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The Obama administration has taken some important steps to put women’s economic empowerment at the center of US foreign and development policy, but there’s still plenty of work left to do. Researchers and advocates alike have made (and will continue to make) the case for why gender equality—and specifically women’s economic empowerment—are critical if we’re serious about achieving economic growth, eradicating extreme poverty, and improving the health, education, and well-being of people worldwide. Building on this evidence, this blog post turns to concrete ways that the next US administration can promote women’s economic empowerment—and in turn maximize the impact of its development agenda.

The following recommendations are informed by a recent roundtable discussion at CGD and additional suggestions from CGD researchers. They build on proposals from CGD’s The White House and the World briefing book, “A US Law or Executive Order to Combat Gender Apartheid in Discriminatory Countries” and ongoing work at CGD focused on women’s financial inclusion. Read the full policy memo for more details on each recommendation.

1. Give women’s economic empowerment its own dedicated budget.

The next US administration should allocate at least $1 billion in additional resources to advancing gender equality in developing countries, with a specific focus on improving women’s and girls’ economic opportunities and outcomes. (OECD data suggests that US foreign assistance with a principal objective of advancing gender equality is currently equal to around 0.008 percent of US GDP. An additional $1 billion would allow the United States to reach the OECD average of .013 percent.)

New funding should be invested in interventions that increase women’s access to financial services and modern agricultural and information technologies, local and global markets, and decent jobs and land rights, for example, as well as those that promote women’s access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and those that ease girls’ transition from school to the workplace. Funding should be dedicated to (1) incentivizing public and private sector programs and institutions to work towards greater gender equality in their outputs and outcomes (including through results-based payments and other innovative financial tools) and (2) supporting programs specifically targeting women and girls.

2. Use ‘beyond-aid’ tools to improve conditions for women workers.

Traditional interventions seeking the economic empowerment of women often focus on vocational and business training programs and micro-loans, but these interventions do little to address the broader constraints facing women and girls looking to enter and rise within the workforce. To address these constraints, the next US administration should consider adopting new policies that improve the practices of US firms based abroad. (Check out Charles Kenny’s proposal for a law or executive order to combat ‘gender apartheid at work.’)

Free trade agreements and investment treaties also have the potential, if carefully developed and enforced, to assist women in securing high quality jobs, accessing global markets, and to make work safer and more secure. When negotiating these agreements, the next US administration should consider including terms and corresponding enforcement mechanisms that mitigate potential gender disparities. Current agreements’ labor provisions on nondiscrimination must also be properly enforced.

Finally, in any future reform of migration policies, the new administration should take into account the greater barriers faced by women migrants, as well as the considerable benefits of migration in improving gender norms in sending countries, when formulating policies on admissions preferences. 

3. Make procurement channels gender-equal.

The Department of State, Department of Defense, USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) have the capacity to promote women’s economic empowerment through not only the projects and programs they finance, but also through the firms and employees they hire. Under the next administration, these agencies should institute positive incentives for contractors that hire women and sub-contract with women-owned firms. The next administration should also commit funds to supporting outreach and technical assistance for women entrepreneurs to build capacity and increase their access to procurement channels.

4. Improve the data on women’s economic empowerment.

The next US administration should invest in (and submit its own gender equality-related initiatives to) rigorous evaluations that can help tell us what works to economically empower women and girls in various contexts. In addition, the US Government should work to incorporate high-quality indicators focused on women’s and girls’ economic empowerment outcomes, and disaggregate results by age and sex. The next US administration should continue to collaborate with initiatives such as Data2X, UN agencies, and other data producers from the public and private sectors, as well as with domestic and foreign universities and women’s networks in the Global South to gather and use robust data for policy purposes.

The next US administration has an opportunity to improve its own approach to promoting women’s economic empowerment—through increased funding, improved trade and migration policies, reformed procurement channels, and better data. The United States also has the chance to use its leadership within international financial institutions such as the World Bank to encourage them to increase investments, adjust procurement channels, and contribute to data collection and dissemination efforts.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.