As Rihanna once sang: "Pay me what you owe me.” It’s a catchy lyric but it also alludes to the very real and global issue of women’s economic empowerment.
Women make up almost half of the world’s working-age population of nearly 5 billion people. But only about 50% of those women participate in the labor force (read: are paid for their work).
Why? Worldwide, over 2.7 billion women are still legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. In fact, there are still places where husbands can legally prevent their wives from working. In addition, women are more likely to perform unpaid care work or work in the informal sector (that’s any work that isn’t protected or taxed by the state) where they are more vulnerable to job losses and low wages.
That’s before we’ve even touched on the gender pay gap. Although worldwide, the gender pay gap slightly narrowed between 2021 and 2022, there isn’t yet a country on Earth that doesn’t pay men more money than women for the same work. In fact, at the current rate of progress, it will take another 132 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
As big of a problem as the gender pay gap is, women’s economic disempowerment doesn’t stop there. The pay gap is part of a bigger pile of economic barriers that women face, including not being able to access and set up their own bank accounts, never being taught basic financial literacy, being denied land ownership rights, and being discriminated against when applying for funding to start their own businesses.
Not only do these barriers lead to more women becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty, they have a global economic price tag. The losses to an economy from the economic disempowerment of women are estimated to range from 10-30% of gross domestic product (GDP). To put that into perspective, that’s the same as if the US economy were to lose all of the value added to GDP of retail trade (6%), construction (4%), and finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing (20%) put together. In a nutshell, when more women work, economies grow.
In the words of Swedish writer Katrine Marçal, the work of women and girls "is the invisible structure that keeps societies and economies together. But they haven’t freely chosen this role. And they are not being paid, compensated, or acknowledged for it.”
In order to empower women economically we must put in place opportunities for women to have equal participation in financial decision-making at all levels, both in the household and the workplace; provide women with equal access to financial services and resources such as setting up a bank account, financial education, access to loans, ownership of assets, and property and land rights; and create and enforce policies and social protection systems for women such as pensions, maternity, child care, and equal pay.
If you're looking for a crash course on what women’s economic empowerment is and the barriers that prevent women across the world from having equal financial rights as men, then this list is a good place to start.
Films, Videos & Documentaries to Watch
1. Economic Empowerment of Women Matters (TED Talk)
Vanessa Erogbogbo takes us on an inspiring journey to meet some of the incredible women entrepreneurs around the world who will be the driving force of tomorrow’s economy, as well as being solutions-based leaders to global issues such as climate change.
Erogbogbo is the Head of Green & Inclusive Value Chains at the International Trade Centre, an author, public speaker, and founder of She Trades, an organization that helps women entrepreneurs across the globe reach their economic potential by connecting them to markets and trade opportunities, while also tackling barriers that women face when starting a business.
2. Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker(TV Series)
If you’re looking for a real life example of what women’s economic empowerment looks like, then Self Made should be the next series to add to your watch list.
The Netflix series is based on a true story that follows the extraordinary life of Madam C.J. Walker (played by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer), an African-American businesswoman who made history as America’s first self-made female millionaire with her homemade hair product line specifically made for Black women.
Working against the patriarchy, Eurocentric beauty standards, financial hardship, and racism, Walker single-handedly built a massive enterprise that created economic opportunity for Black women during a period marked by racial discrimination and sexism. Watch the series on Netflix.
3. Feminist Economics Is Everything. The Revolution Is Now! (TED Talk)
We’ve all heard Beyoncé’s famous lyrics for women’s empowerment “Who runs the world? Girls.” But have you ever envisioned what the world would look like if the economy was centered around women? Enter feminist economics.
Activist, policy analyst, scholar, and public speaker, Lebohang Liepollo Pheko has been advocating for feminist economics throughout her career. In her insightful TED talk, she dives into a feminist centered world where women's labor, energy, and contributions to the economy are not a mere side event, but instead take center stage in the conversation.
From recognizing misconceptions when it comes to women’s unpaid work and the importance it has on the functioning of the mainstream economy (or as Pheko puts it the “man-stream economy”), the talk is an invitation to view the economic world as a place of struggle and dispossession, a place of unearned male privilege that must be displaced by African women's presence.
Podcasts to Listen to
4. Financial Feminist Podcast
Join money expert Tori Dunlap as she guides women on how to make more, spend less, and feel financially confident in a world run by “rich white men.” Listen now.
5. Amplifying Women’s Economic Empowerment
This episode from The CARE Action! podcast sees host Jeanne Faulkner in conversation with Gayatri Patel, CARE’s Gender Empowerment Policy Advocate. In the episode, they discuss the 2018 Amplify Your Voice campaign, an advocacy campaign that lobbied members of the US Congress to invest in programs that support women and girls globally; women’s economic empowerment within the Global South; and how the US Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act helps women to eradicate poverty. Listen now.
6. The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women Podcast
If you are looking to understand the barriers faced by women across the world to having equal financial independence as men, then this podcast should be on your radar.
The HERO (Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women) podcast delves into women creating change through economic empowerment, hosted by journalist Reena Ninan. One episode at a time, Ninan explores the financial hurdles women face around the world such as property rights and uncovers the ways women are challenging the status quo, as well as showing why investing in women can grow the global economy. Listen now.
Novels, Non-Fiction & Articles to Read
7. ‘Paid or not, women have always contributed to the wealth of nations’ by Kathrine Marçal (Article)
Taking care of an elderly family member at home, cooking food, cleaning the house, taking care of children. These are all forms of unpaid labor that are undervalued, not taken seriously, unrecognized, and not seen as "real jobs". Yet, they are disproportionately performed by women and girls across the world. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, women spent three times as many hours on unpaid domestic and care work as men — this increased more for women than men during the pandemic.
However, this form of labor has been key in contributing to the wealth of nations throughout history. This article gives a brief history and argument that women have always contributed to the economy of nations whether through paid work or unpaid work, but the latter has been ignored by economist for years, due to gender role biases. As writer Katrine Marçal puts it: “We need a new economic story. One that stresses the need for change, without ignoring the economic contributions women and girls make today.” Read the Article.
8. 'Black Girl Finance: Let’s Talk Money' by Selina Flavius (Book)
The gender pay gap disproportionately affects women from ethnic minority backgrounds. Looking at the UK as a case study, data show that in 2022, Black African women earned 26% less than men; Bangladeshi women 28%, and Pakistani women 31%.
Black Girl Finance looks into this as well as other barriers faced by Black women when it comes to being shut out of economic opportunities. Author and founder Selina Flavius created the Black Girl Finance platform to address the unique difficulties Black women face due to the gender and ethnicity pay gaps. From challenging money mindsets to teaching key skills, such as how to set up an emergency fund and where to start with budgeting, investing, and saving, Black Girl Finance provides a safe space for a community of unapologetic, ambitious, money-minded women to get real about their finances. Get the book.
9. 'Financial Feminism: A Woman's Guide to Investing for a Sustainable Future' by Jessica Robinson (Book)
If the thought of investing fills you with dread, look no further. Financial Feminism: A Woman’s Guide to Investing for a Sustainable Future is the book where feminism, investing, and sustainability come together.
In this practical and accessible guide, sustainable investing expert, Jessica Robinson, shows how through financial feminism, women can use their financial power to invest in a sustainable future and build the kind of world they want to live in. With jargon-free explanations and real-world examples, Robinson demystifies the financial services industry, breaks down just what sustainable investing is, and demonstrates the societal and environmental impact of the investment decisions we make.
Through this book, Robinson aims to equip women with the right financial tools so that more women embrace financial feminism, invest to grow their own wealth and, in doing so, use their financial decisions to demand a better world.
This is a book you definitely want to add to your reading list to understand how women’s investing can contribute to women’s economic empowerment. Get the book.
10. 'The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Empowering Women'by Linda Scott (Book)
The Double X Economy describes both the shocking gender inequalities built into the global economy and the collective power of women that could be harnessed to combat the world’s most pressing problems. Author and activist, Linda Scott, coined the term “Double X Economy” to describe the systemic misogyny woven into the world’s financial fabric that has shut down women’s economic potential.
If you are looking for a book that will challenge your perspective on the economy and gender inequality as well as helping you to understand why women’s economic empowerment is important then make sure to add this to your reading list. Get the book.
People to Follow
11. Vivian Tu (US)
Ever wanted an agony aunt but for money tips? Vivian Tu is your girl.
A Wall Street trader turned finance content creator, Tu is on a mission to make personal financial literacy inclusive and accessible to marginalized communities.
Tu is the internet’s finance bestie known on the web as Your Rich BFF where she shares budgeting tips, debt management advice, home buying information, and other personal finance wisdom in bitesize TikTok and Reels format. Follow Tu for all of your money questions answered.
12. Khanyisile Yothando (South Africa)
Ever wanted to understand the overwhelming property market or the steps needed to buy your first home? Khanyisile Yothando is the property internet influencer you need.
Based in South Africa, the 24-year-old property investor shares easy-to-understand insights into financial concepts as well as advice on how to get into property investment through interactive TikTok videos that include catchy music and dance moves. She also provides regular property investment masterclasses for other fellow young people who want to getting into property investment in South Africa. Follow Yothando for all of your property investment questions answered.
@khanyisileyothando Tips for buying land in South Africa #khanyisileyothando#buyyourfirstproperty♬ original sound - Justin99
13. Chloe B. McKenzie (US)
Bringing the worlds of social justice and financial education together, Chloe B. McKenzie is a financial trauma researcher, activist, author, and educator on a mission to make financial education more accessible to underprivileged groups, especially women of color.
Her nonprofit organization, BlackFem, is an online platform that teaches girls across the country how to positively understand and handle money, while her 2020 bestselling book, The Activist Investor, is a straightforward manual on how to change historically oppressive systems through investing.
“If we're not actually capturing the unique struggle against wealth inequality that Black women experience, Hispanic women, Asian women, to transgender and gender-nonconforming people," says McKenzie, "then we're just essentially only making narratives available to people who are privileged, who are often white, and who often don't have these unique struggles against oppressive systems. And if we're not talking about the traumas, the experiences, the kind of feelings, the abuses, the shame — if we're not healing from that — we're really not going to see a huge shift in wealth-building capability."
Follow McKenzie to learn more about what financial trauma is and how it impacts women from margnalized communties.
14. Neha Nagar (India)
Where skits and finance education come together, Neha Nagar also known online as “FIN Woman,” is a content creator, Forbes India’s top 100 Digital star, cultural ambassador, and entrepreneur, and founder of a taxation consultancy company.
Based in India, Nagar started content creation during the lockdown in 2020 with the aim of spreading financial literacy, through sharing content online on subjects ranging from finance, cryptocurrency, taxation, stock markets, trading, and government schemes, making them easy to understand through the use of funny skits and relatable educational short form videos, gaining her a growing online presence and community with 1.4 million followers on Instagram. Follow Nagar.