USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Understanding the Wants and Needs of Women Living Under $2 a Day

As development practitioners, do we adequately understand our target beneficiaries before programs are implemented?  Are we doing our ‘market research’ before investing resources, to best comprehend the wants and needs of those we intend to assist?  Yes, but only to some extent.  The development community has a variety of tools at its disposal, developed and tweaked over decades, to give us insight and analysis into the lives of our target audiences.  But rarely do they offer a deep, deep dive.

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: GSMA

New research released today at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers a refreshing approach to understanding women who live at the base of the pyramid, often under $2/day.  The GSMA mWomen Program, whose overall goal is to reduce the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world by 50%, has spent much of the past twelve months carrying out quantitative and qualitative research of more than 2,500 women in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The findings illustrate the lives, struggles and aspirations of women who often represent the backbone of their families and communities, yet rarely are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams.  The research, funded by USAID and AusAID, identifies the unique socio-economic and cultural factors that influence and shape women’s lives, framed in part by their attitudes towards mobile ownership. 

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Three Questions about the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index

The new Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) will be officially launched today during the United Nations’ 56thsession of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City. The WEAI is the first-ever measure to directly capture women’s empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector.

Chairwoman Rose Peter of the Upendo Women Growers Association in Mlandize, Kibaha, Tanzania, shows off the first batch of sweet peppers the women have grown in their new greenhouse. Photo credit: USAID/Tanzania.

The index is the product of a partnership between USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) of Oxford University, in support of President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to combat global hunger and poverty.

Paul Weisenfeld, Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, Dr. Sabina Alkire who leads OPHI, and Dr. Agnes Quisumbing, Senior Research Fellow for the Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division at IFPRI answer questions about this innovative measurement tool.

Q: What is the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index and what will it mean for the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative?

Paul: The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index measures the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agriculture sector to identify ways to overcome obstacles and constraints that hinder women’s engagement and equality. The Index is a significant innovation in its field and aims to increase understanding of the connections between women’s empowerment, food security, and agricultural growth. It measures the roles and extent of women’s engagement in the agriculture sector in five domains: (1) decisions about agricultural production, (2) access to and decision-making power over productive resources, (3) control over use of income, (4) leadership in the community, and (5) time use. It also measures women’s empowerment relative to the men within their households.

The WEAI was developed to track the change in women’s empowerment levels that occurs as a direct or indirect result of interventions under Feed the Future.  The U.S. Government sees the inclusion of women in agricultural sector growth as a key component of the Feed the Future strategy.  We are paying close attention to gender integration at the country-, program-, and project-level, and trying to get it right at every stage of the initiative.  This is where the Index plays a critical role; we want to continue to study, assess, and monitor how our approaches impact women, men, and their engagement in overall agricultural sector growth.

Q: What makes the WEAI so innovative?

Sabina: The WEAI is the first index to directly capture women’s empowerment in agriculture and provides invaluable tools for empowering women and improving gender equality.

The WEAI reveals the areas such as time burdens, community leadership, and control over income and resources, where women are most disempowered. It also shows whether an ‘empowerment gap’ exists between women and men from the same household.

And because it gets closer in, it also transforms our understanding of who is empowered. Until now, wealth and education have been taken as signs of how empowered women are. The WEAI gives a more precise picture. Pilot results from Guatemala, for example, show that 76% of the sample region’s wealthiest women are disempowered in agricultural empowerment. The index is constructed using an adaptation of the Alkire Foster method for measuring multidimensional poverty.

Q: If we’re seeing that wealth and education don’t necessarily mean “empowerment” for women, then what does empowerment mean in the context of agricultural development?

Agnes: It means a woman is able to make decisions, access the tools she needs, obtain a loan if she needs to buy inputs to expand production, join a women’s group, and take on leadership roles to advance agricultural production and tackle shared problems in the community. It means that she can control her income, better manage her time, and make sure she remains healthy and productive in her multiple roles. These factors enable a woman to do things such as produce food for her family; identify and help raise awareness to address problems affecting output – like crop disease or drought –helping communities cope with unexpected shocks; bring her products to market; and have the opportunity to both advance and benefit from economic growth opportunities. 

All of this increases women’s bargaining power within her household and her ability to decide how she’ll spend her income. Our work at IFPRI has shown that women are more likely to spend additional income on their children’s health, nutrition, and education, as well as on other investments that ultimately result in dividends that advance the broader community. We know that empowering women is not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. It helps advance families, communities, and the broader global good.

Learn more about the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index


Recognizing and Tackling Disrespect and Abuse of Women in Childbirth

A young mother lies with her newborn child. Photo Credit: UNFPA

When I started midwifery training decades ago in the United States, in the hospital where I worked, I first saw evidence of disrespect and abuse of women in labor. Women were separated from families and visitors from admission to discharge four days later and, in the second and third stages of labor, their legs were secured by stirrups and their wrists put in leather restraints.  Soon after, I worked in West Africa in a government maternity and witnessed women being verbally abused — “if you don’t push and your baby is born dead, it will be your fault” – and physically abused by slapping and massive fundal pressure to force delivery. Women were ridiculed for making too much noise in labor — and then were chastised if they were silent and delivered alone.

Fast forward decades later.  As I visit maternity services in a number of countries, I don’t need to look far to see and hear evidence of disrespect and abuse of women in childbirth.  A convulsing woman in labor on the steps of an urban referral hospital turned away from because she cannot pay.  A doctor who derides poor women for not using family planning to control their fertility.  A nurse who tells me that postpartum mothers “sneak in” to see their hospitalized newborns at night, while the families seek to find funds to pay the bills in order to get their newborns discharged.  Unclothed women laboring and giving birth as visitors walk by. A researcher who tells of a postpartum mother being detained for months because she could not pay her bill. The human rights worker who tells me that refugee women are discriminated against in childbirth and that one refugee was forced to keep her stillborn in her bed with her for 24 hours against her will.

I do not cease to be saddened and angered by the number of ways women giving birth are being degraded, abused, and humiliated by healthcare workers, often women themselves.  Abuses continue to occur in all corners of the world, including my own. They are not behaviors that are easy to change.  Some are reinforced by financial incentives and subtle or overt discrimination. For many, the behaviors are learned and reinforced in home, school and society — wherever there are unequal power relationships.

Despite the problems, many of the frontline caregivers at birth – midwives, doctors, nurses and auxiliaries – work diligently, treat women with compassion, and even use their own resources to assist women in referrals in the case of life-threatening emergencies. Their selfless work needs to be recognized, even while the problems of abuse are uncovered.

I am now very encouraged that the issue of abuse is resonating with so many who care for and about childbearing women.  I see there is growing attention to this problem through documentation of the abuses; identification, dissemination and the implementation of the new Universal Rights of Childbearing Women; and implementation research to expand the evidence base on what it takes to tackle this problem effectively.  Many people and organizations are working on this and I am delighted that the United States Agency for International Development is supporting this work in country settings, in partnership with many others, to ensure that all women are treated with the respect and compassion during childbirth that they deserve.

Originally posted at the White Ribbon Alliance blog


Photo of the Week

The Empowerment through Literacy Education Access Project (E-LEAP) helps adult Maasai women learn basic Swahili literacy skills, which allows them to have greater access to essential skills. Currently funded through our Education Sector, this program partners with Mwedo (Maasai women development organization) and began in 2007 with 150 Maasai women. Currently, E-LEAP has empowered over 2000 Maasai women. The program extends beyond basic Swahili literacy skills and trains the women in business skills, HIV education, and land rights. Photo credit: Megan Johnson/USAID

Mobilizing the U.S. Government to Protect and Empower Women and Girls

In October 2010, I was honored to be at the UN Security Council meeting where Secretary of State Clinton announced that the United States would prepare its own National Action Plan to implement commitments on Women, Peace and Security.   Having served on the UN Civil Society Advisory Group on Resolution 1325 and as an adviser to UNIFEM’s executive director, I saw this as an historic step in mobilizing the U.S. government’s efforts to protect and empower women and girls in the context of armed conflict.

Over the past year, I’ve been pleased to work with colleagues at the White House, State, Defense and other agencies – along with our civil society friends in the U.S. and in conflict-affected countries – to identify the concrete and measurable actions incorporated in the National Action Plan announced by the President today.

From experience in Angola, South Africa, Haiti, Central African Republic and beyond, I know first-hand the importance of empowering women to be catalysts for positive change in armed conflict and displacement scenarios, and ensuring their participation in peace negotiations and post conflict reconstruction and governance.

In particular, the systematic exclusion of women from the negotiation of peace agreements and implementing bodies is a principal reason why so many of these agreements ultimately fail and countries return to conflict.  Unless women are present, issues like accountability for past abuses, psycho-social support for victims of violence, restoration of health and educational systems, reintegration of displaced persons and refugees, and trafficking in persons are often inadequately addressed.     When the momentum for political reconciliation or military disengagement starts to wane, women who have viewed such peace processes as only for the benefit of the armed combatants have little incentive to press the parties to see these processes through to the end.

At USAID, we’ve already taken key steps to address these problems.  Every USAID project proposal must have a “gender impact statement”; we have a tough new anti-trafficking code for ourselves and our development partners; gender is incorporated as a cross–cutting priority for all our initiatives in food security, global health, climate change, democracy and governance, economic growth and humanitarian relief; and we have funded the participation of women in peace processes and reconstruction conferences around the world.  We also brought on a senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment – the remarkable Carla Koppell – who is working with Caren Grown, Sarah Mendelson and others to insist that gender is in our agency’s DNA.

I view these steps as the down payment on an “IOU” we owe to women faced with conflict around the world.  We look forward to working with host governments, civil society groups, partners, friends, and, most importantly, local women on the ground.  It is their wisdom and expertise we must rely on to succeed.  The guiding vision must be, “Nothing about them without them.”

For Mi Abuelita: Reflections on Child Marriage as a Form of Gender-Based Violence

Unequal gender norms limit a girl’s ability to make decisions that affect her social, economic, and physical wellbeing.  As the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence ends on International Human Rights Day, I’d like to reflect on a form of gender-based violence that is often overlooked: child marriage.  For more than 58 million women around the world, their disempowerment begins with this harmful cultural practice.

For the past 15 years, I’ve worked in the field of gender and international development. During that time, my work has focused on the relations between women’s empowerment, gender dynamics, and reproductive health.  My motivation for focusing on these links is not only professional; it is indeed very personal. My Peruvian grandmother was married when she was 16 years old. She was pregnant 14 times (10 children; 2 miscarriages; 1 stillbirth; and 1 infant death). My mother was her oldest child; I was her first grandchild.

I adored mi abuelita and greatly admired her strength; she became a widow at age 42 when her youngest child was 3 years old, took over the family photography business, and became the matriarch and axis of the family. But she suffered from poor health for many years, and passed away when I was 16.

Growing up, I heard many stories about her married life. Her husband was at least 15 years older; he had a daughter almost her age from an earlier relationship, which caused countless family conflicts over economic resources. I never knew my grandfather, but I knew that he drank a lot, was unfaithful, and often abusive—not physically, but in emotional and economic ways. When my grandmother tried to separate from him, he refused to give her any child support, which led to her infant’s death from malnutrition.

The sense of injustice I felt listening to these stories transferred over to my dedication to these issues; the more I learned about these intersections, the more I understood that my grandmother’s story is not a unique story. Gender-based violence, in all its forms, is a global phenomenon.

At USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health, we address the relations between gender and reproductive health, including child marriage, through programs that aim to empower girls/women, constructively engage boys/men as partners, and promote gender equality in a variety of cultural contexts. And I am proud to be part of these efforts.

November 29th was my grandmother’s birthday, and I honor her memory by continuing to work to change the gender realities that propel so many girls into child marriage.  I hope to continue to help raise global awareness about the ways in which child marriage is a violation of girls’ rights to social, economic, and reproductive empowerment, health, and well-being.

Combating Human Trafficking

As part of USAID’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence we wanted to share with you some information on an issue that the Congressional Women’s Caucus has been working on diligently to end across the globe: human trafficking.

According to Department of State estimates, roughly 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year. If trafficking within countries is included in the total world figures, official U.S. estimates indicate that some 2 to 4 million people are trafficked annually.  On June 14, 2010, the State Department issued its 10th annual report on human trafficking.  We were pleased that members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues got to sit down with Luis CdeBaca, the Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons for the State Department, to discuss this report and the status of U.S. anti-trafficking efforts.

Part of this discussion included the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which combats sex trafficking and labor trafficking across the globe by increasing the penalties for traffickers and providing assistance for victims.   It is vital that we continue to revise this measure, ensuring the State Department has the authority needed to combat trafficking.

This reauthorization would increase monitoring on child labor within the United States.  It would also focus our assistance on the most vulnerable populations abroad, looking at post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies for those in need.  As this measure moves through the legislative process, the Women’s Caucus will provide input to strengthen our country’s ability to combat trafficking.  The victimization of women, children and exploited workers cannot be tolerated and Congress should continue to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Addressing Sexual Violence in Conflicts and Disasters

Sexual violence often increases in conflict and disaster situations, typically exposing women and girls to increased threats of rape and assault, exploitation, and abuse. This happens because of population displacement, the absence of police, and the disruption of the normal social networks that protect women and girls. Therefore, when USAID provides humanitarian assistance, such as food, relief commodities, water, and shelter, to people who have been affected by disasters, we also work to reduce risks for sexual violence and to provide support for women and girls who have experienced violence.

I have seen the importance of this program response first hand. In June I traveled to Cote d’Ivoire with four of my colleagues to assess the humanitarian situation following the fighting that occurred there earlier in the year. We visited communities in the west and the north of the country, and also some of the neighborhoods around Abidjan where the fighting was most intense. We met women, children, and men who had fled their homes in the villages, many of them witnessing and experiencing violence themselves.

Although women do not tend to speak openly about sexual violence in Cote d’Ivoire due to fears about being stigmatized or feeling shame about what has happened to them, it was clear that many women and girls had suffered from sexual violence during the conflict. Humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), conducted rapid surveys in the areas most affected by the conflict, finding high rates of sexual violence – and especially gang rape – between January and May of this year. However, because of the involvement of the police in the conflict, women and girls were afraid to contact the police and did not report rapes or seek support services.

Based on these findings, USAID funded humanitarian organizations like the International Rescue Committee to ensure that women and girls who experienced sexual violence could access a range of support services, such as medical care, counseling, and legal aid. Many of these services already existed in Cote d’Ivoire, but they stopped functioning when health clinics were damaged by the conflict and trained service providers fled to other parts of the country. USAID programs worked to re-start these services by training new service providers, restocking health clinics, and raising awareness within communities about the available services. In total, USAID provided more than $2 million for protection activities like these in Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, where refugees from Cote d’Ivoire fled during the conflict. These funds supported IRC and other organizations to respond to sexual violence and child protection concerns and to offer psychosocial support for affected populations.

Although sexual violence is an ugly consequence of conflict and disasters, by providing safe, sensitive, and appropriate services for survivors, we can help them and their communities to recover and rebuild their lives.

The Price of Eggs

Caren Grown headshot.  Photo: USAID

Gender experts have been advocating for sex-disaggregated data and gender sensitive statistics for more than 25 years. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action called for “reliable gender statistics to inform policies and programs and to assess progress and gaps.” While progress has been made, notable gaps remain, especially in the area of women’s economic empowerment. It is easier to find the price of eggs in a market in Tanzania or Guatemala than to find the extent of women’s ownership of land, housing and other productive assets relative to men, or women’s hourly wages in a retail store, or  whether a female entrepreneur was able to access debt or equity capital to start her business. You get the picture.

I am hopeful things will change with the new Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE), being launched today in Busan, Korea, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  This initiative, led by the United Nations Statistics Division and UN Women, will improve the availability and use of statistics that capture gender gaps in economic activity.

EDGE capitalizes on a call to action by Secretary Clinton at the May 2011 OECD Ministerial Session on Gender and Development, and builds on recommendations of the UN International Agency and Expert Group on Gender and Statistics to make the data that is collected on women and men in education, entrepreneurship and the labor market more comparable and useful.

EDGE will include two major activities.  First is the development of an online database for a harmonized set of indicators, including education, employment, and entrepreneurship.   Once the database is up and running, we will have a one stop shop for indicators – across developed and developing countries – on labor force participation rates for individuals ages 15-24 years old, and 15 and above by sex.  We’ll be able to determine the percent distribution of the employed population by sector and sex, the youth unemployment rate by sex, and the percent of firms owned by women.

Second, EDGE will support a set of common, pilot activities in a small number of partner countries to develop protocols and data collection methods for sex-disaggregated data on entrepreneurship and assets, two areas with large data gaps. The pilots will eventually result in routine collection by countries of data that we can use to compute firm entry, growth, and survival rates by sex, or the proportion of the population that owns land and houses by sex, and other measures.

With some political will, resources, and the harnessing of good technical minds, in the next five years we can report globally on how well women are faring relative to men in entrepreneurial activity and labor markets –  alongside the price of eggs.

Can you hear her now? Putting mobile phones in women’s hands

In the late 1970’s one of the major findings on Madison Avenue, (then the world capital of advertising) was that women control over 80% of all consumer purchases in the U.S. This ‘shocking discovery’ changed who and how companies marketed their products. I was just entering the workforce then and thought, ‘ how in the world could this have been such a surprise?’  Had none of them been to a grocery or department store?  Had none of them recognized that the one car family was becoming two and it was women doing the schlepping?

It is happening again. Only this time the stakes are much higher.  Cell phones have flown off the shelves and into the hands of people in the remotest and some of the poorest places on earth.  They are transforming the developing world and bringing incredible opportunities.

Yet, according to a Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and a GSMA study, three hundred million fewer women own them than men in the developing world.  If this gap isn’t closed women will be left out of not only the communication revolution but the opportunity to use the phone to make money, get information they need to stay healthy or to grow better crops, or to seek help. The industry association, GSMA, along with USAID, AUSAID and Visa Inc. said we are not going to let this happen on our watch. Today we are announcing a global public-private partnership to close the gap. And since we know for it to be sustainable without donor dollars, we are working with the mobile operators to build the business case for phone ownership by poor women.

For more information, please visit

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