United States - Gender equality

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The US is the third-largest funder of gender equality ODA; the Biden administration has signaled it will be an increasingly important focus

The US’ total bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA) to gender equality in 2019 was US$6.8 billion, making it the third-largest funder (following the UK and Germany) to 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 they are among the largest funders, the US’ gender-related ODA as a share of total bilateral allocable ODA is notably low: in 2019, it disbursed just 27% of bilateral allocable ODA in support of gender equality (DAC average: 47%).

 


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.


 

ODA for gender equality increased by 18% between 2018 and 2019. Gender equality funding will likely increase further in year ahead since President Joe Biden has signaled that gender equality will be a central priority and cross-cutting issue under his administration. He has suggested a whole-of-government approach to gender equity and equality and signed an executive order to launch a “Strategy to Advance Gender Equity and Equality” within the first six months of his presidency.  

The Biden administration has proposed a total of US$1.2 billion for gender programs in FY2022. 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, which will replace the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Fund.   

Current US efforts focus on the economic empowerment of women. In 2018, the US launched the '2X Women’s Initiative', which has so far mobilized US$7.0 billion in investments in projects owned by, led by and/or empowering women and has committed to raising an additional US$6 billion in private sector investments in women’s economic empowerment. The initiative aims to catalyze a further US$1.0 billion for investment specifically for women in Africa.  

Since assuming the presidency in January of 2020, Biden has overturned the Mexico City Policy (‘Global Gag Rule’), which was reinstated by the administration of former President Donald Trump 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.

The US played a critical role in the creation of UN Women in 2010. In 2019, the US was the eighth-largest contributor to core resources of UN Women at US$7 million.  

In 2019, 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$1.3 billion, respectively). Gender-focused funding for education, another priority area, remains low at US$664 million.

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$5.7 billion; significant funding) than those with gender equality as a principal focus (where gender equality is the main objective of the project or program; US$1.1 billion. See box for details). The US is the largest absolute donor to principal gender equality projects but this is a small share (4%) relative to the size of it its bilateral allocable ODA. It spends two thirds the DAC average (6%) and ranks fifteenth among DAC donors 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 24%.)  

Under the Trump administration, funding for gender equality stagnated, with principal funding declining from US$2.1 billion in 2016 (the final year of the Obama administration) by 25% to US$1.6 billion in 2017, then another 57% in the following year to a low of US$683 million. 100% of US spending was screened against the gender marker.

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.  

Within the State Department is the Office of Global Women’s Issues (GWI). Top among GWI’s priorities are women’s economic empowerment and women, peace, and security.  Biden also signed an executive order in March of 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.