and social work of various international organizations. In 1940, the League studied proposals for closer economic and cultural relations between the United States and other American republics, including possible financial and technical cooperation. After World War II, the League supported the implementation of the Marshall Plan and President Truman’s Point Four technical assistance program as part of its commitment to international efforts to support the poor and emerging nations of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The League’s position on Development Assistance evolved through two restudies in 1964 and 1970. The latter reiterated the need for separating development from military aid. The League supported the “basic needs” approach mandated by Congress in 1973 and adopted by the Agency for International Development (AID).

In the 1980s, the League’s Development Assistance position was revised to reflect the results of the study of U.S. Relations with Developing Countries. Members reviewed current trends in trade, development assistance and the United Nations. They also examined U.S. commitments to developing countries, criteria for evaluating development and military assistance and the role of U.S.-Soviet relations in determining U.S. policies toward developing countries.

The resulting 1986 position emphasizes development assistance over military assistance as the most effective means of meeting the long-term social and economic needs of developing countries and downplays the role of international competition in determining U.S. policies toward developing countries. In 1986, the League urged Congress to reject aid that included military assistance to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries (“contras”) and address the region’s long-term social and economic needs. In 1987, the League pressured Congress to increase development and humanitarian aid in the foreign aid budget.

In the 1990s, the LWVEF began a series of global outreach projects which led to the current Global Democracy Program. “Thinking Globally” was designed to educate Americans about the links between their communities and the developing world.

Outreach in Europe in the 1990s led to the “Global Community Dialogue” program in 1992 with the “Building Political Participation in Poland” initiative and subsequent citizen exchange projects to share grassroots skills with citizens in Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, the American Republics and Africa.

In 1996, the LWVEF opened a U.S. coordination office for absentee voting in the post-war elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In an unprecedented effort to enfranchise Bosnian refugees and displaced persons residing in 55 countries for elections in 1996, 1997 and 1998, the League worked with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the “Bosnian Citizen Get-Out-the-Vote Campaign.” The LWVEF formed a partnership with the League of Women Voters in Bosnia and Herzegovina to help women take an effective role in the post-war reconstruction process.

Since 2005, the League has participated in The Open World Leadership Center’s Civic Hosting Program, first introducing Russian leaders to U.S. democracy and subsequently hosting visitors from Ukraine and Central Asia.

Outreach in Africa started in the late 1990s when the LWVEF joined Civitas Africa to share methodologies, tools and experiences with civic education groups. A citizen exchange program in Sub-Saharan Africa with grassroots organizations and activists, “Woman Power in Politics: Building Grassroots Democracy in Africa,” was initiated with League members traveling to Africa as co-trainers in democracy-building skills until 2002. The League also worked with four nongovernmental organizations in Malawi to train thousands of poll monitors as civil society observers on Election Day 2004. It joined with the National Council of Women of Kenya to sponsor “Kenyans Working Together for Good Governance: Civil Society, Government and Members of Parliament” in 2006, including an exchange program between Kenyan citizens and League staff

Outreach in the Americas began with “Making Democracy Work in the Americas,” at the Vital Voices of the Americas conference in 1998, followed by the League hosting women civic leaders and officials from Latin America in 1999.

In the 2000s, the League completed a successful program in Brazil called “Women in Political Leadership,” was invited by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to join a team of International Election Observers for Paraguayan elections, sponsored “Women in the Americas: Paths to Political Power,” and participated in a State Department sponsored exchange “Connecting Civil Society and Future Legislators from Colombia and Brazil.”

The League continued its efforts to work with women around the world in 2010-2012.  During this period the League attended an international conference in La Havana, Cuba, organized by the Gender Department of the University of La Havana titled "Women in the XXI Century." The League also accepted invitations to work with women in democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa; in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in Africa; in Dhaka, Bangladesh in South Asia; and in Belgrade, Serbia in Southeast Europe.

In early 2012 citing the League’s outstanding record of nonpartisanship in advocating and promoting informed political participation in government, the U.S. Government selected the League to serve as its nongovernmental partner in the 2012 G8 Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA). 

The year-long initiative had as its ultimate goal to achieve agreement -- among the G8 and region foreign ministers -- on the language of the final declaration of the 9th Forum for the Future, the culminating meeting of the initiative.  The second goal was to achieve civil society and private sector agreement on the recommendations forwarded to the governments. Both goals were achieved due to a steady building of trust among the participants as a result of the hard work of the League, the U.S. Government, the Republic of Tunisia, and the three nongovernmental organizations. 

The League’s Positions

Statement of Position on U.S. Relations with Developing Countries, as Announced by National Board, April 1986:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that U.S. interests in developing countries should reflect the reality of global interdependence. Paramount among these interests are reducing the risk of military conflict, promoting the sound management of global resources, protecting human rights, stimulating economic growth and improving the quality of life in developing countries. U.S. policies toward developing countries should not be based on maintaining U.S. preeminence.

The LWVUS strongly believes that development assistance, which is designed to meet the long-term social and economic needs of developing countries, is the most effective means of promoting legitimate U.S. interests. Military assistance and the direct military involvement of U.S. forces are not appropriate means to further the League’s stated paramount interests in developing countries.

Developing countries should not be the pawns or the playing fields for geopolitical competition. The relationship between the superpowers should not be an important factor in determining U.S. policies toward developing countries. The LWVUS supports efforts to reduce international competition in developing countries, including:

  • enhancing the role of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations;
  • supporting regional approaches to conflict resolution;
  • encouraging cooperative efforts to promote the sound management of global resources and improve the quality of life;
  • promoting measures to reduce tensions and increase communication, including scientific and cultural exchanges and other cooperative programs.

Statement of Position on International Development Assistance, as Announced by National Board, April 1970 and Revised, April 1986:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that long-term requirements for world peace, humanitarian obligations and long-range national interests demand U.S. policies that help developing countries reach self-sustaining economic growth.

League members understand that the development process encompasses more than economic growth and urge that the focus be on the human concerns of development and on an improved quality of life for the people of developing countries. U.S. development assistance policies should enhance human dignity and fulfill basic human needs. The policies should be coordinated with other development efforts, and they should respect cultural differences. The League favors greater participation by the recipient nations in the planning and execution of development programs. The development effort should be one of a partnership between developed and developing countries. Development programs should be long-range, adequately financed, effectively coordinated and administered.

League members recognize that population pressures affect all other aspects of the development process. The League supports U.S. efforts to assist other nations in their population planning programs, in accordance with the culture and mores of each country. The League also emphasizes strongly the importance of programs for nutrition, health, employment and education.

The League advocates that the proportion of U.S. assistance given through multilateral channels should be substantially increased, with concurrent efforts being made to strengthen the multilateral agencies where necessary.

The League deems it essential that the trend of reduced aid be reversed and that U.S. contributions for development assistance be increased.

League members believe that aid alone is not enough to meet the needs of developing countries. Measures other than direct grants and loans must be utilized. The League advocates such measures as reduced tied aid, prevention and relief of debt burdens, and changed patterns of trade. The U.S. government must ensure that its trade, monetary, political and military policies do not subvert the goals of its development policies. The League also urges active participation in the development process by the private sector.

The League recognizes the gross disparity in trading positions between developed and developing countries. The exports of developing countries must be expanded if they are to broaden their economic base and improve their people’s standard of living. Because of their need for greater access to U.S. and other industrialized countries’ markets, the League favors generalized, temporary preferential tariff treatment and certain commodity arrangements for developing countries. The principle of reciprocity in trade agreements, which the League supports, should be waived in order to make special trade concessions to developing countries.

Statement of Position on Private Investment and Commodity Arrangements, as Announced by National Board, April 1964 and Revised, April 1970:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that private investment of U.S. capital in developing countries can be an important supplemental means of helping these countries reach self-sustaining economic growth. In order to facilitate the flow of private capital to those developing countries that most need it and that can use it most advantageously, appropriate safeguards are necessary against risks for both the investor and the developing countries. In order to protect outside investors against risks, the League favors continuation of governmental assistance, such as preinvestment surveys, investment guarantees and investment loans.

The League believes that tax credits on funds invested in developing countries could provide additional encouragement. In order to guard against risks for the developing country, the League believes that investors should be encouraged to engage in joint-venture type investments with local businesses, to seek matching investment funds within the country, to employ and train as high a proportion of local personnel as possible for responsible positions, and to send to these countries carefully chosen and well-briefed U.S. representatives. The League welcomes continued efforts by developing countries to encourage their citizens to invest more in their own countries’ development efforts and to create a more favorable climate for public and private investment through appropriate internal reforms.

International commodity arrangements serve as a short-term supplement to long-run efforts to promote self-sustaining growth in developing countries.

Insofar as commodity arrangements can help moderate sharp fluctuations in the price of primary products and help stabilize the export income of developing countries, they can serve a useful, though necessarily short-term, purpose.

Each commodity arrangement should be evaluated on its own merit. Such arrangements should be flexible and open to renegotiation within a reasonable period of time.

Each arrangement needs careful supervision and regular review in order not to inhibit diversification within these countries of land, labor and capital or to distort international patterns of trade. These arrangements might include such compensatory financing efforts as those initiated under the International Monetary Fund.

If any commodity arrangement is to bear fruit, primary-product countries should be encouraged through technical and financial assistance to diversify both their primary-product and industrial position. If diversification efforts are not to be frustrated, the developed countries, including the United States, need to open their export doors wider to a broader range of imports, whether raw materials, semiprocessed or finished goods. In order to help the United States meet new competition, greater use might be made of trade adjustment assistance to affected U.S. industries and workers.

The League recognizes that continuation of freer trade policies and reduction of various trade barriers are essential to improve the terms of trade of developing countries.