Women’s meaningful economic participation is integral to achieving greater security and stability around the world. When women are empowered economically, they invest in their families and communities, spurring economic growth and creating more stable societies. Accelerating women’s economic empowerment is critical to ensuring developing countries can achieve economic self-reliance and transition from being aid partners to trade partners.
Women are frequently discouraged and often effectively barred from economic engagement by disproportionate burdens of unpaid family care, gender-based violence, discrimination based on disability, underinvestment in their education, need for spousal approval for employment, and legal barriers to participation in certain professions. Advancing women’s full and free participation in the economy requires addressing these barriers in comprehensive and meaningful ways.
A healthy global economy is critical to America’s economic and national security, and depends upon the economic contributions of both women and men. Around the world, women’s labor force participation rates are unequal to men’s, decent work opportunities are far too limited, and significant gender pay gaps in the labor market remain. Growing evidence reveals that women’s low participation in the formal labor markets of developing countries impedes economic growth and poverty reduction.
Women entrepreneurs are a growing market force, serving as a critical source of innovation and job creation and fueling economic growth. However, women-owned businesses do not have equal access to the capital needed to stabilize or expand. Women entrepreneurs also lack access to markets, market information, digital services, networks, mentorship, and other resources that enable them to overcome the obstacles of starting and growing firms as well as connecting with buyers. As with finance, some of these barriers are systemic, and others are more individualized. Systemic barriers require institutional reforms.
The environment for economic activity in any country often includes numerous barriers that disadvantage women as they pursue employment, business, and investment opportunities. Broadly defined, the enabling environment for women in the economy encompasses the legal and regulatory framework, policies and practices (public and private sector), and social norms that support women to operate in the formal economy, or improve basic conditions for women working in the informal economy. Conversely, each of these factors, if not addressed, can stunt women’s economic empowerment.
The benefits of women in the economy are substantial. Countries with greater balance of men and women in the workplace and workforce have greater growth, innovation, and stability. The same goes for firms: those with a stronger ratio of women in leadership, management, and the workforce outperform those with fewer women. The larger the opportunity gap between men and women, the more likely a country is to be involved in violent conflict. Conversely, nations in which women have equal opportunities are more likely to thrive and solve challenges peacefully.
The United States is committed to increasing women’s economic empowerment through investment, financing, and global economic partnerships. The USG supported with $50 million, and with international partners has galvanized more than $354 million to advance women’s entrepreneurship around the globe. The United States initiated We-Fi, a new multi-donor facility, which was launched at the G20 Summit in 2017. We-Fi aims to engage private sector finance and catalyze increased lending and investment for women’s businesses. We-Fi combines that with complementary technical assistance, such as skills enhancements and market access, to enable women-owned and women-led small and medium enterprises to thrive.
Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) is a global programming consortium that addresses cross-cutting issues affecting women and girls and their ability to fully participate in their societies, including women’s economic empowerment initiative. To account for the deeply interconnected nature of women’s experiences, WAGE programs employ approaches that are highly collaborative, integrated, multidisciplinary, and inclusive, addressing women’s economic empowerment in the context of legal and practical barriers such as gender-based violence, conflict, and insecurity. WAGE women’s economic empowerment programming has three central goals: (1) Strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations to support women’s economic empowerment; (2) Provide women with the resources they need to succeed as equal and active participants in the global economy; (3) Engage in collaborative research and learning to build a body of evidence on relevant promising practices. WAGE’s women’s economic empowerment programming is active in Central Asia, El Salvador, Honduras, Moldova, and Timor Leste.