What We Do

Gender Equality

Strategy Overview


Anita runs a tea shop from a handcart in Noida, a suburb of Delhi. She has a SBI EKO mini savings account which she can operate using her mobile phone. She is saving for a better future – to buy goods for her home and to someday have a shop of her own.


Remove the barriers facing women and girls to ensure they have an equal chance to thrive and lead healthy, productive lives.

The Challenge

At A Glance

Despite recent progress in gender equality, women and girls still face significant barriers to leading healthy, productive lives.

Greater economic opportunities for women and girls translate to a greater ability to make decisions and unleash power over their own lives.

Our strategy aims to advance women’s economic empowerment by expanding access to and use of digital financial services, increasing women’s access to work and markets, and strengthening women’s voices, skills, and knowledge through women’s empowerment collectives.

Our strategy also focuses on closing the gaps in gender data and evidence that are critical to understanding barriers for women’s employment, voice, and agency, including through improving measures on women’s work and time use, as well as on gender norms.

We are working to accelerate global momentum and accountability to use gender data and evidence in program design and policy-making.

Our Gender Equality strategy is led by interim director, Helene Madonick, and is part of the foundation’s Global Growth & Opportunity division.

The world is making progress on advancing gender equality. But there is still nowhere on earth where women are equal to men. From health and education to labor and income, women and girls worldwide face barriers to achieving their potential simply because of their gender.

These barriers manifest in many ways and look different for many women. Some lack access to mobile bank accounts. Some are unable to own their own land. Some are unable to get the health care they need. These – and the myriad other barriers women face – make inequality and poverty deeply intertwined. As a result of these barriers, women earn less, own fewer assets, and are underrepresented in economic and political decision-making processes. Because they are unequal in society, they experience fewer benefits of economic growth and more of the challenges of life in poverty.

This stifles their potential to thrive. And it also inhibits society more broadly. A recent study found that the global economy would grow by an estimated $28 trillion by the year 2025 if women participated in the economy to the same degree as men.(1)

We believe that an equal world is a greater world. By lifting the barriers that make women and girls less equal and more impoverished, we can expand opportunities not only for women and girls, but also for men and boys.

(1) Power of Parity, MGI, 2015

The Opportunity

In 2015, the leaders of 193 nations made a pledge through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end gender inequality in all forms by 2030, highlighting that for the first time, gender equality was a priority for the world’s leaders. Additionally, in response to longstanding patterns of abuse and discrimination, women around the world have raised their voices and have brought attention to inequalities like never before. It’s clear that gender inequality runs deeper than many of us understood, does more damage than we admitted, and needs to be urgently addressed.

We know that there is no silver bullet to solving gender inequality. But when we look at developing countries that are making significant progress in empowering women and girls, we see that harnessing economic power is a consistent and tangible thread.

Economic empowerment has material benefits in its own right. From 2008 to 2014, for example, the number of female-headed households living in extreme poverty fell by 2 percent because of access to the mobile money product M-PESA.(2) But economic empowerment also has powerful spillover effects. With greater economic access and control, women can attain more years of education; they can choose when and whether to marry and have children; and they drive social, economic, and health benefits for themselves and the next generation of girls.

In Bangladesh, for example, decades-long growth in the garment industry brought many women into the formal workforce, leading to declines in child marriage and early motherhood. These effects show that it is about more than economics; it is about changing the way society views women and girls, and indeed, how women and girls see their own role in society.

A woman in charge of her economic future is a woman with power over her own life. If the world can unleash that power for 3 billion women and girls, we will begin to untangle some of the most persistent roots of poverty.

(2) “The long-run poverty and gender impacts of mobile money,” Tavneet Suri and William Jack, 2016

Our Strategy

While our gender equality strategy is new, we did not start from scratch. This strategy builds on the important work of our partners and our shared efforts to close the gender data gap, support women’s movements, and learn about what works to put women and girls at the center of development. The findings and lessons learned from these investments have illuminated the best approach for the foundation’s path forward.

Gender is – and has always been – at the heart of our foundation’s work, from maternal and child health to hunger to family planning. In addition to looking at the role of gender across all our program areas, we have developed an overarching strategy that articulates how we will systematically tackle the barriers that women and girls face simply because of their gender.

The focus of our gender equality strategy is on transforming the way the poorest women and girls participate in economies. Our initial investments are in projects that drive women’s inclusion in digital financial services, enhance women’s participation in agricultural markets, and support a new wave of self-help groups that can provide critical platforms to empower the next generation of women and girls.

Additionally, together with our partners, we have developed an empowerment model that can help governments, organizations, and individuals design programs that tackle gender equality and address some of the biggest hurdles facing women and girls.

Areas of Focus

We analyzed evidence and data from nearly 100 countries around the world to understand the many factors that drive women’s economic gains. From there, we looked at where the foundation is best positioned to make a difference—based on where philanthropic investments in general can have the most impact, where we in particular had the right experience, and where a strategy like ours could be bold and take risks that others might not be able to take.

In the end, we identified three priority areas for our work:

  • Financial Inclusion: Ensuring women have more access to and use of digital financial services, such as mobile bank accounts and digital payment systems, to close the persistent gender gap in financial inclusion.
  • Support and connection: Prioritizing self-help groups as critical platforms for bringing women together and building up their collective knowledge, economic power, and voice.
  • Opportunity: Connecting women to new market opportunities to increase their profits and incomes, especially in the agricultural sector.

The foundation will also engage in a modest learning agenda to better understand how owning assets, such as land, could help increase and diversify a woman’s opportunity to own an income.

Our initial investments are focused in four countries that are already making gains or where we see great potential for impact: India, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The lessons we learn with our partners in these countries will inform wider programming and partnerships that benefit other women and girls across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

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