Women's Empowerment

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by restrictive gender norms and other structural barriers. USAID affirms that the empowerment of women, in all their diversity, is central to the realization of gender equality.

Women’s empowerment is when women and girls act freely, claim and exercise their rights, and fulfill their potential as full and equal members of society. All individuals have power within themselves; however, cultures, societies, and institutions create conditions that facilitate or undermine the possibilities for empowerment. Women’s empowerment is also a process by which the state of empowerment is achieved. 

USAID recognizes that its role in women’s empowerment is to support those addressing the environmental and systemic factors that enable or impede people’s abilities to exercise their inherent power and agency. This kind of structural change requires engagement with an ecosystem of local actors, including individual women and girls themselves. The Agency is not suggesting that it, or any other entity, can “bestow” empowerment upon others. 

USAID continues to reference women’s empowerment explicitly because women (and girls, who are implicitly included in this phrase) are most widely and disproportionately affected by gender-based inequalities. The deliberate focus on inclusivity within the Gender Equality policy recognizes that all people have a gender-based discrimination. The widening of the aperture of the Agency’s programming does not, however, obviate the continued need to focus on women and girls in USAID’s work.

Women and girls are by no means a homogenous group. As noted elsewhere in the Gender Equality policy, women and girls with disabilities, transgender women, Indigenous women, and other historically marginalized women, for example, experience multiple and intersecting forms of systemic discrimination. Approaches to women’s empowerment must therefore be nuanced enough to recognize and address the ways in which gender and other identity factors disproportionately affect specific groups of women and girls.