Effective and Promising Gender Equity Policies for the U.S.: A Global Scan

Project Duration

December 2020 - February 2022

Project Funder

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)

Project Countries

United States of America (the)

ICRW Project Director

Heather Marlow


Learning about successful gender equity policies in other countries and settings can be particularly valuable to United States policymakers, funders, activists and researchers.

While the U.S. has recorded major advances in gender equity, much room exists to do more. Currently, the U.S. is 53rd in the Global Gender Gap ranking, which benchmarks countries according to how close they are to achieving gender equality.

For many measures of gender inequity, women in the U.S. advanced rapidly in the latter half of the 20th century, but progress has since slowed or stalled entirely. The country faces gender pay gaps; unfavorable workplace or other social environments for pregnant women, mothers, parents and families; the persistence of cultural stereotypes or expectations that bias women, girls and people of color toward low-wage careers or debasing jobs or roles; and high levels of gender-based violence, microaggression and overt and subtle workplace discrimination toward gender, racial and ethnic minorities.

What did we set out to do?

ICRW proposed to conduct a global scan of effective and promising gender equity policies, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Through the policy scan, we aimed to identify, document and analyze policies that have been effective in promoting gender equity in other countries and settings, and that can potentially inform gender equity policy options and actions in the U.S.


  • Identify and document effective and promising gender equity policies in other countries and contexts that can potentially inform gender equity policymaking in the U.S.;
  • Examine how such policies define and frame gender equity and its intersections with race, generation, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other factors, and how identities that are outside the gender binary were considered, incorporated and centered, in both the design and implementation of such policies;
  • Analyze how such policies operationalize gender equity, measure and monitor progress towards it and ensure sustainability in outcomes;
  • Assess national or municipal governance and accountability mechanisms established for such policies; and
  • Synthesize lessons for gender equity policymaking in the U.S. to deepen learning and facilitate action.

What Methods did we use?

While the final policy scan methodology, including choice of countries, settings and policies, were decided collaboratively, we intended to use a multi-phased, multilevel, multi-method, and multisite approach.


The report goes into more depth on both lessons learned and recommendations, but here is a top-line view of what is covered:

  • National gender equity frameworks set the pace for effective gender equity policies;
  • Integrated policy strategies promote effective gender equity policies;
  • Women’s political representation facilitates effective gender policies;
  • Effective gender equity policymaking combines top-down and bottom-up approaches; and
  • Effective gender equity policies are adaptable.


Focusing specifically on the broad themes of political participation, economic participation and opportunity, health and education, this report identified several actionable policy options to facilitate U.S. policy actors’ efforts to advance gender equity. While primarily addressed to the U.S. policy community, the report has wider relevance. The policy experiences of the countries reported in this study offer the global community of gender equity stakeholders, program implementers and leaders and organizations important insights and lessons for advancing gender
equity in a variety of areas.

The study’s recommendations are not meant to be implemented without contextual adaptation and modification. In the U.S., for instance, they require grappling with the antifederalist nature of U.S. governance and the diverse and occasionally incongruous interventions planned and executed at city, county and state levels. Further, it is noteworthy that none of the identified policies have clear definitions and specific framing of gender equity or its intersections with race, generation, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Also, in their design and implementation, few of the reviewed policies demonstrated a clearly stated commitment to go beyond gender binarism.

The world’s most pressing issues require collaborative learning and equitable and sustainable solutions, and countries can accelerate progress by learning from and adapting best ideas from other contexts. Global learning can support policy actors and stakeholders to stay informed, open-minded, responsive to diverse perspectives and aware of options and opportunities for action and change. The report is, therefore, a challenge to policymakers everywhere to pursue progressive courses of action through greater responsiveness to proven strategies for advancing development sustainably and equitably.

Visit the publication page by clicking below.




Watch an event hosted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where we discussed this report and lessons learned from policies worldwide.