One Month is Good, but Twelve Months is Better: How USAID Empowers Women 365 Days a Year

The month of March joyfully provides us all with a time to reflect on Women’s History, including the monumental strides women have made and all that has been accomplished in the fight for gender equality.  It is also a time to consider how much more we can do beyond one month of celebration and look to the trailblazers, who value each month to promote the success of women.

A Long History of Empowering Women

A constant champion of gender equality and empowerment is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In 1982, the Women in Development Policy Paper was released and charted a new course for what international development policy and outcomes meant for women in agriculture, energy, water, health, and employment. This official proclamation, almost forty years ago, stated that acknowledging gender differences is crucial to improving the lives of everyone. It also demonstrated the innovation USAID continues to promote in their use of gender analysis, integration, and impact in their strategic implementation of programming throughout the Agency.

Subsequently, when USAID published its policy on Gender Equality and Female Empowerment in 2012, the Agency cemented its policy further and targeted gender disparities from resources and wealth, reducing gender-based violence, and increasing the capacity of women to make their own decisions within their communities and society. Internally, USAID codified the integration of gender equality within the Automated Directives System (ADS), technical competencies for Foreign Service Officers, budgeting, senior positions, in addition to metrics and indicators that track and retain the success of gender programming across the Agency.

The release of the 2012 policy institutionalized “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” as a cross-cutting theme to be considered, not just by the Agency, but also implementing partners seeking to work with USAID. As a cross-cutting theme, Gender Equality became further solidified in international development, serving as a way to identify how gender intersects with other program goals and the wider impact implementation can have beyond the initial project outcomes.

Empowering Women Benefits Everyone

USAID continues to affirm gender frameworks and targets in its 2020 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy , which builds upon the goals from 2012 to further include gender advisors for all USAID overseas missions, gender analysis in all its programs and projects, and fund key gender issues across the Agency. Gender equality, as a cross-cutting theme, creates enhanced innovative programming, which benefits not only women, but everyone.  Research, data, and analysis have repeatedly shown that investing in and supporting women in their economic capacity can help decrease poverty, reduce economic inequalities, and improve children’s health and education outcomes.

The recognition of this key component to achieving development outcomes for everyone can be observed in programs such as USAID’s Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure Approach (MAST) , which uses technological tools to train both women and men to understand property rights, titling, and works with both as community surveyors and land committee leaders. Through applying a gender analysis and lens, women have been able to capitalize on these tools and technology to help secure land tenure and subsequent economic capacity and stability. In the United Republic of Tanzania, before the implementation of MAST, only 27 percent of landowners were women, but the use of MAST has led to an increase to 45 percent in specific Tanzanian communities.

The success of projects such as MAST demonstrate the importance of institutionalizing gender equality as a cross-cutting theme. Gender is not an outlier variable, but rather a crucial component to ensuring people’s lives, especially women, are immeasurably improved. 

At Washington Business Dynamics (WBD), we are proud to promote and support gender equality through working with USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment to advise on the role private sector engagement can have in ensuring gender remains a cross-cutting theme, not only in the month of March, but every day of the year.

Author: Mia Caglieris, Associate at WBD, is a strategy and an international development professional engaged with the firm’s Private Sector Engagement Support award with the United States Agency for International Development.