United States - Gender equality
At a glance
The US fourth-largest funder of gender equality ODA; policy focuses on women’s economic empowerment
The US’ total bilateral allocable ODA to gender equality in 2018 was US$5.7 billion, making it the fourth-largest funder (following Germany, the EU, and the UK) to development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way, according to the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker. ODA for gender equality has dropped by 18% since 2016, with a US$937 million decrease between 2017 and 2018 alone. This trend is likely a result of the Trump administration de-prioritization of gender equality as a development objective.
As a share of total allocable bilateral ODA funding, the US’ spending is notably low: in 2018, it disbursed just 22% of bilateral allocable ODA in support of gender equality, just half the DAC average of 44%.
Gender policy marker: Projects which “advance gender equality and women’s empowerment or reduce discrimination and inequalities based on sex” are tagged in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database.
Recent research by Oxfam found that around 25% of projects self-reported by donors using the gender equality marker were mismarked. This has implications for the validity of funding figures.
The marker rates projects based on three possible scores:
- Principal, meaning that gender equality is the main objective of the project or program;
- Significant, for projects in which gender equality is an important and deliberate goal but not the main objective; or
- Not targeted, used in cases where programs do not target gender equality.
Not all projects are screened against the gender marker; this funding falls into the ‘not screened’ category.
The US frames gender equality and women’s empowerment within the greater objective of supporting national security and economic interests. The Department of State and US Agency for International Development (USAID) Joint Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years (FY) 2018-2022 guides US development assistance, along with the president’s budget. Priorities include:
- Women’s civic and economic empowerment;
- Maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH), particularly immunization and nutrition; and
- Girls’ education, including gender gaps in attainment.
Current US efforts focus on the economic empowerment of women. In 2018, the US launched the ‘2x Women’s Initiative’, which aims to mobilize US$3.0 billion for women’s financial inclusion. The same year, the US Congress passed the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment (WEEE) Act. The initiative, supported by White House advisor Ivanka Trump, aims to align US government efforts with the global mission of supporting women's development. The Act is supported by the 'Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative' (W-GDP), launched in February 2019 to assist 50 million women in ODA recipient countries by 2025. The President’s FY2021 budget provided US$200 million for the fund, double the amount proposed in FY2020.
The Mexico City Policy (also known as the Global Gag Rule), reinstated and expanded by President Trump in 2017, blocks US federal funding to overseas health organizations that provide any information on or access to abortion services (even if they use non-US funding for those services). Given that the US is the largest global health donor, the policy has had wide implications; an estimated total of US$9.0 billion in US global health funding was lost and even US-funded health projects with no link to abortion, including efforts against HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and initiatives promoting water sanitation experienced severe disruptions. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), at least 1,275 foreign NGOs have been negatively affected by the policy. The incoming Biden administration has promised to overturn the Mexico City Policy on day one of the new presidency.
The US’ emphasis on gender equality within MNCH and economic empowerment is reflected in its spending patterns: in 2018, the sectors which received the most gender-focused funding were health and populations and government and civil society (with US$2.5 billion and US$852 million respectively). Gender-focused funding for education, another priority area, remains low at US$570 million. This may increase in the coming years given the focus of the US’ FY2019-2023 Strategy for Basic Education, which aims to increase education access for marginalized populations including girls (for more information, see sector: ‘Education’.)
The US played a critical role in the creation of UN Women in 2010. In 2018, the US was the seventh largest contributor to core resources of UN Women at US$8.5 million. However, the US has a more precarious relationship with other UN agencies focused on gender equality. In 2019 the State Department invoked the ‘Kemp-Kasten’ amendment for the fourth year in a row. The amendment withholds all funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA; see sector: ‘Global Health’ for more details). The US is also driving efforts within the UN to remove any reference to safe abortions in its humanitarian response plan to the COVID-19 crisis.
US gender equality ODA focuses on projects with gender equality as a significant goal
Like nearly all members of the OECD DAC, the US spends far more on projects with gender equality as one of many objectives (US$5.0 billion) than those with gender equality as a principal focus, meaning that gender equality is the main objective of the project or program (US$671 million; see text box for details). The US is the largest donor to gender equality funding marked as principal – but again, at just 3% of bilateral allocable ODA funding, it spends half the DAC average (6%) in relative terms. (For context, Spain, the highest donor to gender equality projects as a share of total bilateral allocable ODA on projects marked as principal, spent 21%).
The State Department steers gender-equality related programs while USAID leads on implementation
The State Department manages or co-manages bilateral development programs and funding to international organizations, including those related to gender equality. Meanwhile, USAID leads implementation (see section ‘Main actors’ for more information). Specifically, USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenDev), based in Washington, provides strategic leadership, training, and technical assistance on USAID’s gender equality and women’s empowerment programming worldwide and works to shape and institutionalize policies that empower women and girls. GenDev works in close partnership with other USAID bureaus and international field missions in more than 80 countries. Within the State Department is the Office of Global Women’s Issues (GWI), now led by Ambassador-at-Large for Global Issue, Kelley E. Currie. Top among GWI’s priorities is women’s economic empowerment and it specifically supports Senior White House Advisor Ivanka Trump’s initiative, Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP).