Women in International Development

Gender and Development Issues

Almost every aspect of life is gendered. How we eat, sleep, work, care for children, play, and communicate are all colored by gender. In developing countries, the challenge of survival brings gender issues sharply into focus.

12 Platforms for Change

At the 1995 Women's Conference in Beijing, attendees came up with 12 critical platforms where actions can be taken that will improve the lives of women. Issues are broken down as follows:

Poverty: Women make up a disproportionate share of the world's growing poor. Women now constitute 70% of the world's 1.2 billion poor. This extra burden stems from an absence of economic opportunities and autonomy, land ownership and inheritance, education and support services and minimal participation in decision making.

Education: Although primary enrollment rates are the same among boys and girls, dropout rates are much higher among girls. Over two-thirds of the world's 1 billion illiterate are women.

Health: Women are the fastest growing group of HIV-infected adults. By the year 2000, 15 million women will be infected by the virus. Each year, at least half a million women die from complications due to pregnancy, and another 700,000 due to unsafe abortions.

Violence: Violence against women is a global problem. In the United States, a woman is physically abused every eight seconds and one is raped every six minutes. In India, five women are burned due to dowry-related incidents every day. According to a survey from Papua, New Guinea, 67% of all women were found to be victims of domestic violence.

Armed and Other Conflicts: Women often have no decision-making power during global conflicts. They are the victims of torture, disappearance and systematic rape as a weapon of war. Women constitute 75% of the world's 23 million refugees.

Economic Participation:At the corporate level, there are only eight women for every 100 men. Women are strongly discouraged from decision-making positions that involve economics.

Power-Sharing and Decision-Making: More than 100 countries have no women in the government. Negative stereotypes contribute to the discrimination that women face.

National and International Machineries: Women in developing countries often lack the tools that are needed for advancement. They need to be educated in how to use technology in order to become introduced into mainstream society.

Human Rights: Women are granted all basic human rights but often lack the ability to exercise them fully. Women's rights are still not secured in countries that haven't adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Mass Media: Very few women work in the world's media. This allows men to reinforce the stereotypes of women that may not necessarily be true.

Environment and Development: Women, since they are left to be responsible for food and household management, are naturally more concerned about the environment.

The Girl Child: In many countries, girl children are discriminated against from the day they are born, on into adulthood. They are often treated as inferiors. Girls are less likely to be encouraged and supported, thus continuing the cycle of dependency.

These platforms offer strategic objectives that can be addressed by governments, international organizations, communities and individuals to improve the status of women. 


Gender Equality, Development & Peace for the 21st Century

At the international women's conference at  UN headquarters, NY in the year 2000, the UN General Assembly reviewed the progress made over the previous five years (since 1995 Women's Conference in  Beijing). 

Women's ability to escape poverty is more constrained than men's due to the fact that they bear the burden of unpaid labor, and have limited market opportunities, as well as less access to education and training. Women, in the great majority of countries, still face the burden of caring for children and performing housework, which is often an obstacle to expanding women's 'productive' economic activities and engaging in political action. But focusing exclusively on women limits the scope of one's understanding. It is therefore important to look at gender dynamics. The focus has thus changed from WGD (Women in International Development) to GAD (Gender and Development).


Some Statistics

Women comprise 50% of the world's population, yet they:

  • are the majority of the 1.3 billion absolute poor
  • perform 2/3 of all hours worked, but receive only 1/10 of the world's income
  • own less than 2% of all land
  • receive less than 5% of all support services
  • receive only 1% of all agricultural credit
  • produce more than half of all food produced (Africa 80%, Asia 60%, Latin America 35%)
  • receive 25 and 40% less pay than men earn for the same work  when they are paid for their labor


Becoming Gender-sensitive

  • Gender is socially constructed, complex and dynamic.
  • Recognize men and women as gendered.
  • Recognize power differences.
  • Be aware of, but think beyond gender stereotypes.
  • Be sensitive to gender constraints (behaviors, tasks, mobility etc.).
  • Consider gender-based knowledge.
  • Find ways to include women and address women's priorities.
  • Make women's needs as visible as men's.



USAID recognizes that understanding the role of women in development is critical to creating effective development programs. In 1974, it established its first WGD office 'to help ensure that women participate fully and benefit equally from U.S. assistance.'

The USAID-WGD office provides:

  • Leadership and expertise on gender issues
  • Support for field missions
  • Identification of newly emerging gender-related issues
  • Development of multi-disciplinary approaches