One year ago—on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day—we committed to updating a 30-year-old policy on women in development and provide new guidance for how to better integrate gender equality and female empowerment initiatives across our work. We also promised to develop new indicators and evaluation systems to accurately measure the impact of our programs and policies on women and girls.

Classmates in Kenya benefit from a USAID-supported program to mentor and guide girls as they transition from high school to college to careers. Photo credit: Linda Lockhart/Global Give Back Circle

In the last year—thanks to the hard work of USAID teams and our colleagues—we have delivered on all of these commitments, dramatically strengthening our efforts to reduce gender gaps and empower women around the world.

Last week, USAID released a new policy on Gender Equality and Female Empowerment (pdf, 2.7mb) to help improve lives around the world by advancing equality between females and males, and empowering women and girls to participate fully in and benefit from the development of their societies. Building on the Agency’s decades of experience, this policy will assist us in pursuing more effective, evidence-based investments; building partnerships involving a broad range of stakeholders; harnessing science and technology to tackle challenges; and addressing unique and complex issues in crisis and conflict-affected environments.

In February, USAID released a new Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy (pdf, 1.25MB) that builds on our Code of Conduct and holds USAID employees and our partners to the highest standards of behavior.

And in December we worked with the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and civil society groups at home and abroad to craft the first ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.  Its publication is a critical step in advancing U.S. foreign policy, as we strive to hear, honor, amplify and respond to female voices for peace and stability in societies around the world.

But our work doesn’t end with new policies and plans. We have to implement them, ensuring our programs live up to our aspirations.

Over the past year, we have created a comprehensive list of indicators that will enable us to monitor our performance and the impact of our investments on gender equality and female empowerment. Last week, we launched the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (PDF, 2MB), an innovative tool to capture women’s empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector.  Additionally, in partnership with GSMA mWomen and AusAID, we released research that offers new insight into the lives of women who live on less than $2 a day and provides a rigorous evidence base for our investments in reducing the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world.

We have also begun to require gender analyses as a prerequisite for all country strategies and project designs, with the findings of those analyses fully integrated into our planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.  Across the Agency’s full range of country programs, we are ensuring that we are not just paying lip-service to gender equality but are actively designing our strategies and programs to delivering meaningful results across all sectors.

We are proud of this progress.  Yet, we also recognize that women and girls continue to face significant barriers to access in education, business and politics.  In agriculture, women make up more than 40 percent of the labor force, but only represent between 3 to 20 percent of landholders.  In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses—and in South Asia, only 3 percent.  And despite being half the global population, women comprise less than 20 percent of the world’s legislators.

If we can erase these inequities—and put women on an equal footing with men—we know that we can unlock human potential on an unimaginable scale.  To accomplish this, we must really listen to women in developing countries.  We must let them tell us what they need, challenges they face, and goals they strive for in this rapidly changing landscape.  That’s why USAID is committed to involving women in every step of this process.  As Ambassador Steinberg says, the watchwords from now on must be “Nothing about us without us.”

As we honor International Women’s Day and celebrate our progress, let’s recommit ourselves to this mission, delivering results that transform the world through the power of women.