USAID has been working to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment for decades. Today, USAID strives to include attention to gender equality and women’s empowerment in every part of the USAID program cycle.

USAID has a decades long history of addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The passage of the 1973 Percy Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act was an early milestone, recognizing the key role that women play in advancing social and economic development. A year later, USAID established the Women in Development (WID) Office - the first office responsible for gender equality work across the Agency. A WID Policy Paper, written in 1982,  informed a 1996 Gender Plan of Action that noted requirements for gender integration in policy, personnel, procurement, performance monitoring, and evaluation. 

By the early 2000s USAID’s Automated Directives System (ADS), which describes mandatory Agency procedures, mentioned gender and by 2009 had established a more comprehensive approach to gender integration (ADS 201). Other changes to Agency systems and activities included: 

  • Gender analysis added as one of two analysis requirements;
  • Introduction of gender key issues as new budget attributions, along with a set of standard gender indicators; 
  • Expansion of the gender architecture and leadership in the Agency; and
  • Renaming the WID Office to the Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenDev). 

In 2012, USAID leadership established the need for a coherent, relevant, and up-to-date policy on gender equality. The Agency launched the first version of the Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy that year and released a second iteration in 2020. 

Building on the existing evidence base and best practices of USAID and other donors, the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy provides a framework for gender integration throughout all aspects of the Agency’s work, including a series of new mandatory requirements. In 2013, USAID issued the first-ever standalone ADS chapter dedicated to gender equality (ADS 205), detailing the Agency’s understanding of gender analysis and step-by-step instructions on its application in country strategies, project and activity designs, solicitations, and monitoring and evaluation. 

Since 2012, USAID and the U.S. government have issued a series of policy and strategy documents to support women’s empowerment and gender equality. The passage of the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment (WEEE) Act of 2018 was a turning point for gender equality work at USAID, transforming good practice into law by requiring that gender analyses inform USAID strategies, projects, and activities and that gender equality be integrated across the USAID Program Cycle. Congress and USAID have continued to promote gender equality work through the expansion of Agency gender training opportunities, the establishment of dedicated women’s economic security funding in 2018, the first-ever USAID global conference on gender equality in 2019, and the 2023 launch of the GenderLinks website, that brings together USAID’s diverse assets and guidance on gender equality across sectors.