10 Ways USAID is Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment

Making historic investments to achieve gender equality and improve quality of life globally

USAID
U.S. Agency for International Development

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To celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8, USAID is highlighting 10 key investments to advance gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment.

These are enhanced by USAID’s commitment to double its gender equality investments — reaching, together with the State Department, the historic level of $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2023 with plans to continue to grow this investment in future years.

1. Advancing Women’s Economic Security

Two women in hard hats are each holding a tool clamped at the top of a piece of machinery.
Power Africa’s Women in Rwandan Energy (WIRE) initiative has provided much needed experience and opportunities to advance the employment of women engineers and technicians in this largely male dominated field. WIRE enrolled 184 female apprentices and interns, of whom 111 gained employment in the energy sector. Isimbi Mutoni Annuarite and Marceline Uzamukunda are WIRE Interns at the Rwanda Energy Group. / Jonadab Aturemyeb / USAID Power Africa

“The biggest source of untapped economic growth potential on planet Earth is unemployed and underemployed women,” USAID Administrator Samantha Power underscored last year at the launch of the first-ever U.S. Global Women’s Economic Security Strategy.

Through the Gender Equity and Equality Action (GEEA) Fund, USAID and the State Department have invested $200 million over two years in women’s economic security programming — complemented by an additional $100 million in attributed indirect fiscal year 2022 funding. In its first year, GEEA-funded activities:

  • Reached more than half a million people around the world;
  • Supported over 3,100 women owned microenterprises to access loans, bank accounts, and other services; and
  • Provided over 64,000 women with legally recognized and documented tenure rights to land or marine areas.

2. Closing the Gender Digital Divide

A woman looks down at her mobile phone while standing next to shelves lined with bottles.
In partnership with USAID and the Microsoft Airband Initiative, grantee Bluetown aims to address the gender digital divide and increase women’s economic opportunities through bringing meaningful connectivity and internet access to more women in rural and semi-urban communities in Ghana. / MpadImages for DAI

Globally, 244 million more men than women were using the internet in 2023 — an access gap that undermines women’s full participation in the 21st century economy.

To close the gender digital divide, in 2023, USAID joined the Gates Foundation to launch the Women in the Digital Economy Fund (WiDEF) and then expanded collective action by launching the Women in the Digital Economy Initiative with more than 20 government, private sector, philanthropic, and civil society partners. Stay tuned this month for a WiDEF call for proposals from local, women-centered initiatives bridging the gender digital divide.

3. Promoting Women in the Sustainable Economy

A woman in a yellow hard hat stands in a lush green field filled with windmills.
“Sustainable energy is the next frontier, and we are mentoring the next generation,” says Senior Electrical Engineer Kaarinah Luvango. Luvango was part of the first cohort of mentees at Kenya Electricity Generating Company, which helped her get a promotion to Senior Engineer at the Ngong wind farm in Kenya. The program targeted women in technical fields to help them raise their confidence and improve soft skills to remove internal barriers that were keeping them from reaching leadership roles. / Alec Jacobson, Engineering Industries/Tetra Tech

Inclusive economic growth must include women’s work and leadership in economic sectors critical to the future of our planet — like energy, land, and water use and management.

To accelerate progress, USAID joined more than 20 government, private sector, philanthropic, and civil society partners in 2023 to launch the Women in the Sustainable Economy Initiative, which features USAID’s efforts to increase access to finance for women-led organizations that address climate change and to increase workforce gender equality across male-dominated sectors like energy and utilities.

4. Enhancing Care Infrastructure

A woman works on a loom with vibrant orange and pink fabric while a small child beside her raises both arms in the air.
Amor Debi Tanchangya, with her child Tananasri, is a traditional weaver in Bangladesh who has learned more about running her business as part of USAID’s Sustainable Agriculture and Production Linked to Improved Nutrition Status, Resilience and Gender Equity (SAPLING) activity. The USAID program worked in local languages, respected culture and traditions, and advocated for the representation of Indigenous leaders in local government. / Paul Tapash, USAID

Investing in care infrastructure creates jobs for care workers; frees up parents — particularly women — to work; and improves early childhood development outcomes. That is why USAID is prioritizing this issue.

We are joining the World Bank, the Governments of Australia, Canada, and Germany, and private foundations to mobilize over $180 million to expand childcare in low- and middle-income countries. Across the care economy, USAID’s Global Labor Program supports domestic workers globally — who are overwhelmingly women and often work without labor law protections; and the U.S. government’s Global Health Worker Initiative aims to improve economic opportunities for women in the health sector, who make up 70% of the healthcare workforce.

5. Improving Food Security through Women’s Empowerment

Members of the Furcy Association of Women Farmers climb a hill after weeding a carrot field in Furcy, Haiti. / USAID/Haiti Feed the Future

Closing the gender gap in farm productivity and the wage gap in agriculture would reduce the number of food insecure by 45 million people. To achieve this, in 2023, USAID launched Generating Resilience and Opportunities for Women (GROW), a $335 million commitment, primarily through the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative, to tackle urgent challenges that women face in food and water systems, including due to climate change, while unlocking opportunities for them to advance economically.

6. Advancing Girls’ Education

Two girls read a book.
Two adolescent girl students at Buruburu Primary School in Kenya learn together in peace. The school educates students from Mander, Kenya, and Bellet Hawa, Somalia. / Abraham Ali, Pact

USAID committed to scale up its education support for girls, reaching 15 million girls and young women by 2025 — a 23% increase from 2020. Investments aim to achieve gender parity in both access to education and learning; reduce rates of school-related gender based violence; and increase women’s and girls’ leadership in decision-making positions.

7. Prioritizing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

A woman holding a baby and a woman in a medical coat, Dr. Tafangy, sit at a desk facing each other.
Dr. Landisoa Tafangy provides family planning counseling to a woman holding a baby at the Health Center for All in Madagascar. / A.G. Klei, USAID

Supporting modern contraceptive use by everyone who wants it is vital to safe motherhood, healthy families, and prosperous communities. Marking the 30th anniversary this year of the International Conference on Population and Development, USAID joins the global community in our commitment to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights through continued investment and attention to reaching those most in need.

For example, over the next five years, USAID will invest $20 million in the PROPEL Youth and Gender award to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes and advance gender equality for individuals at all life stages.

8. Supporting Women Political and Civic Leaders

A woman speaking into a microphone is surrounded by four other people, two holding photographs of family members and one holding a clock, as they all stand in a public square.
Oleksandra Matviichuk, human rights defender, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and head of the USAID-supported Center for Civil Liberties (center) and fellow activists hold a rally near the Verkhovna Rada building in Ukraine in support of the Law on War Criminals. / Center for Civil Liberties

Women are underrepresented at all levels of government and in peace and security processes, despite evidence that women’s engagement in politics and government results in more equal, just, and secure societies.

To advance democracy and women’s full participation, at the Summits for Democracy USAID launched the Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Participation Initiative and joined partners in forming the Network for Gender Inclusive Democracy to accelerate progress in building a pipeline of women and girl leaders while strengthening the enabling environment for their safe and meaningful participation.

9. Spotlighting Technology-Facilitated Gender-based Violence (GBV)

A woman holds a mobile telephone with both hands.
Technology is increasingly viewed as an integral tool to promote development and democracy, as evidenced by the USAID Digital Strategy. Women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals disproportionately face online threats and harassment. USAID is working with partners to prevent and address TFGBV with a focus on violence perpetrated against women in politics and public life. / Hanz Rippe/Paramo Films for USAID

As digital technologies enable the spread of GBV at greater scale, speed, and reach, public figures are particularly affected — including women politicians, activists, and journalists.

To respond, USAID advances collective action to prevent technology-facilitated GBV targeting women in politics and public life through the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse, and launched the Transform Digital Spaces initiative to pilot responses.

10. Equipping Women on the Frontlines of Humanitarian Response

Women, including survivors of gender-based violence, participate in skills building activities at a safe space in Nigeria. This includes soap making, knitting, literacy classes and recreational activities as a means of psychosocial support. Safe from the Start ReVisioned works to advance an approach in humanitarian response that promotes women’s leadership, prioritizes support and advocacy for GBV and survivor-centered response programming, and shifts funding, influence, and decision-making power to women and girls, in all their diversity, within humanitarian response systems. / USAID/BHA

Women-led organizations are on the frontlines of responding to humanitarian crises, and USAID is scaling up its support for them. In 2023, USAID became the second largest donor to the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, directing $10 million for women-led organizations in Ukraine, Haiti, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, alongside a five-year pilot program increasing women-led organizations’ leadership in humanitarian response.

About the Author

Jamille Bigio serves as the USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Office of the Administrator.

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USAID
U.S. Agency for International Development

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