U.S. Support for Women’s Empowerment: The Work of USAID

Mar 8th, 2015 | By | Category: Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Suzanne York, www.howmany.org.

If you’re an American, you might be pleased to hear how your taxpayer dollars are being used at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), especially in support of women.  On this International Women’s Day, here is a brief look at what our international aid agency is doing.

Gender and Empowerment

If you happen to be a policy wonk, you might already be familiar with USAID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy.  If you haven’t heard of it, like most of us, the policy is driven by the reality that “Across every development priority worldwide—from education to economic inclusion—gender inequality remains a significant challenge.”  And also by the fact that “We know that long-term, sustainable development will only be possible when women and men enjoy equal opportunity to rise to their potential.”

Under this policy, USAID investments are aimed at three overarching outcomes:

  • Reduce gender disparities in access to, control over and benefit from resources, wealth, opportunities and services – economic, social, political, and cultural;
  • Reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals and communities; and
  • Increase capability of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes, and influence decision-making in households, communities, and societies.

There is much more to the policy and how policymakers plan to implement it, but suffice it to say, the policy seems – on paper, at least – to be a good path to achieve women’s empowerment.

Climate Change and the Environment

USAID understands how global ecosystems are under immense pressures – including from population growth. “Threatening to make these problems worse is global climate change, driven by fossil fuel use and deforestation. We know a changing climate will hurt the poor most, undermining the livelihoods of millions of people struggling to break free from poverty.”

One way to overcome this is through advocating for and supporting Population, Health and Environment (PHE) programs, which is an integrated community-based approach to development that supports health and environment initiatives.


CTPH Founder and CEO Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka educating the community on conservation and public health [Photo by Charles Capel]

One organization supported by USAID is Conservation through Public Health(CTPH) a Ugandan NGO that promotes conservation and public health by improving primary health care to people and wildlife in and around protected areas in Africa. Much of CTPH’s work takes place in the Bwinde Impenetrable Area, which is home to approximately half of the world’s estimated population of 800 mountain gorillas. This area also has some of the poorest people in Africa who have limited access to modern health services, especially women.

At a PHE conference in Ethiopia in 2013, CTPH’s director, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka laid out her vision – people, wildlife and livestock living in balance health and harmony with local communities acting as stewards of the environment.  Her organization has created village health and conservation teams that have educated people on family planning, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation and conservation. The results have shown reduced human and gorilla conflict, more women and youth involved in conservation, and improved conservation attitudes (in particular, reduced poaching and gorillas protected in community lands).  You can watch a CNN profile of Gladys here.

This is just one example of PHE projects that U.S. tax dollars go to support.

Work in Progress

No government program or agency is perfect, and there is probably much to complain about regarding USAID, and certainly much bureaucracy that might stymy efforts to improve women’s lives, and that of their families and the environment.  But it is encouraging to hear of policies such as USAID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy and of its support of grassroots NGOs like CTPH.

The latest email from USAID, sent on International Women’s Day, is encouraging, as it gets why empowering women is critical, stating that “Focusing on women and girls is the smartest and most strategic investment the United States can make to improve lives around the world.  We know that when women are healthy and educated, they trigger progress for themselves, their communities, and their countries.”


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.  IPS is not affiliated with nor supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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