This article is part of a series of policy briefs on gender equality published by Women Deliver, a leading global advocate for girls’ and women’s health, rights and wellbeing. This piece also appears in our gender policy newsfeed.
Women around the world are resilient and resourceful economic agents, overcoming persistent, gender-based barriers to advance the health, education and economic security of their families.
Every day, women demonstrate they can build informal and formal businesses out of very little capital, create networks to maximise limited resources and shoulder disproportionate care-taking responsibilities, which often include cooking, fetching water, growing food, cleaning and caring for children, the sick and the elderly. Women succeed in spite of laws, policies, social norms and institutions that hold them back.
A major systemic constraint to women’s economic empowerment are the adverse social and cultural norms that dictate the unequal status of women, their roles in society and control over their sexual and reproductive rights.
Adverse norms drive expectations around women’s role as primary caretakers and perpetuate gender bias and stereotypes in the workplace. And subtle gender bias impacts women’s own attitudes and preferences toward work, professional advancement, and even their perceptions and sometimes acceptance of violence and appropriate behaviour at work and at home.
Another major roadblock that women face is limited or insecure access, control, or ownership of vital assets, such as land, housing, financial services, capital, agricultural inputs and transportation, generating a host of economic challenges. Without secure rights to their land, women have less say over what gets planted and when, how soil and water sources are treated, and what gets sold.
In the push to empower women, everyone has a role to play — governments, donors, multilateral organisations, civil society and the private sector. The interventions identified below reflect the crosscutting nature and impact of enabling women’s economic empowerment.
1. Investing in ensuring women have secure land and property rights is one of the most effective long-term solutions to advancing women’s economic empowerment. A study in Tanzania found that women who have the same property and inheritance rights as men earn up to four times more income than those women who do not.
2. Improving economic literacy and promoting inclusive access to financial services, such as credit, savings and insurance, is critical. The focus on micro-credit has evolved considerably over the years, recognising a need for more comprehensive and systemic financial services for women in poverty that include, but are not limited to, cash transfers, loans, credit, savings, insurance and corresponding capacity building support.
3. Beyond just increased income, promoting women’s control over assets, resources and income — and increasing joint household decision-making — is critical for economic empowerment. This includes a woman’s ability to reinvest income into sustainable assets, livelihood expenditures and her family’s and community’s overall health, education, safety and well-being. These key economic decisions, however, are intricately wrapped into cultural norms around gender, age, ethnic background, health or physical status and overall social hierarchy.
4. Investing in women’s networks and organising strengthens women’s visibility and representation. Women’s groups — including cooperatives, collectives, farmer groups, business associations and trade unions — are the bedrock of sustainable economic development for many women around the world. They can offer a safe haven in which women of limited means can pool and maximise resources, manage risk, innovate and experiment, build skills and capacity, mentor and learn from one another, organise and advocate for rights, share in care responsibilities, build confidence and receive key information on everything from market information to nutritional guidance, family planning and reproductive health. Despite their great economic, social and political benefits, however, very little money is invested in women’s groups.
Read the full version of the brief for more facts, solutions, case studies and policy recommendations.
(Picture credit: UN Women)