Gender is a critical issue to consider when addressing youth sexual and reproductive health (YSRH). Traditional gender norms contribute to unintended pregnancy, STIs, HIV and AIDS, sexual violence and coercion, and early marriage and other harmful practices among young women. Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released its Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, the agency’s first gender policy since 1982. The policy “seeks to improve the lives of citizens around the world by advancing equality between women and girls and men and boys, and empowering women and girls to participate fully in and benefit from the development of their societies.” The policy recognizes the many gender gaps that exist across sectors and their detrimental effects on the health and well-being of both women and girls.
The policy aims to achieve three overarching outcomes:
- Reduce gender disparities in access to, control over and benefit from resources; wealth opportunities; and economic, social, political, and cultural services
- Reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals and communities
- Increase the capability of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes, and influence decision-making
USAID intends to achieve these outcomes through the following seven operational principles:
- Integrate gender equality and female empowerment into USAID’s work
- Pursue an inclusive approach to foster equality
- Build partnerships across a wide range of stakeholders
- Harness science, technology, and innovation to reduce gender gaps and empower women and girls
- Address the unique challenges in crisis- and conflict-affected environments
- Serve as a thought leader and a learning community
- Hold ourselves accountable
The operational principles of the Gender Policy were developed in conjunction with USAID’s Youth in Development Policy, which is currently under development and expected to be released this year. The Gender Policy recognizes the importance of addressing gender inequality experienced by adolescent girls, stating that “closing gender gaps in adolescence is particularly important since gender inequalities in education, time use, and health can accumulate across the life cycle if not broken early.” Adolescence provides an opportunity for addressing gender issues and related reproductive health concerns.
Working at changing gender norms with young people is a proven and cost-effective way of redressing gender inequalities and improving reproductive health and HIV and AIDS outcomes .The IYWG welcomes this policy and its potential to affect the health and wellbeing of adolescent females and males worldwide.