This paper highlights the need for innovative approaches and partnerships to scale up women’s economic empowerment. Achieving women’s economic empowerment will take sound public policies, a holistic approach and long-term commitment from all development actors. It is important to ‘start with women’ by integrating gender-specific perspectives into policy and programme design. More equitable access to assets and services – land, water, infrastructure, technology, innovation and credit – will strengthen women’s rights, increase agricultural productivity and promote economic growth.
Economic empowerment is the capacity of women and men to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth processes in ways that respect their contributions and dignity and make it possible to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth. In 2007-08, of the USD 22 billion aid (average per year) committed to the economic and productive sectors by Development Assistance Committee members, USD 4.6 billion targeted gender equality and women’s empowerment. Much of this focused on gender equality in agriculture and rural development. Only small shares of aid targeted gender equality and women’s empowerment in mining, construction, transport/storage (including road building), energy, communications and trade.
Donor investments in women’s economic empowerment – particularly in neglected sectors – should be increased. In addition, donors need to address particular challenges relating to women’s economic empowerment. They need to:
- Reach the poorest of the poor and women in remote communities, such as landless labourers, smallholder agricultural producers, cross-border traders and factory and domestic workers.
- Support women farmers: The enduring perception of farmers as male – in the face of all evidence to the contrary – hinders the improvement of agricultural production and productivity.
- Expand women’s business opportunities through more than by ‘picking winners’: When designing programmes donors need to ask: will support for women’s enterprises result in enhanced employment and self-employment opportunities for women living in poverty – or will it only benefit those who would have prospered anyway? Linking rural producers to urban markets is one way of enhancing women’s business opportunities.
- Promote women’s access to credit: To build strong businesses, women need access to the full range of credit, banking and financial services. Micro-finance can lead to indebtedness and increased exclusion unless programmes are well-designed. Providing supplementary services increases women’s direct control over resources.
- Adopt a holistic approach: Social and political factors have significant influence on women’s ability to participate in the economy. It is therefore important to pay more attention to factors such as culture and tradition, education and training, reproductive and sexual health, and unpaid care.
Ultimately, a country’s success in empowering women will depend on a multi-faceted and responsive approach to public policy management and implementation. This includes its macro-economic, financial and trade policies. Specific recommendations for donors include the following:
- Work in partnership: Effective implementation and scaling-up requires strong and innovative partnerships – including with women’s associations, the private sector, countries’ Ministries of Finance, Agriculture and Labour, and other donors.
- Integrate gender-specific perspectives into policies and programmes at the design stage: This means specifying gender equality as a goal and identifying unintended consequences and risks for women.
- Increase the focus on women’s employment: Address the barriers women face in accessing work, including public employment programmes, and provide relevant vocational training. Social protection measures can enhance the productivity and participation of poor women in the labour market.
- Give more attention to unpaid care: Increase the recognition and value given to the ways in which care work supports thriving economies.
- Design infrastructure programmes to maximise poor women’s and men’s access to the benefits of roads, transportation services, telecommunications, energy and water.
- Promote more equitable access to assets and services – such as land, technology, innovation and credit, banking and financial services.