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Women's International Issues

Aid Programs for Women and Girls

Aid programs that emphasize helping women and girls are popular. The arguments that such programs discriminate against men, or contradict the prevailing culture, are not persuasive to the public.

In a national post-election survey conducted by Lake Snell Perry & Associates in November 2004, a plurality of respondents (42%) said that promoting opportunity for women and girls is a "very important" goal of US international humanitarian assistance; 22% said it is one of the most important aid goals. [1]

Many experts on development stress that a critical factor in promoting development is putting particular focus on helping women and girls. This idea was well received in an October 2000 PIPA poll. Asked to rate various forms of aid on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being very bad, 10 being very good and 5 being neutral, and then asked about "programs that focus on helping women and girls in poor countries," the mean response was 6.81, with 61% rating it above 5. [2]

In that poll, respondents were also presented the debate, prevalent on Capitol Hill, over whether focusing on women and girls might not be a good idea because it is discriminatory or may go against the prevailing culture in developing countries. The question said:

Some people who study economic development say that aid programs should put special emphasis on helping women, because they are more apt to share the benefits with children and other family members, and because when women are more economically secure they tend to have fewer children. Others argue that it is not right to emphasize women because it discriminates against men and it might interfere with the prevailing culture in those countries. Do you think that it seems like a good idea or not a good idea for aid programs to put special emphasis on helping women?

Sixty-six percent felt this was a good idea, while 30% did not. [3]

Consistent with this view, in December 2001, a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies found an overwhelming majority in favor of working to improve the lives of women in Muslim countries. Given a list of "proposals for ways to target US foreign aid dollars," 86% supported "promoting programs to strengthen women's rights in Islamic nations." A 56% majority strongly supported the idea, while just 11% were opposed. [3a]

Earlier research also found substantial support for efforts to use foreign aid to improve the lives of women in developing countries. A 1998 Belden and Russonello survey asked about "possible goals for the US government assistance programs to developing countries." Using a scale "where 1 means lowest priority and 10 means top priority," respondents gave the goal of "improving the status of women" a mean rating of 6.5, and the goal of "improving women's health" a mean rating of 6.9. (In 1994, Belden and Russonello found a mean rating of 6.3 for the goal of improving the status of women.) [4]

Respondents were also asked if they favored or opposed specific possible US aid programs to help women in developing countries. Nearly all of them received overwhelming support.

-91% supported (72% strongly) "programs to give girls in developing countries the same opportunities for education as boys have."
-88% supported (52% strongly)" programs to improve women's health generally."
-85% supported (63% strongly) "efforts to reduce domestic violence against women."
-84% supported (55% strongly)"programs to help women support themselves and their families financially."

The only goal that did not receive overwhelming support was "voluntary, safe abortions as part of reproductive health care in developing countries that request it," which was supported by 50% (24% strongly) with 46% opposed (33% strongly). [5]



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Women's International Issues - August 2008 (PDF)