Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama hosted a White House Summit on Global Development to map the future of U.S. development efforts. The meeting took place just as the United Nations has begun to measure progress toward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious set of goals to eradicate poverty adopted by the United States and 192 other nations last year. As development leaders assess how to meet these goals and improve U.S. foreign assistance, they ought to elevate a priority that has long been marginalized: advancement for women and girls, which is chronically underfunded and lags far behind when compared with other development objectives.
The gender gap in development assistance persists despite a substantial body of evidence confirming that investment in women yields high returns on poverty eradication and economic growth. Research demonstrates, for example, that reducing barriers to women’s economic participation decreases poverty and increases GDP. Promoting gender equality also enhances food security: a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization shows that equalizing women’s access to productive resources increases agricultural output and could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million. In addition, improving women’s health has demonstrable economic effects: access to family planning, for instance, helps fuel economic growth, and increased female educational attainment not only raises household income but also lowers national health expenses and rates of infant and child mortality.
Despite the significant link between investment in women and girls and sustainable development, official development assistance to support gender equality efforts has been remarkably low. Under the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) framework that preceded the 2030 agenda, funding from major donor countries to advance gender equality was largely confined to the areas of maternal health and primary education. Left out were other priorities such as women’s legal rights, economic empowerment, family planning, and domestic violence prevention. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated that investment in gender equality by member nations composed only five
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