Members of the Nairobi (Kenya) Young and Old cooperative group gather in their small center to make products to sell. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik/ Reportage by Getty Images, licensed under CC BY NC 4.0)
Among the Hewlett Foundation’s oldest, strongest, and most enduring priorities has been to help women gain control over crucial decisions in their lives. In the beginning, our attention was on expanding access to family planning services, so women in the U.S. and in developing countries could control the number of children they bore—benefitting not only the women themselves, but their families, their countries, and the environment.
That commitment remains as strong as ever, but our vision has broadened with experience. Under the leadership of Anne Firth Murray (who directed the Foundation’s Population Program from 1978-1987 and later was the founding president of the Global Fund for Women), the Hewlett Foundation widened its focus and placed family planning within a broader framework of women’s health and human rights. That vision continues today to inform the work of our Global Development and Population Program.
But learning never stops, and with enthusiastic encouragement from our Board, the Global Development and Population Program has fashioned plans for a new line of grantmaking—expanding our efforts still further to encompass advancing women’s economic opportunities in developing countries. The importance of economic opportunity in promoting the values that have always motivated our efforts to support women is now evident, a connection established by decades of social science research as well as our own experience.
I encourage you to take look at a more complete description of the new strategy. Our concerns are not the usual ones—microfinance, vocational training, and the like. Such efforts can be important, but we hope to empower women by showing economic decision makers in international agencies and developing countries how women contribute to growth and how they are affected by relevant policies, from taxation to employment regulation (Ruth Levine’s Friday Note from last week addresses this). We want to see better data, focused and relevant research, and informed advocacy, so the true value of women’s economic contributions can and will be fully and properly recognized—and further contributions encouraged.
Like our continued investments in expanding access to contraception and safe abortion, we believe these sorts of changes will help women realize their full potential as citizens, as workers, as parents, and as people.