Senior Associate, Global Health Policy Center
On April 28, the U.S. Global Health Initiative (GHI) issued guidance on the women, girls, and gender equality principle – the first guidance to be issued about the GHI principles. The purpose of the guidance is to provide clarification on the goals and programming options for GHI country teams and partner countries. By explicitly recognizing that gender-related inequalities “disproportionately compromise the health of women and girls and, in turn, affect families and communities,” the GHI is moving forward in putting women and girls at the center of its response. Importantly, the guidance seeks to go beyond looking at women and girls just as beneficiaries of health services and extends into empowering women as key actors and decision makers.
The focus on women, girls and gender equality is listed as the first of seven GHI principles that include encouraging country ownership, building sustainability, improving metrics, strengthening and leveraging key multilateral organizations, increasing strategic integration, and promoting research and innovation. The guidance itself is very comprehensive: the key elements of implementation range from ensuring equitable access to health services, to increasing the meaningful participation of women and girls in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of health programs; from focusing on gender-based violence and strengthening adolescents girls’ social networks and economic assets, to engaging men and boys; from promoting policies and laws to improve gender equality, to addressing social determinants of health through a multisectoral approach, to building the capacity of individuals and institutions to improve health outcomes for women and girls.
At a time when many U.S. global health and development programs are facing budget cuts, the GHI’s focus on women, girls and gender equality will help make the case for the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability of gender-focused health and development programs. Indeed, the GHI principle on women, girls and gender equality builds on the exceptional consensus on gender and women’s health in the Obama administration – including President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, the USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Ambassador Eric Goosby from PEPFAR, and the Ambassador at large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer.
The challenge now will be to translate these commitments into effective action and implementation at the country level. With no new funding on the horizon to support increased work on women, girls and gender equality, the GHI country teams will have to find new and innovative ways to maximize current resources by better targeting programs based on an appropriate gender analysis, improving collection of sex-and age-disaggregated data to inform programming, and developing multisectoral approaches to address the health and non-health realities that affect the health outcomes of women and girls. The success of GHI will depend in large part on how this principle is implemented.