USAID and Women Worldwide

Women in Development (WID) Program


USAID began its Women in Development (WID) program following the 1973 addition of the “Percy Amendment” to the Foreign Assistance Act (click to download, see p. 58, Sec. 113).

Source: USAID. Girls study in school built with USAID funding in Afghanistan.

The amendment states that because women “play a significant role in economic production, family support, and the overall development process of the national economies of [developing] countries,” up to $10 million may be spent each year to finance programs that “promote the participation and integration of women as equal partners in the development process.”

The amendment also states that no separate development agency is to be created with the appropriated funds. Funds are instead to be used for gender programs within established agencies. Thus, the WID program has been housed within USAID for  nearly 40 years.


The overall mission of WID is defined as follows:

The Office of Women in Development is USAID’s central point of leadership and expertise on gender issues in social, economic and political development policies and programs. The Office:

  • identifies and analyzes emerging and unaddressed issues of strategic importance to gender equality
  • raises awareness within USAID and the interagency of critical policy and technical issues related to gender
  • designs and manages selected innovative pilot projects
  • advances gender integration throughout USAID programs through programmatic coordination, technical assistance, capacity building, and information dissemination
  • coordinates with bilateral and multilateral donors and non-government organizations on gender issues.

Programs: 2001-2007

WID conducts programs in five sectors: (1) gender integration, (2) economic growth (3) education, (4) legal rights, and (5) trafficking in persons. Below are the most recent programs furthering the legal rights of women around the world.

Women’s Legal Rights (WRL)

Source: USAID. Women in Djougou, Benin read a pamphlet about inheritance produced in their local language, Dendi. Photo: E.C. Ahounou

The Women’s Legal Rights (WRL) initiative was the most recent project directed by USAID. It began in September 2002 and ended in September 2007.

The mission of WRL was to “advance the legal, civil, property, and human rights of women” by “providing high-impact, results-oriented technical assistance that promotes participation and transparency.”

USAID sought to accomplish this goal by strengthening the institutional capacity of governments, universities, and NGOs that strove to improve the legal protection of women. It also worked to reduce the number of women trafficked each year and increase the accessibility of judicial systems to women victimized by violence. Activities included partnerships with local NGOs to draft legislation against domestic violence in Albania and sexual harassment in Benin. WID officials also worked with local judges and attorneys to educate them on how to implement existing family laws.

Further information on these and other  activities may be found in the final WRL report here (click to download). The report covers how WRL improved women’s rights legislation, strengthened the capacity of local justice and civil society sectors, and increased public awareness. It also includes recommendations and strategies for how to sustain reforms.

Advancing Women’s Rights Globally

The Advancing Women’s Rights Globally project ran from November 2001 to October 2005 and included a partnership between USAID and the Georgetown Human Rights Clinic. The goals of the project were paralleled those of WRL: to use law as a tool in improving the status of women.

Its activities included the drafting of legislation for Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria. A final report on all activities can be found here (click to download). Both this and the WRL report would be useful to law students seeking to learn how women’s rights legislation has been improved in the past.

Protecting Women’s Legal Rights in Mexico, Colombia, and Dominican Republic

This project, referred to rather generally as Protecting Women’s Legal Rights in Mexico, Colombia, and Dominican Republic, operated from September 2001 to September 2003.

Focusing on only three countries, this WID project sought to reduce (1) gender-based violence (GBV) and (2) reduce human trafficking and sex tourism in Latin America. The program provided three legal workshops to local NGOs supporting women’s rights, as well as grants provided to 18 organizations in the field. Detailed information regarding the project can be found in the program’s final report here (click to download).