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
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
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. …