November 19th marks Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, an annual observance to “celebrate, empower, and support women in business to alleviate poverty.” While women are key contributors to their communities’ economic and social wellbeing, they are often excluded from meaningful and equitable participation in the economy. Globally, 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal economic opportunity. This needs to change.
Women’s economic empowerment is key to achieving gender equality, peace, and many crucial development outcomes. When women are empowered economically, they are able to invest in their communities’ health and education, which significantly alleviates poverty rates. Empowering women economically could help lift the living standards of the estimated experiencing extreme poverty in 2022. Women’s economic empowerment is also critical to sustaining peaceful and just societies. However, women’s meaning participation in public administration in fragile and in conflict-affected countries is half the global average, which not only severely inhibits women’s participation in the economy but also reduces prospects for peace. Additionally, women play a large role in post-conflict recovery as women are more likely to spend their incomes on family needs and make a larger contribution to conflict recovery.
Economic empowerment for women and girls leads to reductions in rates of gender-based violence (GBV), increased protection of natural resources, and greater educational and health outcomes. Given that poverty is a high-risk factor associated with gender-based violence, women’s economic empowerment is crucial to achieving reductions in GBV. At the same time, prevalence of gender-based violence hinders women’s participation in the economy. Given this strong link between economic participation and GBV, national and international policies should target GBV and economic empowerment simultaneously to achieve the greatest positive impact on women worldwide.
Women and girls, in all their diversity, are on the frontlines of climate crisis impacts and solutions. The climate crisis continues to have devastating effects and women and girls, especially those from poor and marginalized communities, who bear disproportionate burdens of climate change induced risk such as an increased frequency of flooding or droughts. Furthermore, women and women’s organizations are underrepresented in climate leadership roles and in international climate negotiations. However, women and girls are key drivers of climate solutions. Studies have shown that companies with more gender balanced leadership have stronger commitments to sustainable business practices. One such study surveying more than 11,700 companies found that having at least 30% women on companies’ boards improved climate governance and reduced emissions growth rates. This is just one example of how we can advance international efforts seeking to limit the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius by harnessing women’s potential and promoting women’s economic empowerment.
Despite the positive implications of expanding women’s role in the economy on poverty alleviation, peace-building, elimination of gender-based violence, and many other development outcomes, women continue to face many challenges and barriers to economic participation worldwide. Widespread restrictive gender norms leave women pursuing informal, vulnerable, and low-wage forms of employment. Women also bear disproportionate responsibilities for unpaid care and domestic work, spending an estimated 2.5 times more time on unpaid care work than men. These restrictive gender norms are also reflected legally, as women still only have three quarters of the legal rights afforded to men globally. Lower levels of women’s entrepreneurship are linked to a gendered gap in access to productive resources, such as financial and digital services. An estimated 35% of women globally do not have access to a bank account. The combined effects of restrictive gender norms, legal discrimination, and less access to productive resources leading to lower levels of economic participation urgently need to be addressed.
The Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues strongly affirms the belief that increasing women’s meaningful participation in the economy is critical to achieving a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. Therefore, we are proud to contribute to these efforts through two flagship programs: the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) and Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE).
Launched in 2017 at the G20 Summit, We-Fi seeks to support women entrepreneurs through scaling access to financial services, mentorship opportunities, and better access to domestic and international markets. In the four years since its launch, We-Fi’s portfolio has reached 59 countries and has allocated more than $354 million to its programs.
WAGE is a global consortium of more than 40 organizations that address cross-cutting issues affecting women and girls, including gender-based violence, conflict, and economic insecurity. WAGE’s economic empowerment initiative takes a holistic approach to improving women’s rights by partnering closely with local civil society organizations and providing tailored training, capacity building, and networking opportunities to women entrepreneurs in over 15 countries.
Achieving women’s full and equitable participation in the economy requires action from the entire U.S. Government and collaboration with governments, civil society, and the private sector around the world.
About the Author: Isabella Stratta, VSFS Intern for the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues