Just in time for International Women’s Day, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released a new gender policy on March 1st. More comprehensive than the former 30-year-old policy, the new policy is a big step forward in the ability of the agency and its partners to tackle the root causes of gender inequality through development work.
USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg emphasized that the agency is integrating gender “into the DNA” of everything they do to more adequately respond to the vast gender-related barriers that persist all over the globe. The new policy will serve as a guide for efforts to change the social norms that, in so many places, continue to lead to gender inequalities and worse. Deep-rooted changes in social mores are needed, as well as a comprehensive approach to the many factors that influence how girls and women fare all over the world.
One such place is Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, when a girl is beaten by a boy in her school, it is not an isolated incident but rather the tip of the iceberg in a country struggling to end conflict-related sexual violence and mend its torn social safety net.
Currently, FHI 360 is leading a project under its C-Change program to influence attitudes and practices in 31 schools in Katanga and surrounding communities. The project engages parents, teachers and students to diminish the instance of school-related gender-based violence. In this preventive program, participants are using innovative avenues of communication for social and behavior change to tackle, at the school and community levels, the underlying factors that make such violence a part of everyday life. For example, teacher mentors use a Congolese-appropriate Safe Schools Guide to work with designated youth clubs to discuss and strategize how to make schools safer.
Attaining gender equality takes long-term vision and time. Programs such as C-Change are tackling the foundation of gender inequality: unequal gender norms. Gains for women are being achieved, while making men champions of gender equality.
If the arc of opportunity is long, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it bends toward equality. And we have to be there to meet it.