A group of women meet to discuss issues on nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, and reproductive health with help and support from USAID-trained health extension workers in Ethiopia. The U.S. Agency for International Development has adopted a suite of interlinked gender-focused policies and strategies in 2012. Photo by: Nena Terrell / USAID Ethiopia / CC BY-NC

Last month, the U.S. Agency for International Development released a new chapter in its Automated Directives System, which guides the agency’s programs and operations. The chapter explains how gender issues must be addressed in all USAID-funded activities and requires the use of gender analyses to inform Country Development Cooperation Strategies and projects.

This is just one of several gender-related initiatives that has come out since USAID adopted a suite of interlinked gender-focused policies and strategies in 2012. All these have had an impact on the way nongovernmental organizations, contractors and other implementing partners are doing business with USAID — starting from their tender proposals.

“Gender is no longer a specific item to be addressed in a few paragraphs in a proposal response to a solicitation,” Patrick Crump, associate vice president for program quality and impact for international programs at Save the Children, said. Now, gender has “to inform the design of the proposal,” which should also clearly show how targeted interventions will address identified gender constraints.

To ensure gender is properly incorporated in all of its proposals, FHI 360 released a Gender Integration Framework in September 2012. In addition, each proposal team, regardless of technical sector, now has a gender specialist. Director of Gender Equality Andrea Bertone said the NGO’s country-based technical staff is also increasingly requesting technical assistance from gender specialists in the U.S. headquarters and regional offices.

This is not unique to FHI 360. Elise Young, vice president for policy and government affairs of Women Thrive Worldwide, said many of the implementing partners her organization has spoken to are hiring and subcontracting to gender experts. Staffers are given lessons on gender integration as well, and more local women organizations are beginning to receive capacity-building training.

The policies are affecting the way existing programs are implemented as well.

Save the Children is improving its gender focus in “signature programs” such as Child-Friendly-Spaces, which are safe play areas that allow children to play and learn. After interviewing displaced Syrian girls in northern Jordan, the NGO learned that girls and boys have different perceptions of safe spaces in camps. Playgrounds and parks were deemed safe for boys but not for girls. They are now studying measures to address girls’ safety concerns.

There has also been an effort to integrate gender in programs that predated these policies. The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, for instance, was created to measure Feed the Future’s impact on female farmers.

A year in review

Caren Grown, USAID acting senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment and senior gender adviser at the agency’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, said USAID is already tracking results.

A first year review of these gender policies showed the majority of USAID missions have drafted or adopted a Mission Order on Gender, which outlines how missions will implement the policy. Further, gender advisers or focal points have been appointed or named in most USAID missions, and more than 700 global staff members were trained to integrate gender equality in strategies and projects.

In addition, more than $30 million was programmed to support women’s leadership in peace negotiations, humanitarian and post-conflict donor conferences, government and political transitions, as well as the mobile phone industry and small and midsize enterprises; and to increase women’s access to higher education programs that help them develop as business, academic and research leaders.

Despite these changes, however, “we’re still only at the beginning of a long process,” Lyric Thompson, policy advocate and special assistant to the president at the International Center for Research on Women, said. Information on how these policies are affecting women and girls are just starting to come in.

To protect gains made in advancing gender and closing the gender inequality gap, Thompson said ICRW would like to see all the new gender policies, offices and positions protected by law. Presently, these policies are only authorized by executive orders from the president.

Young meanwhile believes there is space to develop more high-quality consultations and processes for collaboration with grass-roots women’s groups, to engage them as partners in each part of the project cycle.

What’s next for gender

Grown said USAID is currently working to ensure quality gender analyses inform project designs, and that grants and solicitations reflect the requirements for gender integration in projects. The U.S. agency is also consulting with host country governments to define gender equality goals based on their national action plans and commitments under the Conventionon the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals.

Further, USAID and the State Department have developed budgeting and reporting requirements to prioritize gender and capture gender equality results better.

Most notably, the Obama administration’s budget request for fiscal 2014 has given more prominence to gender. For the first time, the request classified gender as a foreign assistance priority. In the past, gender was listed only as a key interest area. More importantly, the request is asking for $1.9 billion for programs where gender is a key issue — more than half of which will be allocated to the Global Health Initiative and Feed the Future. This is 14 percent higher than the administration’s $1.7 billion request in fiscal 2013.

Reports by the World Bank on gender equality and development and the Food and Agriculture Organization on women in agriculture and the emergence of high-profile champions, such as Hillary Clinton, have created traction for gender mainstreaming.

The 2015 deadline for the MDGs is another catalyst. Donors recognize that some of these goals can only be met if they accelerate the integration of gender in their programs and scale up and replicate best practices.

There is also robust evidence proving gender equality is central to achieving development outcomes. Grown cited examples of how increasing women farmers’ access to productive resources allowed them to increase their yields, which then helped improve global agricultural productivity and food security, or when women’s income tended to be spent on goods that benefit families, including children’s nutrition and education, which boosted long-term productivity.

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About the author

  • Sharmila Parmanand

    Sharmila is currently an instructor at the University of Vermont. She has a master’s degree in gender and development and has supervised and conducted research projects on human trafficking and related issues. She has also worked as a debate and public-speaking consultant in more than 20 countries.