Boosting women’s economic empowerment is key to achieving gender equality, but pervasive social norms and discrimination continue to keep women from thriving in the workforce.
Women are less likely to work than men and women’s participation in the labor force is limited in developing and developing economies alike. Laws restrict 2.7 billion women from having the same jobs as men globally. In 2018, 18 economies still allowed husbands to prevent their wives from working. What’s more, 104 countries have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities.
COVID-19 has also forced women to leave the labor in droves and the first year of the pandemic 54 million women globally were out of work, with women of color hit disproportionately.
Women’s economic empowerment helps women and girls gain the skills, resources, and opportunities to participate equally in markets and to control and benefit from their earnings. It is known that women’s full economic participation helps businesses perform better and supports economic growth overall.
Here are five ways to promote women’s economic empowerment to build a more sustainable future for all women and girls, their families, and the world.
1. Ensure women are equipped to participate in the economy fully.
Women are less likely than men to have formal bank accounts and take out loans. Even when women do have their own accounts, men might still make the decisions about how their funds are used. Women also often lack access to other financial services like savings and insurance due to a lack of financial education. In some countries, women aren’t allowed to open a bank account without a male family member’s permission.
Resources like credit access and bank accounts can help create economic opportunities for women. Financial literacy programs, reforming laws that allow women to apply for loans without a male relative’s permission, improved gender-disaggregated data, and promoting the development of digital payment systems can all help promote women’s financial inclusion.
2. Enforce policies and social protection systems for women.
Women are less likely to have access to social protections like pensions, unemployment benefits, maternity protection, and equal pay. On average, women earn 60% to 75% of what men make, and closing the gender pay gap is crucial to leveling the playing field.
For families that can’t afford to miss work to care for their families, childcare is a gamechanger. Flexible work arrangements benefit workers with children regardless of gender to balance the domestic labor burden more fairly. Providing child care and paid maternity leave would especially benefit poor women. A 2% investment in child care in any economy generates 6% growth in the economy.
3. Recognize unpaid labor as work.
Unpaid care work includes household duties such as cooking, cleaning, water and fuel collection, child care, or elder care often carried out by women. It is estimated that 16 billion hours are spent on unpaid care work every day. Unpaid care and domestic work contributes to countries’ economies substantially but aren’t seen as real work.
The total value of unpaid care and domestic work is estimated to be between 10% and 39% of gross domestic product. Counting unpaid care work in statistics, acknowledging its place in the economy, compensating women for their contributions, and considering unpaid care work when making policy decisions can lessen the burden on women and girls.
4. Invest in women’s organizations and businesses.
Grassroots women’s organizations and movements are underfunded and under attack around the world. Nearly 70% of women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries are financially unserved or underserved.
Women are also less likely to be entrepreneurs and encounter more obstacles when trying to start a business. Women’s organizations are supporting initiatives to reduce inequality and increase opportunities for their communities but can’t continue to do so without funding.
Investing in women’s ventures helps pave the way for the next generation as women tend to spend 80% of their income on their families’ wellbeing and education.
5. Create decent work for women.
Women are more likely to be employed in the informal labor force and are overrepresented in domestic work in rural areas that lack protections and living wages. Women must receive equal access to education, training, new skills, new technologies, management positions, benefits, and entrepreneurship. Workplaces also need to be free of sexual harassment and violence, safe, up to health standards and promote equal pay. When women have more employment and leadership opportunities, businesses are proven to grow and be more effective.