Gender and Social Inclusion

Research shows that gender equality can promote much needed economic growth in the developing world.
by Dana J. Hyde, MCC CEO
This blog post appears on

Gender and social inequality are known constraints to economic growth, and research shows that the benefits from poverty reduction initiatives are unequally shared with women 1 and marginalized populations 2 .

  • In some countries, productivity could increase by as much as 25% if the barriers that prevent women from entering the workforce were eliminated 3 .
  • Studies find that increases in women’s education boost their wages and gender inequalities in education are associated with negative economic consequences.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls in low-income countries spend about 40 billion hours per year collecting water 4 .

Recognizing that gender and social inequality can be significant constraints to economic growth and poverty reduction, MCC is committed to promoting gender equality and social inclusion throughout its work, including through its partnerships with civil society and the private sector, and its integration of social and gender analysis across compacts.

Partnerships for Improving Gender Equality

MCC embraces strategic partnerships to support the empowerment of women, recognizing that shared values and the inclusion of all citizens strengthen MCC’s goal to reduce global poverty.

  • Data2X. MCC supports the U.S. Government’s Data2X partnership to improve the availability and use of sex-disaggregated data, and demonstrate how better data on the status of women and girls can guide policy, leverage investments and inform global development agendas. Through this collaboration, MCC continues to work to improve the availability of its data and work toward implementing a systematic process to improve future sex-disaggregated data. MCC is also collaborating with Data2X, the United Nations Development Program, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to recommend ways to better integrate sex-disaggregated data into reporting standards for the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).
  • Girls CHARGE. In 2014, MCC joined the Clinton Foundation, Brookings Institution, and nearly 40 government, non-governmental, multilateral and private sector partners who work together on Girls CHARGE – Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girls’ Education. This five-year partnership aims to improve learning and leadership opportunities for young women and girls. As part of this partnership, MCC has committed to more deeply pursue and track outcomes that reflect “second generation” education goals through its programs in El Salvador and Georgia.
  • Let Girls Learn. MCC supports Let Girls Learn, a U.S. Government-wide effort that leverages the investments and successes achieved in primary school education and expands them to help adolescent girls go on to complete their education. MCC’s goals, mission and country-driven approach are consistent with the Let Girls Learn initiative to promote adolescent girls’ education. MCC compacts invest in education projects to ensure that students obtain the foundational knowledge and skills they need to get jobs and increase their livelihoods. MCC also works to reduce poverty by improving education quality and access, enhancing teacher training, and instituting policy reforms.
  • PEPFAR. MCC and PEPFAR are partnering to invest $21.9 million in Country Data Collaboratives for Local Impact in sub-Saharan Africa that will use data on HIV/AIDS, global health, gender equality and economic growth to improve programs and policies. The program will be completed in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. Country Data Collaboratives will improve existing data and make it more accessible, strengthen data analysis and visualization, enhance opportunities for citizen contribution to data, cultivate talent, and ensure mutual accountability when implementing development aid to enable greater local impact.
  • Power Africa. MCC brings its gender expertise to Power Africa, a partnership among U.S. and African governments, the private sector, and others in sub-Saharan Africa aimed at increasing the number of people with access to power. The foundational principles of MCC—a laser focus on data, growth, and country demand—are squarely aligned with the Power Africa effort. The agency has committed about $1.5 billion in energy projects in Africa through compacts and threshold programs that improve the quality and reliability of electricity and promote climate-smart measures, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy. MCC is also sharing its expertise in gender integration as a co-host of a Power Africa Working Group on Gender, whose goal is to promote gender integration across Power Africa’s efforts. The working group shares information, success stories, lessons, and best practices, and collectively advocates for gender inclusion in Power Africa policy and programs.

The Sustainable Development Goals

MCC’s work makes an ongoing contribution to achieving the 17 interconnected Sustainable Development Goals. In its work to achieve sustainable economic growth and a healthy environment for its partner countries, MCC is proud to help advance gender equality worldwide.

  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

Integrating Social and Gender Inclusion Across All Sectors

MCC’s projects are designed to provide women, the poor, and marginalized groups with improved access to infrastructure, land, healthcare, education, and productive roles within the economy.


MCC’s projects are designed to provide women, the poor, and marginalized groups with improved access to infrastructure, land, healthcare, education, and productive roles within the economy. They aim to incorporate women’s voices into the decision-making process throughout compact development and more broadly in societies, where their voices often are underrepresented.


Photo: These local women were among tens of thousands of adults learning to read at MCC-funded functional literacy classes in Agadir, Morocco.

Photo: Jake Lyell for MCC

These local women were among tens of thousands of adult farmers, fishers and artisans learning to read and write Arabic at MCC-funded functional literacy classes in Agadir, Morocco.

Moroccan women are 50 percent more likely to be illiterate than men. But as a result of a $698 million MCC Compact with Morocco, tens of thousands of people across the country learned to read and write for the first time thanks to the compact’s Functional Literacy and Vocational Training Activity. Students—adults included—learned to read and write Arabic—the most widely spoken language in Morocco—and coursework was tailored to people from three trade backgrounds: fishing, agriculture and handicrafts. As students learned to read, they also learned valuable skills to help them with their jobs. By the time the compact closed in September 2013, Millennium Challenge Account-Morocco—the local organization implementing the project—had trained 30,022 students on the artisan curriculum, 19,187 students on the fisheries curriculum and 20,522 students on the agricultural curriculum.


Gender norms, legal restrictions, and discriminatory corporate policies and practices can discourage women and girls from pursuing careers. This means there are fewer candidates in the labor force and creates a bottleneck in a country’s economic development. To maximize the educational opportunities available to women and girls and help them reach their full potential, MCC works with its partner countries to improve the quality and access to education, develop capacity, train teachers and community leaders, and reform policies.

El Salvador

Girls learn new skills at an MCC-funded high school in El Salvador’s Northern Zone. The rehabilitation of high schools alone is expected to benefit more than 9,700 students every year.

Photo: Jake Lyell for MCC

Girls learn new skills at an MCC-funded high school in El Salvador’s Northern Zone. The rehabilitation of high schools alone is expected to benefit more than 9,700 students every year.

As part of El Salvador’s $277 million compact with MCC, signed in 2015, a Quality Education Activity is rehabilitating and building gender-responsive infrastructure, such as separate bathrooms for boys and girls, and integrating a gender-focused approach into school curriculums, teacher training and data collection systems. MCC is also supporting the creation of the Ministry of Education’s Gender Policy and Gender Unit, which will provide input and guidance on the Ministry’s vision, strategies, plans, and processes to help improve the lives of girls through education. The activity will also address issues of gender-based violence in schools, crime and insecurity, and early parenthood, targeting both young male and female adolescents. A Technical Vocational Education and Training Activity will also use a gender-lens in its approach, with a focus on women’s participation in non-traditional fields of study and work.


Photo: Young women in Georgia celebrate the partnership between MCC and San Diego State University that brings internationally accredited STEM education opportunities to Georgia as part of MCC's 0 million Georgia Compact.

Young women in Georgia celebrate the partnership between MCC and San Diego State University that brings internationally accredited STEM education opportunities to Georgia.

In 2013, MCC and the Government of Georgia signed a $140 million compact to improve the quality of education in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The compact’s three major projects include components to increase the participation of women in STEM professions. One component will tackle classroom gender bias by providing professional development to school principals and secondary school teachers. A second component includes a grant facility for soliciting proposals from technical and vocational education and training providers, designed to encourage innovative approaches to attract women and minorities into professions where they are currently underrepresented. And a third component, a San Diego State University partnership with Georgian universities to deliver joint-degree and ABET-accredited science and engineering programs, includes in its recruiting strategy specific measures, complemented by scholarships, to attract and retain girls and minorities in the new degree programs. SDSU is also developing measures to promote female faculty in STEM fields, where they remain underrepresented, particularly at higher levels.


In 2015, the MCC Board of Directors approved a $450 million dollar compact with Morocco, which will include a $220 million project in secondary education and job skills training. Through this project, MCC will help to identify barriers to girls’ education and develop solutions for improving learning outcomes and reducing dropout rates. The project includes innovative approaches, such as establishing performance contracts with schools to promote accountability for results and bonus payments to school budgets as incentives for meeting specific social and gender goals. To ensure that both boys and girls are benefiting from efforts to improve the quality of education, teachers and school administrators will be trained on how to better respond to the different needs of boys and girls and how to ensure an inclusive and safe learning space. MCC will also support schools, through partnerships with private sector companies and organizations, to provide enrichment activities that work against discriminatory gender expectations and expose girls to a wide variety of career options.


An estimated 70 percent of the world’s poor are women, many of whom live in rural areas that lack access to electricity. Research shows that in some cases, rural electrification has increased women’s employment by 9% 5 —suggesting that powering communities can empower women and girls. But even when electricity is extended to new areas in developing countries, for poor households, it is often unaffordable. To increase women’s access to income-generating opportunities and financial, educational, and health services, MCC works with partner countries to help create self-sustaining power systems for businesses and households, attract private sector investment and reform policies.


Signed in 2015, MCC’s $375 million compact with Benin works to improve the quality of the country’s electricity services. Investment in generation and distribution infrastructure aims to increase the on-grid electricity supply by one-third of current demand, while a matching grant fund will co-finance off-grid, clean energy solutions for unserved rural and peri-urban households and communities. As MCC and the Government of Benin prioritize policy reform and institutional capacity building, the compact will also provide technical assistance to advance the national utility’s efficiency and financial health. To address the population’s electricity needs, including women and the urban and rural poor, MCC will facilitate the development of a tariff and connections cost plan that addresses issues of access and affordability alongside financial viability of the utility. Collaboration with the utility will also promote gender-responsive human resource practices, from recruitment and hiring to training and promotion. A Women’s Energy Entrepreneurship activity will focus on equipping women with the skills to leverage electricity and the sale of energy products to increase incomes.


In 2014, MCC and Ghana signed a $498 million compact that will support the transformation of Ghana’s power sector and stimulate private investment. Collectively, compact activities will boost Ghana’s thousands of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – the majority of which are owned and operated by women. An access project is being designed to identify and implement solutions to alleviate the barriers MSMEs face in accessing electricity, such as increased public lighting, which extends business hours and improves safety and security for women and girls in particular. Moreover, strengthening institutional partnerships will enhance dialogue between the utility companies, local government, and trade associations, including market women associations. Women’s participation in these forums enable them to influence decision-making on electricity service delivery. The compact will also support the development of gender policies at utilities and strengthen networking and advocacy capacity. In addition, an internship and mentoring program for university students, with a particular focus on female students in science and technology fields, is expected to encourage more young women to follow career paths in the energy sector.


Research suggests that increased spending on health, gender responsive and socially inclusive policies, good governance, women’s empowerment and men’s participation can improve maternal and child health, reduce childhood stunting and lower infant, child, and maternal mortality. MCC works with its partner countries to ensure that critical, cost-effective health and nutrition services are available where they have the greatest potential to enhance the quality of life and lead to greater productivity and economic growth.


Stunting (low height for age) reflects the cumulative effects of intergenerational poverty, lack of knowledge about balanced diet, poor maternal and early childhood nutrition, repeated illness due to unsafe water, and poor hygiene and sanitation practices in ensuring maternal and child health. It also reflects insufficient household purchasing power and poor access to education, housing, sanitation, and health services. Currently, more than one-third of children under five years old in Indonesia experience stunting, though the poverty rate is less than 15%. Consequences of nutritional deprivation in a child’s early life include higher infant and child mortality, increased susceptibility to infection and illness, reduced adult physical stature, and impaired cognitive abilities—all of which result in long-term economic losses to individuals and society. As part of Indonesia’s Compact with MCC, a $129.5 million community-based health and nutrition project seeks to reduce and prevent low birth weight, childhood stunting, and malnourishment of children. The project provides an incentives-based system to increase demand for initiatives that improve knowledge and access to a balanced diet for mothers and children to reduce stunting, increasing males’ roles and responsibilities in ensuring maternal and child health and nutrition, while improving the health sector’s capacity to respond to increased demand.


MCC’s first compact with Lesotho included a $143.6 million Health Sector Project aimed at strengthening the delivery of essential health services to address HIV/AIDS and other diseases by improving the country’s health care infrastructure and human resources. This MCC-financed infrastructure is supporting Lesotho’s efforts to significantly increase access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART) throughout the country. In Lesotho, more women than men are infected with HIV/AIDS and at a younger age, so efforts included a focus on maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Project efforts were closely coordinated with HIV/AIDS activities funded by PEPFAR.

The Philippines

The Kalahi-CIDSS project, a component of MCC’s $434 million compact with the Philippines, aimed to improve lives in rural, high-poverty areas through small-scale, community-driven development projects focused on infrastructure, health and education. The project has funded the provision of infrastructure and services such as water systems, clinics and schools in poor, rural communities through community-selected and managed sub-projects. To date, 2,825 sub-projects have been completed, and the project is expected to impact more than 5 million people. The project included various innovations to strengthen gender impacts and consistently emphasized equitable participation and benefits. The project also committed and disbursed more than $1 million for 47 Gender Incentive Grants benefitting 113,874 households, piloting interventions to address gender-specific needs in communities. These projects have funded maternal health facilities, services for the protection of women against violence, and vocational skills training for low-income women in construction trades. Finally, a consistent effort was made to promote women’s participation in paid works supported through the project, and 1,699 women were trained using Gender Incentive Grants funds in non-traditional skills such as welding or plumbing.


Throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America, MCC's country partners have directed the majority of their MCC-funded programs to closing the infrastructure gap and creating the means for communities and citizens to meet local market opportunities and compete in today’s global economy. The efficient and effective movement of goods and services to markets; the pathways to obtain critical inputs like water and electricity for agricultural and industrial productivity and household well-being; and the ability to access education, training, healthcare, and other vital community services make infrastructure an indispensable factor for economic growth.

The Philippines

Without dependable roads, local residents and businesses in Samar and Eastern Samar provinces in the Philippines—among the country's poorest regions—face high vehicle operating costs and lack quick access to basic community services. As part of MCC's first compact with the Philippines, MCC aims to rehabilitate 222 kilometers of road with the goal of increasing commerce in and between the provinces of Samar and Eastern Samar, and ultimately increasing incomes. The project promoted gender equality by jointly compensating spouses within a household in the event that families are resettled, emphasizing economic opportunities for women through jobs in construction, and pursuing an anti-human trafficking campaign focused on the communities surrounding the roads. Measures to improve the gender-responsiveness of road design were piloted and funded, resulting in the construction of rest stop areas with restrooms and safety improvements at busy junctions of the road.


As part of MCC's $269 million compact with Mongolia, Millennium Challenge Account-Mongolia actively monitored gender integration as projects were completed. A road project encouraged women to apply for construction jobs associated with the building of the road. The project also raised awareness and included outreach activities to mitigate the risk of human trafficking among the contractor workforce and local communities. The project included on-the-job training for construction workers on human trafficking, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. Classroom learning sessions targeting high-risk adolescent girls and boys were also held in areas along the road. Education centered on high-risk behaviors among the contractor workforce commonly found in projects with large infusions of mostly male workers into poor regions, and information, education and communication materials were made available at workers' camps.

Property Rights and Land Policy

In many countries, women don’t have equal access to land ownership or the legal system. They are often unable to own businesses without a male relative’s permission, and may depend on shared property for food, farming and resources for the home. To establish equal, secure and efficient access to land and property rights, MCC works with partner countries to increase access to land for productive use, increase security of property rights, and improve land governance and administration.


As a result of the Legal Capacity of Married Person’s Act of 2006, Marethabile Sechibe now legally co-owns a guest house with her husband.

As a result of the Legal Capacity of Married Person’s Act of 2006, Marethabile Sechibe now legally co-owns a guest house with her husband.

The Legal Capacity of Married Person’s Act of 2006, landmark legislation that MCC helped pass during the development of a $358 million compact with Lesotho, has helped women become more active participants in the economy by removing the minority status of married women. The Act gives women the rights to enter into contracts, sue, register immovable property in their name, act as a company director, and act as an executor or trustee of an estate. Prior to 2006, married women needed a male relative’s permission to access loans, own property and even have medical surgery. The Gender Equality Activity team at Millennium Challenge Account-Lesotho, the local entity which managed the compact’s implementation, worked to build awareness, knowledge and acceptance of gender equality in the economic rights of both men and women. The team conducted training and had a country-wide outreach program to reach into rural society and institutions to advocate and teach the benefits of gender equality for the development of the Basotho people.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Women, girls, the poor, and marginalized groups bear the bulk of burdens associated with poor access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. The poor are far less likely to have access to improved water and sanitation, while the task of fetching water falls disproportionately to women and girls. A lack of private and safe sanitation facilities and remote access to water can also place women and girls at risk of sexual harassment and violence. To address gender and social inclusion, MCC invests in infrastructure, social and environmental safeguards, policy reforms, and education and training to increase access to and sustainability of water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Cabo Verde

To address the burdens that poor access and high costs of water and sanitation disproportionately place on women, the poor, and marginalized groups in Cabo Verde, a $39.7 million water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project has facilitated the inclusion of social and gender perspectives into WASH sector policy, utility reform, and infrastructure improvements. As part of a second compact between Cabo Verde and MCC, activities include establishing a unit in a national agency tasked with integrating gender equality and social inclusion; forming a unit within the utility to develop cost-effective ways to meet the needs of poor and low-income households and provide community outreach; improving the understanding and targeting of social and gender impacts of subsidies and support for tariff redesign to address high connection fees and improve affordability and access to all Cabo Verdeans; and establishing a grant program to fund infrastructure improvements based on a set of transparent criteria, including social and gender issues. A Social Access Fund was also established to help poor and female-headed households gain improved access to water and sanitation, in partnership with The Coca Cola Africa Foundation. In 2015, the Fund successfully completed water and sewer connections for several thousand households – of which more than half are female-headed.


Part of the water conservation campaign is being carried out by local women's organizations, who hold training sessions with women—the primary users of household water—and men.

Part of the water conservation campaign is being carried out by local women's organizations, who hold training sessions with women—the primary users of household water—and men.

MCC and Jordan have partnered together on a five-year, $275 million compact to increase the supply of water in Zarqa Governorate. The compact’s Water Smart Homes (WSH) Activity has been providing direct support to poor households to improve the condition of home water systems and improve their knowledge about efficient use of water resources. One component of the activity is a Women Plumbers Program that trained 30 women, in partnership with the Vocational Training Center, on both theoretical and practical semi-skilled plumbing. After completion of the training, the program offered the graduates on-the-job training to enhance the proficiency of their skills. In addition, the graduates received plumbing tool boxes, smart phones and other promotional materials to advance their professional work. The program is working to enhance the income earning opportunities of its graduates by providing them training in business planning and development, and linking them with existing programs.

Sierra Leone

The Water Sector Reform Project of MCC’s threshold program with Sierra Leone—signed in 2015—aims to improve overall sector governance, performance, and accountability by building capacity at Freetown’s Guma Valley Water Company (GVWC), improving water sector coordination, and strengthening sector accountability practices. The project will conduct participatory research to better understand the concerns and needs of the communities, including women and the poor. Based on the outcomes, the project will support establishing and operationalizing a new pro-poor unit at GVWC to promote gender responsive and socially inclusive water service delivery. Women’s participation in decision making at water committees and other community engagements will also be enhanced. Furthermore, a public standpipe pilot program will be carried out with input from women and marginalized groups. A program to address gender-based violence while fetching water will be designed and implemented to improve the safety and security around public standpipe pilot areas. It is expected that the GVWC and other institutions will apply practices and experiences from the pilots to other service areas.


The Government of Zambia identified access to clean and safe water supply, adequate sanitation, and a functioning drainage system in the capital city of Lusaka as key priorities in its $355 million compact with MCC. All infrastructure activities address risks to women, girls, and the poor during construction—including resettlement risks, trafficking in persons, HIV/AIDS, health, and safety. Compact activities include a Social Inclusion and Gender Mainstreaming activity to strengthen the ability of the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company and the Lusaka City Council to perform pro-poor and gender-responsive service delivery; and an Innovation Grant Program (IGP) that empowers community organizations, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and businesses to propose innovations that will improve access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, and solid waste management services for the poor. A criteria for Grant Program funding is to provide significant access to project benefits by women and marginalized groups.

MCC’s Guidelines and Policy on Gender

Gender equality is one of many factors MCC considers when it selects partner countries. The Gender in the Economy indicator—one of 20 indicators that MCC uses to assess countries’ commitment to ruling justly, investing in its people, and economic freedom—specifically measures a government’s commitment to promoting gender equality by providing women and men with the same legal ability to interact with the public and private sectors.

After a country is selected to develop a compact, MCC's Gender Integration Guidelines spell out clear requirements to ensure that partner countries integrate gender equality objectives at every stage of compact development and implementation. Each MCC investment requires a Social and Gender Integration Plan (SGIP), which provides a comprehensive roadmap for social inclusion and gender integration throughout compact projects. Payment of the second disbursement of compact funds is contingent on the partner country completing and MCC approving this plan.

  • 1. Duflo, Esther. "Women Empowerment and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature 50(4) (2012): 1051-1079.
  • 2. World Bank. World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation. (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2006).
  • 3. World Bank, 2012.
  • 4. United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs (UNDESA)/UN Water. 2014. International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015 Website. Available at last accessed 6/30/2015.
  • 5. Dinkelman, T: The Effects of Rural Electrification on Employment: New Evidence from South Africa. 2008.