U.S. Foreign Aid, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

Dining for Women is collaborating with Oxfam America to elevate the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment in U.S. foreign aid. Oxfam, a global social justice organization working to end extreme poverty, offers resources and a depth of experience in this field that is valuable to Dining for Women as we develop our Grassroots Advocacy Program. We, in turn, have an extensive network of members passionate about improving the lives of women and girls in developing nations. By combining forces, we can increase the emphasis on U.S. foreign aid focusing on gender equality.

This is not a new concept. National governments, NGO’s, and multilateral organizations around the world recognize that working toward gender equality and women’s empowerment is a vital part of international development. That is why gender equality is a stand-alone goal of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG Goal #5), as well as a component of all 17 SDG’s. Gender equality helps not only women, but entire communities. For example, according to a 2010/11 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it has been estimated that if women across the globe had access to more agricultural resources, they could feed 150 million more people. A McKinsey & Company report found that “In a ‘full potential’ scenario in which women play an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

The U.S. Government Funds Many Projects Targeting Women and Girls’ Empowerment

Both the United States Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the two primary U.S. federal entities involved in international development, have numerous initiatives dedicated to women’s empowerment and gender equality. USAID has programs in over 80 countries that specifically aim to reduce gender gaps, address gender-based violence (GBV), and empower women and girls. These programs address health services, education, economic opportunities, technology, political participation, and many others issues.

USAID has saved the lives of 4.6 million children and 200,000 women since 2008. From 2009 to 2011, 84 million girls were able to enroll in preschool through secondary school, thanks to U.S. foreign aid. There are funding accounts in other U.S. agencies that provide aid to women and girls worldwide. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture manages the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, and the Centers for Disease Control funds programs to reduce maternal and perinatal mortality.

But Funding for Gender Equality Is Declining

Despite all the evidence of the efficacy of prioritizing gender equality, in the last four years, U.S. funding has declined and remains low compared to other big donor countries. The current administration’s budget proposal accelerates this trend with a requested 32 percent cut to the international affairs budget overall and a 42 percent cut to gender equality and women’s empowerment funding. Even if Congress decides not to cut funding this drastically (as is expected), programs designed to help women and girls will likely diminish, resulting in detrimental development setbacks.

Women and girls living in poverty need us to speak up for them, to add our voices to our dollars. By joining forces with Oxfam, we can turn around this trend. The first step is to educate ourselves, so we have collaborated on a report on the impact that the U.S. international affairs budget has on women and girls internationally. The entire report will be available to DFW members soon, but here are two conclusions:

 “US foreign assistance has had a tremendous impact on women and girls across the globe, and any cuts to foreign aid will have notable and unfortunate implications. Even a 10% cut to the International Affairs Budget will be devastating in a world that is still facing dire development and humanitarian crises—women and girls being the most vulnerable among those affected.”

The report further states: “Despite the incredible work that USAID, the State Department, and other agencies have done abroad, there’s still a lot more work to be done, and the United States should not turn its back on women and girls worldwide by reducing its foreign aid.”

Dining for Women members know our cause is both just and cost-effective. We will use the power of our grassroots voices to turn around this downward funding trend.

Watch future issues of The Dish for the link to the complete report.

Check out the Oxfam blog: “Gender equality is the US aid reform focus we’re missing”