Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment

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The Challenge

Women and girls face barriers and disadvantages in every sector in which we work.

Around the world 62 million girls are not in school. Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday, with some child brides as young as 8 or 9. Each year more than 287,000 women, 99 percent of them in developing countries, die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications.

While women make up more than 40 percent of the agriculture labor force only 3 to 20 percent are landholders. In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses. In South Asia, that number is only 3 percent. And despite representing half the global population, women compromise less than 20 percent of the world's legislators.

Putting women and girls on equal footing with men and boys has the power to transform every sector in which we work.

The Opportunity

Investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment can unlock human potential on a transformational scale.

Simply by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent and feed an additional 150 million people. Women account for one-half of the potential human capital in any economy and, according to the World Bank, countries with greater gender equality are more prosperous and competitive.

Women’s participation in politics results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, and increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines. In India, research showed that West Bengal villages with greater representation of women in local councils saw an investment in drinking water facilities double that of villages with low levels of elected women, with roads that were almost twice as likely to be in good condition. The research also revealed that the presence of a woman council leader reduces the gender gap in school attendance by 13 percentage points.

When women participate in peace processes, they help to expand the scope of agreements and improve the prospects for durable peace. In Guatemala, women involved in negotiations to end a 36-year civil war secured important protections for labor and indigenous rights as well as guarantees of a balance in civilian and military power. In Liberia, women brought their demands into the streets, playing a vital role in securing a peace that would end that country’s devastating civil war.

Our Strategy

At USAID, we believe that gender equality and women’s empowerment isn’t a part of development but at the core of development.

Development cannot be delivered in a vacuum. Water, energy, agriculture and health all affect men and women differently. These differences are not barriers but opportunities to maximize the impact of our work by delivering development in a more targeted, effective and sustainable way.

That’s why across our programs in more than 80 countries we are making evidence-based investments in gender equality and female empowerment. In 2012, we released our Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy [PDF, 2.7 MB], cementing our commitment to supporting women and girls. Building on this critical foundation and decades of experience, we’re ensuring all our strategies and programs are shaped by a gender analysis, and establish metrics that measure the gender impact of our programs. And we’re already seeing a difference.

Through Feed the Future, we’re focusing on women’s leadership in agriculture by advancing policy changes in developing countries that give women access to financial services and ownership of the very land they tend. In sub-Saharan Africa—where half of all maternal deaths occur—we are leading the public-private partnership Saving Mothers, Giving Life. Just one year after launching in Uganda and Zambia, the program reduced maternal mortality by roughly a third. In Afghanistan, the Promoting Gender Equality in National Priority Programs (PROMOTE) Partnership is the largest investment we have ever made to advance women and girls in development.

This is only the beginning. As President Barack Obama said, “When women succeed, nations are more safe, more secure, and more prosperous.”

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Last updated: January 23, 2015

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