Four Global Priorities for Improved Women’s Economic Empowerment
Reflections from the First Annual WEE Global Learning Forum
By: Ariane Ryan, Technical Advisor for Inclusive Economies, WUSC
I recently had the privilege of attending the first annual Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Global Learning Forum on behalf of WUSC. Hosted in Bangkok, Thailand, the event brought together leading stakeholders in the field of women’s economic empowerment to share experiences and exchange lessons learned. This event was hosted by the SEEP Network, a membership organization promoting inclusive markets and financial systems, of which WUSC is a member.
Creating conditions where women are empowered to access opportunities in emerging and growing markets is a priority for WUSC’s programming. The business case has been made: companies, countries, and the global economy are leaving money on the table by allowing gender disparity to thrive. The moral case has been made: gender equality is a human right and women deserve equality of opportunity and outcome.
Yet there is still a long way to go to translate these facts into effective action. Here are four key themes that emerged from the 2017 WEE Global Learning Forum that help chart the path that lays ahead.
Women’s economic empowerment cannot be achieved in isolation.
What does it mean for women to be economically empowered? It means that women need both access to opportunities and the agency to take advantage of these opportunities. Access has always been easier to understand and tackle. But opening doors to new opportunities is only meaningful insofar as women are empowered to take the first step.
There are many barriers that place limits on women’s agency both within economies and within broader societies. These include but are not limited to poverty, household responsibilities, family and community perceptions, gender based violence, and control over life choices. We must address all of these barriers if we are to achieve women’s economic empowerment.
Addressing underlying social norms can be a powerful tool for change.
Norms is a relatively new topic for economic programs, but not for the development sector overall. Examples abound from development initiatives in the field of agriculture and health care, which have been targeting norms for decades through behaviour change communication.
At the WEE Global Learning Forum, WUSC brought forward examples and lessons learned from our work addressing underlying social norms, including for maternal, newborn, and child health in Burkina Faso; girls’ education in Kenya; and women’s employment in Sri Lanka. With participants, we engaged in reflective discussions, particularly around the costs of implementing effective norm-shifting activities and the challenge of bringing such efforts to scale.
Unpaid care work remains a contentious issue worldwide.
The estimated annual value of women’s unpaid work is $10 trillion USD. Women make significant economic and social contributions through caring for children, the elderly, or individuals with disabilities. Yet how to measure the impact of such contributions has yet to reach consensus.
Work with formal labour employers has yielded interesting results. For example, WUSC is presently working in Guatemala and Jordan to encourage employer-led solutions to inaccessible day care. WUSC is helping employers and government officials understand the immense value in providing childcare solutions for attracting and retaining employees, increasing productivity, and improving workplace safety.
How to tackle this issue within the informal labour market, however, is still proving to be a challenge. WUSC is keen to better understand the barriers and opportunities for change, particularly within the sub-Saharan Africa context.
Young women face additional barriers to economic empowerment.
There are 1.8 billion youth in the world today who want to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their countries. Yet their contributions are overlooked as they face marginalization and exclusion due to their perceived inexperience and unreliability.
Young women must also confront an unfair share of family obligation, discriminatory laws and practices, persistent gender stereotypes, and pervasive gender-based violence. In many countries, their youth ends with early and forced marriage or early pregnancy which can further increase their invisibility in economies and societies.
Yet around the world, young women are demonstrating their capacity to overcome these barriers. They are showing strength and leadership within their homes, workplaces, and communities. WUSC seeks to further nurture this leadership and promote the full economic, social, and political participation of young women.
These are but a few of the topics explored at SEEP’s first annual Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Global Learning Forum. WUSC was there in Thailand to advance the discussion and will continue to be there to share and reflect upon our own experiences for women’s economic empowerment. Hopefully this is only one of many to come as it is only through learning from each other, collaborating and continuously innovating can we hope to one day achieve gender equality.