Women’s full economic participation is critical for global prosperity and vital for recovering from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States alone, we have seen an almost three million women exit the labor market. Many have been forced to choose between being employed and providing adequate care for loved ones. Around the world, we see a similar pattern – an exodus of women from the workforce accompanied by an increase in their providing unpaid care. The immediate and long-term economic impact of the pandemic has also been significant for women entrepreneurs. In a recent survey of women entrepreneurs in low-and middle-income countries, more than 80 percent indicated the pandemic has negatively impacted their business, and nearly four in 10 noted they will or may have to close their business.
At the same time, the pandemic has presented a unique opportunity for inclusive economies. A McKinsey & Company report estimates that acting now to advance gender equality as a part of the COVID-19 recovery, could add as much as $12 trillion to global GDP, if the gender gap is narrowed by 2025. The Biden-Harris Administration is empowering women leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to fully participate at all levels of the economy. A key component includes building strong professional networks and partnerships for women entrepreneurs to advance women’s business interests.
In 2019, the Department of State’s Economic and Business Affairs Bureau launched POWER or Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise. This initiative was based on solid economic analysis and on an understanding of the importance of women’s economic empowerment in foreign and domestic economic policy. Now nearing its 3rd anniversary, POWER-funded programs have benefitted over 42,000 women in 30 countries and established more than 175 public-private partnerships, with 20 projects in the pipeline for implementation. Acting as force multiplier, for every $1 in POWER funds invested the initiative has mobilized $1.12 in financial or in-kind resources from the private sector.
POWER is a multi-tiered initiative aimed at working with U.S. diplomatic missions and the private sector, particularly the U.S. private sector, to build the global professional networks female entrepreneurs need to grow. Within its first tier, POWER works with U.S. missions overseas and the private sector to build programming aimed at supporting women in establishing and expanding their businesses. Within the second tier, POWER supports the State Department’s economic policy dialogues on topics pertaining to gender-related economic issues. POWER’s tiered approach enables programming to better align and support U.S. economic and foreign policy goals, while highlighting key economic issues that directly affect women’s ability to successfully participate in the economy and grow their businesses in the U.S. and abroad.
Recognizing that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technologies, many of POWER’s programs focus on addressing the systematic barriers women face in entering the digital economy. These have included POWER tech entrepreneur and engineer seminars in Ecuador, our ICT roundtables in Kosovo, partnering with the United Nations International Telecommunication Union to close the digital gender divide, and the Women Tech Founders program with Google in the Middle East and North Africa region. But POWER is not stopping there, developing programs that support women in sectors such as energy, agriculture and infrastructure, with a key focus on enabling women to access international markets and networks.
POWER is just one example of how the U.S. State Department and the administration are pressing for women’s inclusion across all levels of decision-making in all sectors and contexts. As we look to the future, towards a post-pandemic world economy, it is vital we support women’s economic participation. We must not allow the losses due to the pandemic to persist, but rather make permanent changes to close the gaps in our economies and position our communities for greater economic prosperity. With POWER, we support women as the change makers, entrepreneurs, and leaders they are.
About the Authors: Dr. Beeta Ehdaie serves as Senior Advisor on women’s economic issues to the Assistant Secretary of Economic and Business Affairs and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, and Noelle Spring is a Foreign Affairs Officer serving in the Office of Development Finance in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.