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Our History

ICRW was founded in 1976 in response to concerns that international development interventions were benefiting men and women unequally – to the detriment of entire societies.At the time, women’s roles and responsibilities, their needs and concerns, and their contributions and constraints were invisible to those who determined how countries spent funds to combat poverty, illiteracy and poor health. ICRW was established to make visible the invisible. 

In its early years, ICRW quantified how women contributed to the economy through diverse occupations and showed that a growing number of poor households depended on income from women’s labor. Our findings determined that the effectiveness of poverty relief programs were undermined by a misperception that households were led only by men. By not recognizing women as heads of households, programs failed to reach the most vulnerable among the poor. Even more, these poverty-alleviation programs did not capitalize on another well-documented reality – that when women control resources, their children are more likely to be educated and healthier.

Over time, our research and advocacy efforts have helped change the trajectory of women’s lives in developing countries. For instance, in the 1980s, ICRW’s research in Latin America demonstrated that if credit programs were designed to meet poor women’s needs for smaller loans and untraditional forms of collateral, women paid the loans back at rates often better than men. Today, millions of poor women worldwide benefit from microfinance programs.

ICRW also is responsible for uncovering issues that affect the health of the world’s women. In the 1990s, we were among the first organizations to document the impact of AIDS on women. ICRW discovered that women in long-term relationships were becoming infected with the disease because they did not have access to information about how to protect themselves from it. We also found that their economic dependency on men made it less likely for women to have the power to convince their partner to use a condom – especially when consequence of doing so can be violence against them.

In 2016, ICRW merged with Re:Gender (formerly the National Council for Research on Women). Both organizations value the power of research in crafting policy and designing services that not only serve the needs of women and girls but strive to transform their social status and economic well-being. ICRW and Re:Gender are venerable research organizations that have been engaged for decades in advocating for women’s rights and human rights.

Today, ICRW’s research, advocacy, services to and partnerships with other groups continue – all with an eye to reduce global poverty by investing in the lives of women and girls.


ICRW is founded as a program of the Federation of Organizations for Professional Women in response to the first International Women’s Conference in Mexico.


With the publication of “Women-Headed Households: The Ignored Factor in Development Planning,” ICRW establishes for the first time why poverty alleviation programs need to pay attention to family structures, particularly families led by women.


ICRW identifies the characteristics and experiences of women in poverty with the publication of “Women and Poverty in the Third World.”


ICRW publishes “Women in Agriculture: What Development Can Do,” describing women’s roles in farming systems, the impact of agricultural technologies on women’s productivity and an agenda for how development assistance can support their role.
ICRW launches a pioneering research program in 13 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to investigate the factors that increase women’s vulnerability to HIV. Ten years later, in 2000, ICRW drew upon the findings of this program to deliver a plenary address, “Gender, Sexuality, and HIV/AIDS: the What, the Why, and the How” at the 13th International AIDS Conference in South Africa.


ICRW initiates a 10-year project to improve adolescent reproductive health in India, where half the population is younger than 25. Our research finds that gender-based constraints – including a lack of power among young women – are at the root of health behavior and risks. ICRW and its local partners design, implement and evaluate multiple interventions to address these issues.


ICRW establishes a local office in New Delhi, India, to coordinate a groundbreaking five-year study to document the prevalence of domestic violence. The findings are used to advocate for the 2005 passage of a national law to decrease domestic violence.


ICRW research in Botswana and Zambia identifies stigma as a key barrier to the use of services to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. This initial research paves the way for ICRW’s global leadership in building evidence on how to effectively address stigma.


Drawing on decades of evidence on the causes, consequences and solutions for child marriage, ICRW begins a campaign to educate U.S. policymakers and advocate for legislation that would integrate child marriage prevention efforts into existing programs.


ICRW co-leads the U.N. Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality and recommends seven strategic priorities to achieve women’s empowerment and gender equality, Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals.


ICRW expands office in New Delhi into the Asia Regional Office to lead the implementation of ICRW’s mission in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand.


ICRW publishes “Women, Food Security and Agriculture in a Global Marketplace,” which challenges the agricultural development community to recognize women farmers as key economic agents of change who contribute to agricultural and economic growth and food security.


ICRW celebrates its 40th anniversary by merging with Re:Gender to pursue our common mission of gender equality and by conferring the annual Champions for Change Awards to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Melinda French Gates, Jill Sheffield, and Geeta Rao Gupta.


ICRW opens up the Africa Regional Office in Kampala, Uganda. This office will focus on research on women and girls in the entire Africa region and will serve as a platform for dialogue around gender and development.