A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment
Of the world’s 1.6 billion workers, females are paid on average less than men. Moreover, women are disproportionately employed in low-productivity, low-paying jobs. As a result of women not achieving their full potential in society, households, communities, and countries suffer. Just taking basic economics into account, empowering an unproductive segment of society can lead to economic growth. But more so, when women earn they can invest in their children’s education and health, giving the next generation a leg up.
So while the impact economically empowered women can have on development is widely recognized, the means and methods for closing the disparity have remained elusive. But in early 2012, the United Nations Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation teamed up to help catalyze program and policy action for women’s economic empowerment. The resulting “Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment” was built off of a rigorous research program comprised of 18 different studies across four crucial categories of intervention: entrepreneurship, farming, wage employment, and young women’s employment.
The key lessons learned in each category provide a more complex picture of workable interventions than conventional wisdom suggests. For instance, regarding entrepreneurship “capital alone, as a small loan or a grant, is not enough to grow women-owned subsistence-level firms.” Other lessons learned include:
“Business training improves business practices but has few measurable effects on the growth of women-owned subsistence-level firms.”
“Formal ownership and control over farmland improves women’s productivity and economy security. But the success of land tenure interventions depends on paying attention to social and local contexts.”
“Single agricultural services, rather than a full suite, may be enough to increase productivity of women with larger sized farms, more assets, and more control over those assets.”
“Access to electricity increases rural women’s productivity and earnings.”
“Access to childcare increases women’s wage employment levels and earnings, but design and delivery matter to ensure quality, affordable and cost-effective care.”
“Demand-oriented skills training, combined with on-the-job training and wage subsidies, increase young women’s employability and earnings, if social restrictions against hiring young women are not binding.”
From these and other lessons learned, the Roadmap for Action, charts out a framework to help channel the efforts of the private sector and public private partnerships.
Recognizing that a one-size-fits-all model won’t provide adequate solutions, the framework can be used in different economic contexts with women in different circumstances. The interventions are even tiered according to their effectiveness: proven, promising, high potential, and unproven. Moreover, the framework accounts for conflict-affected economies and resource-rich/small island nations.
The result is matrices that can help development workers discern the appropriate intervention according to context. Perhaps with these tools, half of the world’s population can be mobilized for development.
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A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment: Highlights. United Nations Foundation and ExxonMobil. 2012.