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  • Writer's pictureEmily Brown

USAID Gender Equality Policy - Postponed!

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2023, the Bid Boss Clubhouse is hosting a series of Clubhouse posts every Thursday in March to highlight gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) and its relation to business development.

Up first this month, we are celebrating will be celebrating today’s launch a launch (sometime?) of the 2023 USAID Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy. That policy launch, originally scheduled for today, Thursday, March 2, was postponed via email the day before due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict. The cynic in me is nervous that in the wake of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ censoring sweep this past week, the administration is holding the policy back – hopefully until better PR timing and not because they are going to revise it in haste!

Let’s walk through what we know about the 2023 USAID Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy and why it’s important for business development and the international community.

The Gender Equality Policy’s background. The first version of the policy launched in 2012 and was revised in 2020. The policy is supported by USAID’s ADS Chapter 205, “Integrating Gender Equality and Female Empowerment in USAID’s Program Cycle.” The policy and ADS 205 define practices for USAID missions and staff, including mandating gender analyses to inform country planning and project designs, and including gender indicators in performance monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. The ADS 205 defines roles and responsibilities for USAID personnel, including establishing the USAID Office of Gender Equality and Female Empowerment (commonly referred to as GenDev).

The 2020 revision drastically narrowed inclusive definitions and reinforced exclusionary concepts of the gender binary, equity, and diversity. The launch of the 2023 version of the policy has been eagerly awaited among GESI practitioners in international development who have been highly critical of the previous version. USAID held a public comment period to inform the draft of the 2023 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy and many in the GESI community provided robust reviews and recommendations.

What we can expect in the 2023 version. I’m not a crystal ball gazer, which is why I was so excited to finally get my hands on the 2023 USAID Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy today. Yet, I can share with some confidence that we can likely expect the policy to:

  • Expand inclusion of gender-diverse individuals in USAID’s vision to advance gender equality globally.

  • Redouble USAID’s efforts to prevent, reduce, and respond to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse, which increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Reflect priorities from the U.S. National Gender Strategy (2021), including using intersectional approaches to address compounding discrimination and bias and developing programming that is informed by the historical and current context of discrimination, bias, social norms, and power dynamics (that is, conducting GESI analysis!).

  • Deepen USAID’s expectations for delivering gender transformative programming whenever possible, and gender responsive programming at a minimum.

USG commitments to gender equality. The 2023 USAID Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy is indicative of a wider trend within the Biden Administration to reinforce and resource commitments to gender equality and inclusive development. In January 2023, Administrator Power announced the roll out of the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund that will double the agency’s investments in gender equality in FY 2023, with a focus on women’s economic security and in alignment with the 2022 U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security. In late February 2023, the White House Gender Policy Council - the first freestanding policy council focused on gender equality with the Executive Office of the President - released its first progress report to the President on the U.S. National Gender Strategy (2021).

Why is this important to business development? Based on the USG policy environment supporting gender equality and inclusion and the redoubled efforts to mainstream and integrate gender equality commitments under the Biden Administration, development actors can anticipate increased focus and requirements to advance gender equality and inclusive development within USG-funded programming.

Guiding principles that cut across USAID and USG policies and strategies on gender equality and inclusion and that are wise to consider as hot button issues include:

  • GESI analysis to inform project design – both at the proposal development stage and during the project start-up phase to adapt and refine project approaches early

  • Prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse including among staff and program participants and to mitigate the risk and impact of gender-based violence

  • Localization and partnering with organizations working on human rights issues and/or led by women, youth, and marginalized individuals

  • Consultation with women, girls, gender diverse individuals, persons living with disabilities, and individuals from marginalized/discriminated populations to seek input on programming priorities and implementation ("nothing about us without us")

  • Intersectional approaches to address multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination, bias, and oppression

  • Transformational approaches that seek to address the underlying systemic and structural inequalities and power imbalances, for example through engagement with traditional and faith leaders and men and boys

There are mandatory GESI practices based on the current USG policy environment, plus minimum standards for GESI integration that contribute to (but are not all that constitute!) a winning USAID proposal.

Project designs and implementation plans need to incorporate these to meet USAID GESI requirements and expectations. See also the Minimum Standards for Mainstreaming Gender Equality graphic in this article (at right).

Mandatory GESI practices for USAID programming include:

  • GESI analysis to inform project design

  • Tracking and reporting on GESI indicators and learning

GESI standards that successful USAID proposals will also integrate at a minimum include:

  • Staffing to support GESI integration, implementation, and monitoring (e.g., full-time advisor, technical consultant to support research)

  • Project-level GESI strategy, demonstrates how the project will operationalize the GESI analysis recommendations

  • GESI training of staff

  • Budgeting of adequate resources to support GESI activities

There are many more best practices to advance gender equality and inclusive development. This is just the tip of the iceberg! Later this spring, Bid Boss will roll out an online course on Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Integration in Business Development that Clubhouse members can take to learn more and acquire basic tools to support GESI integration in proposals. Stay tuned …

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Bid Boss Consulting, LLC (“Bid Boss”), a women-owned small business providing capture, proposal, and new business skill development support to humanitarian and international development organizations,

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