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  • Writer's pictureEmily Brown

USAID’s 2023 Gender Policy Finally Released!

Finally, we delve into the USAID 2023 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy (“Gender Policy”) that was launched on March 27, 2023. Earlier this year, I wrote what we can expect from the USAID 2023 Gender Policy. Let’s explore how on the nose I was, implications for the international development community, and challenges that may impede implementation of the policy.

In my previous article anticipating the USAID 2023 Gender Policy, I projected that we could expect it to:

  • Deepen commitment to delivering gender transformative programming

  • Prioritize intersectional approaches

  • Expand the gender equality definition to include gender-diverse individuals

  • Redouble USG efforts to mitigate and eliminate gender-based violence (GBV)

I was mostly correct – the policy’s vision and guiding principles (see guiding principles graphic below) reflect USAID’s priorities to fund transformational programming (focused on transforming norms, behaviors, structures, and systems that perpetuate inequality), consider intersecting identities (i.e., intersectionality), and expand the definition of gender equality to include gender-diverse individuals. One of its four objectives (see the objectives graphic below) is dedicated to the elimination and mitigation of GBV.

To learn more details about the guiding principles and objectives (see graphics at the end of this article below), read the USAID Gender Policy and check out the Fact Sheet.

What does the USAID 2023 Gender Policy mean for USAID implementing partners?

The policy contains several gems that implementing partners ought to consider in positioning for USAID funding and in strategizing about project design and implementation. Below is my breakdown of some of the most important takeaways for implementing partners.

  • Refer to the Gender Policy’s guiding principles as hot button issues. GESI advisors and others supporting proposal development would be wise to consider the policy’s guiding principles (see graphic below) strategically as hot button issues and aim to address as many as possible within project design.

  • More rigorous gender analysis requirements. Expect USAID solicitations to require more information about how the project will conduct the gender analysis and use the findings and recommendations to adapt project design and implementation. Related, the Gender Policy recommends USAID integrates gender in evaluations, so anticipate that USAID may also hold implementing partners to that recommendation. ICYMI, thanks to passage of the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act in 2018, gender analysis is now required by law to inform USAID strategies, projects, and activities and gender equality must be integrated across the USAID Program Cycle.

  • Required Gender Plans of Action. How will the project implement the results of its gender analysis? The policy recommends that USAID Missions and Operating Units “strongly encourage” implementing partners to submit a Gender Plan of Action, or a project-level gender strategy, to contribute to demonstrating how the agency is investing in gender equality. The Gender Plan of Action is essentially a roadmap for a project to use in operationalizing gender integration and the results of the gender analysis across activities and project processes. Anticipate more requirements for a Gender Plan of Action in upcoming solicitations.

  • Get familiar with gender equality markers. The policy recommends that Missions and Operating Units assess their portfolios annually using a gender equality marker. Currently, USAID does not have its own externally published gender equality marker, but implementing partners can expect one may be forthcoming. Shameless plug: A module of the upcoming online Bid Boss GESI course includes a module on gender equality markers. Clubhouse members will be able to take the course to learn more about how to support GESI integration in proposals and acquire basic tools.

  • Walk the talk and establish or update an organizational gender policy. The USAID Gender Policy requires its Missions and Operating Units to adopt or update a Mission Order on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment within one year after the policy’s release and to be updated every five years. Do you really think that USAID Missions and Operating Units are going to let implementing partners off the hook if they must develop and update an internal gender policy? Hardly … implementing partners may want to get ahead of the curve and establish or update their own internal gender policies and processes.

Anticipated Challenges to Implementing the USAID 2023 Gender Policy

As celebrated as this policy may be by the gender and development community, there will be challenges implementing it even with the best intentions. How so?

First, demonstrating sustainable improvements to gender equality may be a challenge. The Gender Policy reiterates USAID’s commitment to data-driven and evidence-based approaches and requires all Missions and Operating Units to track gender equality results annually. Yet, emerging trends among other bi-laterals indicate that tracking results is more difficult done than written into policy. For example, a recent audit from Canada’s Office of the Auditor General found that Global Affairs Canada “was unable to show how the approximately $3.5 billion in bilateral development assistance it provides each year ... improved outcomes for women and girls,” in part due to weak information management practices and poorly developed indicators. USAID will need to deliberately ensure that data management and tracking systems are designed to secure data and collect the right information to show progress for sustainably advancing gender equality.

Second, political party power changes, especially in the U.S. presidency, will likely result in the erosion of USG commitments to gender equality as outlined in the USAID 2023 Gender Policy and other USG gender policies like the National Gender Strategy. Such political changes may result in development and foreign policy priorities shifting rapidly and giving rise to uncertainty, ethical questioning, and anxiety about causing harm and worsening situations for the most vulnerable. The international community is already facing enormous global challenges: recovering from a pandemic, experiencing unprecedented impacts of climate change, and suffering worsening food insecurity and malnutrition for millions of people. Revoking the human rights of individuals based on notional concepts of gender diversity will be appallingly harmful to individuals, communities, societies, and international development organizations, civil society, and faith-based organizations that support human rights for all.

My mantra: Compartmentalize. Keep swimming forward. Breathe.

Finally, expect a 2023 launch of a new website, GenderLinks, that will bring together USAID’s diverse assets and guidance on gender equality across sectors. Currently, USAID resources and publications on gender are spread across multiple USAID sites.

At the end of the Gender Policy launch email, Jamille Bigio, the USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, writes, “Deliberate action is required from all of us to advance gender equality.”

What can you and/or your organization set into motion to support implementation of the USAID 2023 Gender Policy?

Let us know in the comments!

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