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Women & Development Aid.

Key Points

* Economic studies and program
evaluations show that considering
gender roles and targeting programs
to women and girls dramatically
enhances economic growth and
project effectiveness.

* Women-headed households represent
the majority of the poor worldwide.
U.S. development programs, which
aim to reduce poverty, should
logically center on women.

* Despite economic evidence,
evaluation results, and directives from
Congress, U.S. development
assistance programs have largely
ignored gender integration.

Over the past 30 years, study after study by academics, development practitioners, and international agencies has demonstrated the seemingly self-evident fact that women are equal to men, and sometimes surpass men, in contributing to social and economic development.

Researchers have also documented the significant economic dividends of investing in women and girls. Studies conducted by the World Bank, United Nations, and various academics have shown that discrimination against women and girls in education, health care, financial services, and human rights dampens overall economic output, productivity, and growth rates. One World Bank report found that gender inequality in education and employment suppresses Africa's annual per capita growth by 0.8%.

Beyond direct economic impacts, women's increased access to education, health care, and human rights brings a "virtuous" cycle of enhanced child health, improved food production, lower population growth rates, higher incomes, and, of course, better quality of life for women themselves.

In addition to undermining women's potential, discrimination and low status have relegated many women and their children to the ranks of the poor. Women-headed households make up a majority of the poorest of the poor both in developed and developing countries. More than 900 million women live on less than one dollar a day, and the number of rural women living in absolute poverty has risen by 50% over the past 20 years, as opposed to 30% for men.

Advocates, academics, and development practitioners have been working hard for more than thirty years to integrate gender roles--that is, the different roles males and females play in a society--into American aid policy and programming. Yet, despite the evidence that women are active in national development and that investing in women and girls yields a multitude of benefits, U.S. international assistance programs and policy have not caught up with the facts.

In 1970, the women-in-development movement was crystallized by Ester Boserup's groundbreaking book: Women's Roles in Economic Development. In her book, she debunked the myth that women are not economic actors, brought to light the extent to which the economies of poor countries are propelled by women, and asserted that programs that considered women's roles would lead to greater contributions to development.

In 1973, Congress passed an amendment that, for the first time, explicitly addressed women's roles in the development process. The Percy Amendment (after its sponsor, Senator Charles Percy) is still in effect. It requires U.S. bilateral assistance programs to enhance the integration of women into the national economies of developing countries, and it instructs the State Department to consider progress on women's issues when making decisions about funding international organizations (e.g., United Nations, World Bank). In 1974, the United States. Agency for International Development (USAID) established the Office of Women in Development to assist USAID missions and regional bureaus in integrating women into their various projects in the field.

In 1993, the Government Accounting Office evaluated USAID'S progress in meeting the requirements of the Percy Amendment. The report found that USAID "has only recently begun to consider the role of women in its third-world development strategies, despite the fact that 20 years have passed since Congress directed that AID assistance programs focus on integrating women."

By 1995, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's leadership as head of the U.S. delegation to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing created a flurry of activity within USAID. One outcome was the creation of the Gender Plan of Action (GPA) in 1996, a three-step plan for the total integration of gender dynamics into all USAID activities. This plan was significant in its willingness to use mechanisms that really matter--bids and contracting systems, performance evaluations and promotions, and USAID's annual "Results Review and Resource Request" process--to ensure real change on programming with a gender perspective.

Four years later, the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Assistance (ACVFA), an independent adviser to the USAID administrator, commissioned an in-depth analysis--including over 500 interviews--of the Gender Plan of Action. The summary report states: "Over 90% of those interviewed in USAID and the PVO/NGO community said that the GPA has not had any measurable impact on Agency operations." This was not due to faults in the plan; it was because the plan was never promoted or implemented by the agency's leadership.

Ritu Sharma <> is cofounder and executive director of Women's EDGE.
COPYRIGHT 2001 International Relations Center
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Article Details
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Author:Sharma, Ritu R.
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 17, 2001
Previous Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.
Next Article:Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

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