Guiding Principles

USAID encourages all programming to align with the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy’s (Gender Equality Policy) seven guiding principles that drive meaningful and sustainable change towards a gender equitable world.

The seven guiding principles outlined in USAID’s Gender Equality Policy guide the Agency’s work to advance gender equality and the empowerment, protection, and participation of all women and girls, men and boys, and gender-diverse individuals in their societies.

USAID Gender Equality Policy’s Guiding Principles:


All USAID programming has the potential to advance gender equality and/or leverage the benefits of greater equity to drive sector-specific impact. To do so requires integrated, evidence-based approaches and intentional actions to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls throughout USAID’s Program Cycle and in every sector. This includes considerations of gender equality in the development and revision of Agency policies and strategies; the design and implementation of projects and activities that engage a wide range of stakeholders; and in the monitoring, evaluation, and learning stemming from all of the above.


Many aspects of a person’s identity affect how they experience the world. Women and girls, men and boys, and gender-diverse individuals are shaped by their sex and gender identity as well as a range of other characteristics including age, marital status, class, ethnicity, race, disability status, geographic location, and sexual orientation. This is particularly relevant for individuals who experience overlapping marginalized identities, and therefore experience overlapping inequalities. For example, GBV disproportionately affects women and girls worldwide, with even higher rates documented among specific groups, such as lesbian or transgender women and women and girls with disabilities. Similarly, Indigenous women and women from racial and ethnic minorities often experience higher maternal mortality rates than women on average.

Incorporating an intersectional gender lens improves our programming by identifying—and strategically addressing—the ways in which gender and other inequalities can limit certain people’s access to, participation in, and benefit from development interventions. This lens can also help USAID better address the context-specific root causes of such inequalities.


For all people to have the opportunity to realize their full potential, the norms, behaviors, relations, structures, and systems that sustain and perpetuate gender inequality must be transformed. USAID will engage key actors to address prevailing power dynamics and enhance gender equality. USAID programming will contribute to this goal with a holistic and multilevel approach that critically examines gender roles, norms, power dynamics, and inequalities; strengthens norms, laws, policies, and other systems that support gender equality; and manages the risks associated with shifting power dynamics.

Locally Led

USAID prioritizes locally led efforts to dismantle systemic inequalities and power imbalances in the contexts in which we work. This commitment aligns with USAID’s broader effort to redefine its relationships with local communities and institutions by prioritizing investing in and elevating local capacity and leadership to advance development solutions. 

Across our global development and humanitarian work, USAID will emphasize direct engagement with, funding of, and support for local organizations, particularly those led by women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals and those dedicated to promoting gender equality. USAID also supports governments at all levels, along with local private-sector and other local and Indigenous organizations that are working to dismantle gender barriers, catalyze sustained systems change, and advance development outcomes. Locally led development efforts will include attention to addressing power dynamics within and between local actors and networks that may perpetuate gender-based inequalities.


USAID is committed to fostering more flexible, adaptive, and creative approaches to engaging new and diverse partners to advance gender equality. This includes, but is not limited to, organizations and movements focused on gender equality, governments at all levels, private-sector actors, civil-society organizations, locally led networks and collectives, academia, local researchers, and faith based organizations. We recognize that no single organization or sector can dismantle gender inequalities. These partners should include those that represent and comprise marginalized, vulnerable, and underrepresented populations, including women’s and girls’ rights and LGBTQI+ human rights organizations. To support these partnerships and robust programming, we will work collaboratively across sectors.


All USAID staff—from the USAID Administrator, senior officials, Mission Directors, and Bureau leaders, to program, technical, human resource, financial management, and acquisition and assistance staff—are responsible for advancing the Gender Equality Policy’s objectives and applying its guiding principles through their roles. Operating Units are supported by USAID’s technical leads on gender equality, who provide expertise and guidance to facilitate efforts to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. The roles and responsibilities for USAID’s Operating Units in implementing this policy appear in ADS 205.

Do No Harm

Closing gender gaps and supporting women’s empowerment involves challenging entrenched roles, norms, and practices. When confronted with changes to the status quo, some can react in harmful ways. USAID addresses this risk by striving to mitigate any potential unintended consequences of our assistance that could inadvertently harm the people and communities we seek to support and empower. For example, USAID consults key local stakeholders about the potential for harm and works with communities to design projects and activities that reinforce the value of gender equality and women’s empowerment. In addition, the Agency monitors for and addresses unintended consequences throughout our development and humanitarian assistance programs, supporting the goal that sector interventions do not inadvertently exacerbate, deepen, or further entrench gender gaps and inequalities, including GBV or other human rights violations.

2023 Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Policy

This policy provides the vision for USAID’s work to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world—establishing USAID’s strategic objectives and driving investments across the Agency’s operations and programs in order to achieve these aims.