On June 12th, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Plan International, Save the Children, and MFAN co-hosted Transforming Foreign Aid: Putting Women and Girls at the Center. This event, with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Representative Kay Granger (R-TX) as honorary co-hosts, highlighted how the development community is mainstreaming gender issues, especially in the context of USAID’s ongoing Transformation initiative.
The event opened with remarks by Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), who emphasized the necessity of integrating gender considerations into all development activities. He described how development activities which target women and girls, whether or not that was their primary focus, benefit not only women and girls but also the communities in which they play an important part.
Michelle Bekkering, USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment and Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, provided keynote remarks and reiterated both the importance of women’s and girls’ empowerment to broader development efforts, and the need for a holistic approach to gender issues. She cited a McKinsey study which found that enabling women to reach their full potential in labor markets could add as much as $28 trillion to global annual GDP by 2025, and elaborated on the administration’s “whole of girl” approach to development, in particular efforts to increase women’s and girls’ access to labor markets and the internet.
In the ensuing panel, Kat Fotovat, Director of Programming for the Global Women’s Issues Office at the State Department, described how the State Department has integrated gender concerns into training at the Foreign Service Institute, economic empowerment activities, and even the budget process. Diana Prieto, Acting Director of the Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID, placed particular emphasis on how work intended to further women’s and girls’ empowerment occurred across the Agency’s departments and engaged men and boys.
Pauline Kabagenyi, Adolescent Development Coordinator at Save the Children Uganda, outlined their work with men and boys on gender issues. Save the Children Uganda conducts parenting classes and workshops with men and boys and matches adolescent boys with community leaders for mentoring programs. Through this work, Save the Children advocates for the equal division of labor in the home and better father-child relationships, with program participants reporting that they find the experience rewarding—a clear example of the value of engaging men and boys in gender-based development activities.
Finally, Kristin Kim Bart, Senior Director of Gender Equality at IRC, described how conflict and humanitarian crises affect women and girls disproportionately. IRC’s analyses have found that rates of sexual violence skyrocket following conflict or crisis—for example, surveys in South Sudan following the civil war found that 65% of women and girls had experienced violence.
Although they came from different institutions, the speakers and panelists all agreed that effectively integrating gender issues into development work would require a multifaceted approach. From program design to monitoring and evaluation, and even within development organizations themselves, integrating gender considerations into development must become a greater priority.