Economic Aid to Women despite American Women's Domestic Gains, Few Government Resources Have Been Dedicated to Enhancing the Role of Women in Developing Countries

Article excerpt

THIS past presidential election cycle was touted for being the Year of the Woman; indeed, American women voted in record numbers and congressional representation in the Senate and in the House of Representatives rose significantly.

Yet despite these impressive domestic political gains, United States foreign economic assistance, which is congressionally mandated to increase the status of women in developing countries and their access to productive resources - political, economic, social, and technological - failed to match rhetoric with action. Instead, "business as usual" prevailed at the Agency for International Development (AID).

Since the passage of the "Percy Amendment" 19 years ago, Congress has mandated that AID take into consideration the needs of women, recognizing the substantial contribution they make to the overall economies of developing countries. Congress, not AID, doubled the agency's Office of Women in Development (WID) budget this year and required stricter accounting of AID implementation of the mandate.

Yet, the WID office has remained outside the mainstream of economic development decision-making. The foreign service community refused to take seriously the need to include women in projects and the political leadership did not boldly insist on action.

In 1992 AID grudgingly determined, after prodding from Congress, that few resources were dedicated to enhancing the role of women in developing countries. It rejected the need to create a partnership with the private sector to share the burden of this enormous job. In 1992 only $268 million out of $7.5 billion could be identified as impacting women.

There remains substantial empirical and quantitative evidence to support an aggressive role for including women in development projects. There is strong evidence that women enhance their nations' economic growth and income through their participation in the labor force. Yet in many countries women have little access to credit to start their own businesses. In Africa, more than 80 percent of the farmers are women, while few own land.

President Bush's commitment to enhancing the role of women in developing countries has been admirable. He actively supported the WID office and the notion that women play an integral part in the struggle for greater openness and democratic reform. But he said that "at the same time, a number of problems that affect the lives of women call for serious attention: income generation, legal rights, discrimination, housing, environmental issues, AIDS, violence against women."

I took that mandate seriously. The WID office developed an aggressive strategic plan calling for a more focused approach to women's needs.

THE plan included increasing political participation by women in the democratic process; focusing on women's legal rights; forming a new partnership with the private sector; concentrating on women's programs operated by corporate America; initiating a program to increase businesswomen's participation on US trade missions and linking US businesses with businesswomen; promoting women as entrepreneurs and guiding businesses from home-based micro enterprises to small businesses; increasing development banks' lending to women and industries where women are employed. …