Women & Development Aid

By Sharma, Ritu R. | Foreign Policy in Focus, September 17, 2001 | Go to article overview

Women & Development Aid


Sharma, Ritu R., Foreign Policy in Focus


Key Points

* Economic studies and program
evaluations show that considering
gender roles and targeting programs
to women and girls dramatically
enhances economic growth and
project effectiveness.

* Women-headed households represent
the majority of the poor worldwide.
U.S. development programs, which
aim to reduce poverty, should
logically center on women.

* Despite economic evidence,
evaluation results, and directives from
Congress, U.S. development
assistance programs have largely
ignored gender integration.

Over the past 30 years, study after study by academics, development practitioners, and international agencies has demonstrated the seemingly self-evident fact that women are equal to men, and sometimes surpass men, in contributing to social and economic development.

Researchers have also documented the significant economic dividends of investing in women and girls. Studies conducted by the World Bank, United Nations, and various academics have shown that discrimination against women and girls in education, health care, financial services, and human rights dampens overall economic output, productivity, and growth rates. One World Bank report found that gender inequality in education and employment suppresses Africa's annual per capita growth by 0.8%.

Beyond direct economic impacts, women's increased access to education, health care, and human rights brings a "virtuous" cycle of enhanced child health, improved food production, lower population growth rates, higher incomes, and, of course, better quality of life for women themselves.

In addition to undermining women's potential, discrimination and low status have relegated many women and their children to the ranks of the poor. Women-headed households make up a majority of the poorest of the poor both in developed and developing countries. More than 900 million women live on less than one dollar a day, and the number of rural women living in absolute poverty has risen by 50% over the past 20 years, as opposed to 30% for men.

Advocates, academics, and development practitioners have been working hard for more than thirty years to integrate gender roles--that is, the different roles males and females play in a society--into American aid policy and programming. Yet, despite the evidence that women are active in national development and that investing in women and girls yields a multitude of benefits, U.S. international assistance programs and policy have not caught up with the facts.

In 1970, the women-in-development movement was crystallized by Ester Boserup's groundbreaking book: Women's Roles in Economic Development. …

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