United States - Gender equality


The US is the fourth-largest funder of gender equality ODA; Biden administration is increasingly focusing on gender equality with a new White House strategy  

The US’ total bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA) to gender equality in 2020 was US$6.1 billion, making it the fourth-largest funder (following Germany, the EU, and the UK) of development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) gender equality policy marker. Although among the largest funders, the US’ gender-related ODA as a share of total bilateral allocable ODA is notably low: in 2020, it disbursed just 24% of bilateral allocable ODA in support of gender equality (DAC average: 45%). ODA for gender equality decreased by 11% between 2019 - 2020.

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:

  1. Principal, meaning that gender equality is the main objective of the project or program;
  2. Significant, for projects in which gender equality is an important and deliberate goal but not the main objective; or
  3. 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 Biden Administration has proposed a total of US$2.6 billion for gender programs in FY2023, the largest-ever investment in programs that advance gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. This includes support for the implementation of the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment (WEEE) Act (passed in 2018), the Women, Peace, and Security Act, and other gender initiatives. It will also provide US$200 million for the Gender Equity and Equality Action (GEEA) Fund. 

Current US efforts focus on women’s economic empowerment (WEE). In 2018, the US launched the '2X Women’s Initiative,' which has mobilized US$13.5 billion in investments in projects owned by, led by, and/or empowering women so far, with the aim to catalyze an additional US$12 billion by 2025. In addition, the initiative has inspired peer development finance institutions around the globe to collaborate through the ‘2X Challenge,’ setting a US$15 billion target for gender-lens investment.  

Since assuming the presidency in January 2020, Biden has overturned the Mexico City Policy (‘global gag rule’), which was reinstated by the Former President Donald Trump’s Administration to block US funding for both non-US non-government organizations (NGOs) directly involved in abortion services or abortion rights advocacy or for those who fund or support other groups which provide or discuss abortion (see: sector ‘Global Health’). Biden’s State Department also lifted the ‘Kemp Kasten Amendment’ after four years, reinstating funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) projects, funding for which had been eliminated under the Trump Administration. Despite the Biden Administration’s repeal, the overturning of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ the landmark 1973 decision by the US Supreme Court that ruled that the US Constitution conferred the right to an abortion, on June 20, 2022, impacts the effectiveness of the removal of the Mexico City Policy, as it could hurt local-level efforts to expand SRHR, limit funding, and increase stigma around SRHR and related care. 

The US played a critical role in the creation of UN Women in 2010. In 2021, the US was the fourth largest contributor to core resources of UN Women at US$15 million.

In 2020, the sectors which received the most gender-focused funding were ‘health and populations’ and ‘government and civil society’ (with US$3.1 billion and US$858 million, respectively). Gender-focused funding for education, another priority area, remains low at US$506 million. 

At the 2021 Generation Equality Forum (GEF), the US made significant policy and finance commitments to accelerate progress toward global gender equality. The Biden Administration, represented at the Forum by Vice President Kamala Harris, pledged to update the 2016 US strategy to combat gender-based violence and committed US$175 million to programs addressing the issue globally as part of the US$1.2 billion budget request for global gender programming. The Administration also pledged to increase support for WEE programs by mobilizing US$12.0 billion through 2025 in investments by the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) in businesses that advance gender equity in emerging markets through the ‘2X Women's Initiative.’ The DFC pledged to establish a technical assistance program to help advance companies' efforts toward gender equity. 

Following the creation of a White House Gender Policy Council in spring 2021, Biden released the first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality with relevant applications both domestically and globally. The strategy, which takes a ‘whole-of-government approach,’ identified 10 interconnected priorities and set forth a comprehensive agenda and vision to achieve gender equity across sectors. The strategic priorities include: 

  • Improved economic security: the strategy calls for COVID-19 pandemic recovery to account for women and families, thereby improving equal access to workplace participation, investments in infrastructure and care workers, and equal educational opportunities;  
  • Enhanced prevention and response to gender-based violence (GBV): the strategy calls for stronger laws, policies, and prevention services, commitment to addressing sexual violence in conflict settings, and promotion of fair and safe treatment in the immigration and justice systems; 
  • Increased access to health care: the strategy characterizes health care access as a right rather than a privilege, encouraging the expansion of access to health care for all, protection of the right to choose, promotion of sexual and reproductive rights, and commitment to addressing maternal mortality and morbidity; and 
  • Advanced participation of women and girls in social, economic, civic, and political life: the strategy outlines stronger equality laws and practices which ensure equality in leadership for critical processes, including peace, humanitarian, national security, global health, climate change, and STEM fields. 

In addition to the 10 priorities, the strategy uses an intersectional approach to account for compounding forms of discrimination that add additional barriers to reaching equity and equality. 

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 a significant objective (US$6.1 billion) rather than on those with gender equality as a principal focus (where gender equality is the main objective of the project or program; US$851 million; see box). The US is the largest absolute donor to principal gender equality projects, but this is a small share (3%) relative to the size of it its bilateral allocable ODA. It spends less than half the average (7%) and ranks 18th among DAC donors in relative terms.  

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 on implementation (see ‘Main Actors’). Specifically, USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenDev) 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.  

The Office of Global Women’s Issues (GWI) is housed in the State Department. Top among GWI’s priorities are WEE and women, peace, and security. Biden also signed an executive order in March 2021, creating for the first time a Gender Policy Council within the White House that will have both domestic and foreign policy roles. The new council will focus on both gender equity and equality and will use diplomacy, development, trade, and defense to promote the needs and roles of women and girls internationally. Specifically, the council will focus on conflict prevention, peacebuilding, democracy and governance, global health, and humanitarian assistance. Members of the council will include Cabinet-level officers from many US agencies, including the Secretary of the US Department of State and the Administrator of USAID. The council will report to Biden. The executive order also specifically includes a review of the controversial gender policy that was released during the waning days of the Trump Administration, with the intention to either revise or rescind it.