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Gender Equality

Strategy Overview

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A self-help group in Jharkhand, India, meets with foundation and partner representatives.

OUR GOAL:

to accelerate progress toward a more gender-equal world by addressing the barriers that keep women and girls from being fully active in their homes, economies, and societies.

The Challenge

Too often, people living in low-income communities have fewer opportunities and less power to improve their lives. This inequality is magnified for women and girls, many of whom have little say in the decisions that affect their lives, their families, and their communities. Structural barriers such as discriminatory laws and restrictive policies limit their participation in the economy and their earning power. Harmful social norms and expectations further deny them control over their own lives, including their education, health, marital and reproductive choices, employment, and family financial decisions.

The Opportunity

At A Glance

In the foundation’s work to reduce inequity, it has become clear that the undervaluing of women and girls is at the root of every problem we are working to solve.

That is why we weave gender equality into the fabric of our organization and invest in removing the barriers that keep women and girls from being fully active in their homes, communities, and societies.

Our approach starts with enhancing women’s opportunities to participate in the economy and improving the collection and use of data on gender issues so women and girls are counted and considered in policymaking.

With an emphasis on reaching low-income women and girls in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, we support the work of partners to break down structural barriers to women’s equality and help individual women overcome existing, day-to-day barriers.

Evidence from dozens of emerging economies shows that when money flows into the hands of women, and when those women have the power to decide how and when to spend it, their lives and the lives of their families are better. One study found that the global economy would grow by an estimated $28 trillion by the year 2025 if women were to participate in the economy to the same degree as men.(1) If the world can unleash that power for three billion women and girls, we will begin to untangle some of the most persistent roots of poverty.

To build solutions that benefit women and girls, we also need better data. Gender inequality defies clear-cut solutions, in part because we don’t always have information about what works. Sometimes we lack evidence entirely. By improving the collection and use of data on gender issues, we can bolster our efforts to reduce women’s barriers to equality and economic empowerment.

Finally, as a foundation we consider it critical to consider how gender plays into all our work. In countries and communities around the world, gender affects whether and how individuals can access resources and how much control they have over them. If we do not take gender differences into account, our efforts will miss the people who would benefit the most.

(1) McKinsey (2015). The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth.

Our Strategy

Our work to close the gender gap falls into three broad areas, with an emphasis on reaching low-income women and girls in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, including Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. These countries represent some of the largest economies in their regions and are home to promising efforts focused on women’s empowerment.

First, we support the work of partners to break down structural barriers that women and girls face simply because of their gender. Second, we focus on lifting up individual women by backing projects and programs that help them overcome existing, day-to-day barriers. And finally, we weave gender equality into the fabric of our organization through our gender integration approach.

Along the way, we seek to advance women’s economic empowerment by improving the collection and use of data on gender issues so women and girls can be counted and considered in policymaking. With the right data, we can work with partners—from local nonprofits to in-country researchers, gender-focused coalitions, and governments—to develop and fund interventions that measurably improve the lives of women and girls. We also support crucial grassroots, national, and global advocacy and communications to make the case for gender equality as a strategic priority that will benefit everyone.

Areas of Focus

Empowering Individual Women

When women and girls are expected to remain in the home, perform all domestic work, and defer to parents, male relatives, and husbands on important decisions, they cannot participate freely in the economy or fulfill their aspirations. The disproportionate numbers of women affected by intimate partner violence, sexual exploitation, and forced labor face additional challenges to mental and emotional well-being, as well as increasingly limited participation in the broader society.

But history has shown that even the most deeply entrenched gender norms can be changed—and that when they are, economic opportunities for women and their families grow. We work to understand the role of these norms, and we design and test policies and programs that strengthen women and girls’ agency so they can earn money, benefit from economic gain, and have the power to make decisions about their incomes and lives. In Uganda, for example, we’re building on group interventions that are already socially acceptable, such as women’s savings groups, to create more broad-based women’s collectives whose members are empowered to organize, use their voices, and advocate for change.

We also support programs aimed at increasing women's earning power and ability to control their own income. Women farmers comprise about half of the agricultural labor force in low-income countries, but they struggle to earn a fair income. Our partners help them connect with markets, increase their earnings, and make financial decisions. We also test and evaluate the most effective ways to expand women’s financial inclusion so they have access to the tools and services they need to manage their money. In partnership with governments in eight countries, we seek to ensure that more women receive digitized social payments deposited directly into their own bank accounts.

Embedding a Gender Focus Across the Foundation

While working to enhance women’s economic empowerment, we are also carefully considering how gender equality plays into all of the issues the foundation works on, including poverty, hunger, and health. And we have to use that knowledge to intervene in the right ways. By considering how people of different genders face different norms, opportunities, and barriers, we can have a greater impact through our grants and programs while avoiding unintentionally favoring certain people and further disadvantaging others.

Core to this approach is ensuring that our foundation’s global work is conducted through a gender lens, from our strategies to our programs, advocacy efforts, and research. We are training the foundation’s entire global staff in best practices for gender integration, including lessons learned from partners. Staff members in grantmaking roles receive additional training, including in how to use our custom Investment Marker tool. This helps them ask the right questions when they consider investments, such as “How do women and girls experience the problem differently?” and “Are any gender-based policies or customs in play?”

For example, pilot programs to improve sanitation by providing public toilets must be designed to take into account the unique needs of women, who are vulnerable to spying or even violence if the toilets have stalls with doors that don’t lock, poor lighting, or open windows for ventilation. If women don’t feel safe, the toilets may end up being used predominantly by men, which limits the impact of the program overall and marginalizes women and girls.

As the foundation’s programs develop or refresh their core strategies, our gender integration team works with the program leaders and teams to ensure that they apply a gender lens to their work. Even programs that focus specifically on women and girls, such as maternal health initiatives, undergo continuous, rigorous examination based on gender-related factors. We are developing clear gender-related metrics and targets to ensure that everyone at the foundation holds themselves accountable for success, and we provide ongoing assistance to our partners so they have the resources they need to make their own work more gender aware.

Without concerted action, gender inequality will continue to persist throughout our lifetimes and into future generations. With the deadline for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals drawing near, it is increasingly critical that we consider how gender plays into every issue we touch. The formation of the Gender Equality team in 2020 has put gender equality on par with all of the foundation’s other global programs, ensuring that gender equality is not just part of our collective agenda—it is our agenda, as we work toward a world where equal is greater.

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