USAID Launches First New Gender Policy in 30 Years

Article Date

02 March 2012

Article Author

By Jennifer Abrahamson

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah on Thursday unveiled the agency’s first new gender policy in 30 years during a White House event, at which a number of speakers recognized the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) for helping pave the way with evidence on how best to improve the lives of women worldwide. 

Titled “Gender Equality and Female Empowerment,” Shah said the policy places significant importance on measuring real outcomes for women and girls, who he views as integral to solving all global development challenges that USAID tackles. 

“Women aren’t just beneficiaries,” he said. “We see women and invest in women as change agents.” 

The new USAID policy prioritizes women as a “central solution” to ending global ills such as hunger, he said. Shah stressed that helping women live more equitable lives is not only an end in its own right, but also a key tactic in the fight against deepening food shortages and other pervasive symptoms of entrenched poverty in low-income societies. For instance, if women owned more land and assets, Shah estimated that 150 million people worldwide would have more reliable access to food. 

The new policy will strive to close gender gaps such as the 300-million strong chasm between men and women who own mobile phones, which help spur business in developing countries as ICRW  recently found.  

Shah said that USAID is committed to taking concrete, practical steps towards turning its gender policy into action and measuring whether it’s making a difference in women’s lives. Officials will do this by collecting data on things like women’s income, access to credit to start small enterprises, and access to critical resources such as seeds or farming equipment – as compared to their male counterparts. 

The administrator was joined by other speakers for the announcement, including Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy director of UNICEF and former ICRW president, Mohamed A. El-Erian, CEO of the investment firm PIMCO, which supports women’s enterprise in the developing world, and Gayle Smith, special assistant to President Obama and his senior director for development.   

Smith praised USAID’s new gender policy, saying it had fulfilled President Obama’s hope to create development policy that would be a “game-changer” and more than just a “piece of paper, or checking a box.” 

Smith and others echoed Shah’s remarks, each stressing the fundamental value of evidence-based gender research produced by ICRW over the years. Such research, they said, arms agencies working on the ground with the knowledge needed to make real change in the lives of women, girls and society at large. They added that it’s nearly impossible to dispute or politicize scientifically collected and evaluated data.    

Using such evidence to illustrate how to help women overcome real and invisible barriers to opportunities can have profound implications, Rao Gupta said. 

“Nothing succeeds like success,” she said. “If we can demonstrate how success is done … that’s what sticks and what makes momentum grow.” 

Jennifer Abrahamson is ICRW’s senior director of public and media relations.