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Gender Equality: The New Business as Usual

The past four years have brought some exciting changes in the US government when it comes to progress in gender equality. In January, President Obama issued a memorandum reminding us that “promoting gender equality and advancing the status of women and girls around the world remains one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time, and one that is vital to achieving our overall foreign policy objectives.”

The memorandum also instructed the Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues “to promote an international focus on gender equality more broadly, including through diplomatic initiatives with other countries and partnerships and enhanced coordination with international and nongovernmental organizations” (NGOs)—such as IntraHealth International and many others.  

That same month, at a US Agency for International Development (USAID) meeting on gender, Looking Back, Looking Forward: Gender Integration and Women’s Empowerment at USAID, even the overflow room was overflowing. I’ve never seen such attendance. And it wasn’t just the usual “gender” people.

Working to achieve gender equality is the new norm, the new business as usual. Incoming Secretary John Kerry is going to continue Secretary Hillary Clinton’s commitment to gender equality. USAID calls gender equality an extremely high priority and has developed many new policies, plans, and strategies to achieve it (see below); USAID is still in the process of rolling out tools and guidance on how to implement these.

There is a longstanding symbiotic relationship between gender advocates and implementers in nonprofits and NGOs and those within government. We look to one another for advice and strength as political support—and funding—for gender equality wax and wane.

Now that it seems that the US government is doing its part to address gender equality, they’re looking to us—the nonprofits, the NGOs, the partners who carry out USAID’s work and rely on federal dollars—to make sure we’re addressing it, too.

But what if an organization works in health or agriculture, for example, where gender is not seen as part of its core business? USAID’s policy is that all the programs it funds must contribute to three overall outcomes that cover all sectors and fields. Those are:

  1. Reduce gender disparities in access to, control over, and benefit from resources, wealth, opportunities, and services—economic, social, political, and cultural.
  2. Reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals and communities, so that all people can live healthy and productive lives.
  3. Increase capability of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes, and influence decision making in households, communities, and societies.1

These outcomes can be adapted into specific results for any sector or project. But the question is this: Should we, as USAID’s partners, wait for these policies to be completely rolled out before we begin this work, especially at the mission level? Or should we begin now?

I believe we need to start now. We can do that by asking ourselves a few questions:

  1. Does our organization have a gender policy?
  2. Do we have staff members dedicated to gender, or at least gender focal points in our home and country offices?
  3. Have all of our staff received gender training? If not, how do we plan to achieve this?
  4. Are our programs based on a sound gender assessment?
  5. Are we using indicators to measure change in the gender gaps we identified in our gender analysis?

The bottom line is that the US government is serious about addressing gender in its work. As implementing partners, we should celebrate this on International Women’s Day. We should also take measures to seriously address gender equality through the work of our own organizations. 


USAID policies on gender:

Read more:

1. US Agency for International Development. March, 2012. Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy.