Today, October 11, is International Day of the Girl Child, a day focused on promoting girls’ empowerment through equal rights and opportunities. The Solid Ground campaign knows that improving gender equality in land rights leads to far-reaching benefits for the entire community. That is why we reached out to the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, referred to as MCC, an independent foreign aid agency with a mission to reduce global poverty through economic growth, to ask about the ways they incorporate gender equality into their development strategy. Jennifer Windsor, the Practice Lead and Senior Director for Gender and Social Inclusion at MCC, responded with examples of how MCC goes about this work through their time-limited grants to certain countries.

Why is promoting girl empowerment central to MCC’s mission?

Gender inequality is a known constraint to economic growth. Girls and young women represent half of the future workforce in every country, as well as half of its future leaders and thinkers, and yet they face barriers specifically because of their gender. When half of the population has unequal access to education and health care, has fewer job opportunities and lower wages, and faces social pressure to get married and start a family before finishing or even starting high school, the influence of those factors on economic growth can be significant.

It is not enough to simply do development work without a focus on gender. Research shows that the benefits of many development programs are not equitably shared between men and women, or boys and girls. Anticipating how inequalities might prevent women and girls from benefiting from projects is necessary to provide equal opportunities. And empowering women and girls demands attention at all stages of project development and implementation.

Our business model incorporates gender throughout our entire process. From our country selection process, to identifying constraints to economic growth, to program development and implementation, to final assessment of our compact results, we look for opportunities to boost gender inclusion. Each MCC investment requires a Social and Gender Integration Plan (SGIP), which provides a comprehensive roadmap for social inclusion and gender integration throughout our programs.

Share an example of MCC’s work related to gender and land rights.

Land plays an important role in rural economies, serving as a crucial input for agricultural production, collateral to access capital, improving social status for owners, and a means of generating direct income if rented or sold. Although women make up 43% of the world’s agricultural labor force, they rarely own the land on which they work. Secure land rights are particularly important to improve women’s economic and social well-being, and the benefits extend well beyond direct female beneficiaries. Studies have shown that when women’s land rights improve their children are less likely to be sick or underweight, and are twice as likely to complete secondary school.

Through MCC’s first compact in Lesotho, the government passed the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act (LCMPA 2006) and the Land Act (2010), resulting in a gender-equal formal legal system. The compact’s gender equality activity trained over 6,000 people in the LCMPA and related women’s economic rights. The number of women in urban and peri-urban areas holding land titles, solely or jointly, increased from 3,214 to 26,342. However, there is additional work to be done on increasing knowledge of these laws, in supporting the judiciary to enforce them, and to integrating them into the country’s traditional legal system. 

In Morocco, MCC will support the government in developing an inclusive national land sector strategy and implementation road map. As part of the land privatization (melkisation) activity, our compact with the Moroccan government will work to optimize the process, making it more efficient and inclusive, and creating built-in mechanisms for effective and equitable conflict resolution. This process will include community dialogue and targeted work with women and men to increase women’s participation in decision-making and create opportunities for them to be rights holders as owners or co-owners. Our efforts will also support a campaign to educate women on their legal rights with regard to land, as property moves from collective to private status. Additionally, we will assist communities in exploring the possibility of setting land aside for women’s groups and cooperatives to support the production of high value crops or market gardens.

What is the importance of collecting gender data, and how does MCC do this?

MCC prides itself on evidence-based decision making. We operate with the understanding that good data produces good policy, so collecting and sharing data on gender issues in our partner countries is very important. Our ability to understand how gender equality can be translated into economic growth is challenged by a global lack of quality gender data, especially data on women’s economic activity and factors that affect their ability to make money. Moreover, this lack of quality gender data can lead to poor policy choices. Collecting higher quality gender data can improve our ability to design our projects to further empower women and solve these critical development challenges.

MCC draws on existing gender data, but we also collect new data—that can range from large-scale surveys to qualitative interviews—and we continue to work closely with colleagues and external partners to find new and innovative ways to capture data on women and girls.

Last year, MCC updated the Gender in the Economy indicator on its policy scorecard to more comprehensively reflect the nature of women’s participation in the economy. The indicator comes from the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law Report, MCC will begin to use the new version of the indicator on our scorecards in fiscal year 2019.