Girl breaks through red ribbon at the finish of a race.

Photo credit: The Hunger Project

In 2002 while working at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), I oversaw the completion of a report for the USAID-funded WIDTech project, a five-year $10 million dollar initiative to provide technical assistance on gender integration in USAID bureaus and missions. The report outlined how successful gender integration must start with sector-specific goals and developing real gender expertise throughout the Agency. It also maintained that global impacts are exponentially increased through partnerships with host country governments and NGOs. I was excited to see those recommendations in print.

Yesterday, at a launch event at the White House, USAID released a new policy on Gender Equality and Female Empowerment (PDF), the Agency’s first in 30 years. I’m thrilled to share that the policy not only adopts many of those earlier recommendations but pushes the frontier of knowledge and practice to integrate gender equality and female empowerment successfully through all of our programming.

First, the policy cites a large body of quantitative and qualitative evidence showing that reducing gender gaps – whether in political participation, labor markets and the economy, health, education, or peace and security – leads to more effective and sustainable development results.

Second, it is outcome-focused, with three overarching outcomes that are to be translated into specific results with associated targets and indicators in all country strategies and project designs: 1) reduce gender disparities in access to, control over and benefit from resources, wealth, opportunities and services – economic, social, political, and cultural; 2) reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals; and 3) increase the capability of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes, and influence decision-making in households, communities, and societies.

Third, it incorporates lessons learned about the importance of accountability mechanisms, performance measures, and technical capacity – not just for our gender experts but for program and technical staff, as well. We will all be accountable for implementing this important policy.

All of this is hugely positive. Still, as we all know, policies must be translated into action and then practice. As Geeta Rao Gupta, Executive Deputy Director of UNICEF, said at the White House launch event, the institutional architecture is animated by people. The people of USAID are committed to implementing this policy, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it will make life better for the women, men, girls, boys, families and communities in the countries where we work. And, we will become a more effective development agency in the process.