Gender Focus: The Promise for Self-Reliance from a Transformed USAID

25897178921_13df6cb2b1_oThe DC community of civil society organizations (CSOs) has been buzzing, often in direct engagement with USAID, about the current USAID transformation. It seems promising and the timing could not be better, but given that the majority of the world’s poor are women living in patriarchal societies, will it deliver on gender?

The Agency has not undergone such an extensive transformation at all levels since the 90s, and this one could realize sustainable implementation that will be more efficient in cost, time and management. The new structure of USAID bureaus could also be more conducive to integrated solutions and adaptive programming, wherein local persons can take on greater leadership roles in their own development process.

The new Policy Framework for USAID (1. focusing on country progress, 2. seeking resilient, sustainable results, and; 3. partnering for impact) would purportedly preside others. There is concern among CSOs and USAID partners that without gender as a priority in the Policy Framework, USAID’s transformation will fall short in the transformation and implementation processes.

It is a fact that inequality undermines economic growth and development; gender inequality must be addressed as a key factor that pervades social and economic barriers. The Policy Framework is therefore the most promising “home base” for gender in order to build the self-reliance required for host countries to end their need for foreign assistance.

Gender analysis is good, but it is not enough.

The inclusion of the “economic gender gap” metric in USAID’s “Journey to Self-Reliance” does provide a valuable measure of the gender gap in salaries, work force participation, and professional leadership. It is in alignment with a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute study, which states that a “scenario in which women participate in the economy identically to men… would add up to $28 trillion, or 26%, to the annual GDP in 2025.”

Secondary metrics for gender in the areas of health and education offer space where USAID has a suite of indicators (see: USAID’s Child, Early and Forced Marriage Resource Guide) that can be “inserted” across silos. Women and girls’ health indicators, such as maternal mortality ratios and rates of HIV among adolescents, can help determine health and well-being as a key means to empowerment and gender equality. Sex- and age-disaggregated data should be collected across all sectors to show a holistic “picture” of the status of women and girls in society.

Finally, it will be beneficial for the Policy Framework and gender in secondary metrics for USAID to continue to use the standard foreign assistance indicators (F indicators). These measure country capacity and commitment, as they measure performance across multiple program categories and are structured to include both State and USAID spending.

Having gender roles is good, but it is not enough [if such are dual “hatted”].

Full-time staff – at any level – dedicated exclusively to gender would be ideal. The value of such could be well argued by the Gender Development team of USAID, which has extensive expertise and experience with gender-focus in USAID programming, monitoring and evaluation, and analysis.

It would be equally complimentary and useful for the Senior Coordinator on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment to maintain a full-time, whole-of-agency focus on strengthening gender integration while housed in the Office of the Administrator – with appropriate staffing to ensure relevant work can be done effectively.

Beyond staffing, embedding the Gender Development Office within the new Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation (DDI) would help to ensure and foster strong gender mainstreaming throughout USAID: 1) support for [evidence-based] gender program design and technical assistance to Missions, and; 2) cutting-edge monitoring, evaluation and analysis of gender investments for applied learning.

Gender as a priority in the Policy Framework of a newly transformed USAID makes deeper impact in monitoring host country progress and achieving self-reliance promising.

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