New USAID Gender Policy: A Game Changer for Women?

See below for a guest post from MFAN Partner Women Thrive Worldwide evaluating USAID’s new gender policy, released earlier this month.

This March, International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month saw a bold change of direction for U.S. foreign assistance that could impact millions of girls and women worldwide. For the first time in thirty years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) revamped its policy on Gender Equality and Female Empowerment, which recognizes the integration of women and girls across all of its work including food security, health, climate and technology, and economic growth.  Now, any program that USAID works on has to truly benefit both women and men.

The reason this policy is such a big deal is because it fundamentally changes the way billions of dollars in U.S. aid will be designed, delivered, and judged. And as a major donor and global power, what the U.S. does on gender can both send a powerful message and reach millions of women through direct programs. This sets a good precedent for what we might expect to see in the future: consistent integration of both women’s and men’s needs and priorities across international assistance.

Rather than focusing primarily on ad-hoc or separate women’s projects, the agency will now integrate women’s and men’s needs into the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of all projects—a best practice that will increase the effectiveness of foreign assistance overall and improve the lives of millions of women, men, boys, and girls around the world.

The policy’s overarching goals are to shrink the gaping disparities between women and men, reduce violence against women and girls, and increase their capacity of women and girls make their own life decisions and pursue their own potential.

With this policy, the U.S. government has now explicitly stated as a goal that assistance will be more effectively used to advance the progress of women and girls. For example, agriculture programs will be designed to increase overall food security through empowering women farmers to have more control of their crops and by ensuring that they keep more of their own money. Further, everyone in USAID, not just a handful of gender advisors, will be trained on how to see through a “gender lens” and design better projects for both women and men. No contractor can get money from USAID unless they adequately address gender equality and demonstrate that they really know how to deliver on women’s empowerment.

We’ve fought long and hard for accountability and for gender to be systematically integrated into U.S. policies and programs, and we applaud this policy’s comprehensive approach to gender inclusion. But our work is not done. We’ll be watching closely to ensure that these good intentions are adequately resourced and implemented consistently so that women, girls, men and boys around the world truly benefit from this historic policy.

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