How can an adolescent girl succeed in school if she is not protected from sexual violence inside the classroom? How does a child thrive when his mother must choose between buying medication or nutritious food? We know that poverty, lack of access to education, poor health and violence are intimately linked, and how we tackle these problems is a global issue with important implications for the way the United States funds international development programs for women and girls. At the moment, we tend to compartmentalize our efforts in top-down, single-issue solutions, not because that is the most effective way to meet the needs of women and girls, but because it meets the needs of funders and their implementing partners. As we enter the new era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to do better.
There is an obvious starting point.
We need to be a lot more deliberate and get a lot better at integrating efforts to improve the well-being of women and girls. Given the siloed nature of how we organize development work, especially in terms of funding and specialized expertise, we tend to think and act with narrowly predetermined notions of cause and effect. As a result, we miss vital connections and opportunities for action and impact. For example, I recently asked an African Minister of Health what was the biggest obstacle to women’s and girls’ health, and he immediately responded, “access to transport” to get to health facilities and obtain medicines. And yet, how often does transport come up as a priority when funders and development agencies plan health programs?