The idea of International Women’s Day first emerged in 1910, at a conference of advocates for women’s rights held in Copenhagen. At the time, it was a groundbreaking idea: a day, celebrated every year in every country, to prioritize progress and empowerment for women around the world. The proposal was met with unanimous approval from the conference and cemented the idea that empowering women is, and has always been, the key to broader societal progress.
Today, women remain some of our most fearless, effective leaders against humanity’s greatest threats. They are offering lifesaving assistance to earthquake victims in Southern Türkiye and Northwest Syria. They are leading the charge to provide clean water to villages throughout Burkina Faso and pioneering climate solutions in Egypt. They are helping fight HIV, malaria, and other preventable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. And at great personal risk, they are defending democracy in Ukraine – all too often, making the ultimate sacrifice.
But women continue to face barriers that impede their success and participation in these critical efforts. Gender-based violence continues to affect an estimated one in three women and girls around the world, as conflicts and natural disasters embolden perpetrators and put women in harm’s way. Around the world, women are relegated to low-earning or unpaid domestic roles, priced out of obtaining childcare and, in some countries, prohibited from owning property or opening bank accounts – all of which is estimated to cost the world an estimated $28 trillion. And deeply entrenched cultural and societal norms often keep women and girls from going to school, holding down jobs, accessing health care, defending themselves in court, and asserting their rights at the ballot box.
Addressing the world’s pressing challenge will require dismantling these barriers and empowering women. That’s why USAID and the State Department are doubling our investments in gender equality to an unprecedented total of $2.6 billion – and why, by focusing on gender across our programming, we are shifting our mindset to view women not just as beneficiaries of our assistance, but as the leaders who will one day render that assistance obsolete.
That work has already begun. Just a few months ago, we rolled out the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund, through which we are helping women across Africa participate in trade-related industries, training women and girls in Yemen to join the workforce, and expanding access to childcare for women around the world. We are addressing the persistent gender-based inequalities in how women access and use digital technology in order to improve women’s livelihoods and well-being. We are fighting gender-based violence by bringing partners together to accelerate efforts to prevent online harassment and abuse targeting women and girls. We are bringing women peacebuilders to the table when designing efforts to prevent conflicts and crises. And through our new Climate Gender Equity Fund, which we launched at COP27, we are bringing in private-sector partners to invest in women-led climate businesses and organizations.
No country in the world has yet achieved gender parity. But USAID is committed to doing everything in our power to change that. On this International Women’s Day, I urge you to do your part to further that mission – to build gender equality into all of your work, and support and empower women here at home and around the world.