The private and public sectors need to do more for women's economic empowerment


Picture of Henriette Geiger
Henriette Geiger

Director for People and Peace at the European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development

There is now global recognition that investing in women’s economic empowerment contributes to economic growth. Studies by the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations and others show that investments in the private sector that promote women’s economic empowerment can yield higher development returns – in terms of poverty reduction and broader positive effects – compared to those that do not incorporate women’s economic empowerment in their aims.

According to the World Bank, the potential opportunity lost due to the lifetime earnings’ gap between women and men is around $160tn. OECD estimates that gender parity could increase global GDP between $12tn and $28tn by 2025.

More women entering the labour force can accelerate poverty reduction, support sustainable markets and improve the welfare of families.

Despite these overwhelming statistics, gender inequality and barriers to the equitable participation of women in the market remain among the biggest global challenges to their economic empowerment. In every part of the world, women are paid less for their work and see fewer benefits of their labour. Discrimination and extra household responsibilities reduce their access to decent work, capital, and the time needed to improve their businesses – conditions experienced far more seldom by men. Throughout the developing world, women currently have less access, control and ownership to land. This often limits women’s economic opportunities and leaves them more vulnerable to poverty, hunger, gender-based violence and displacement.

Yet, across the developing world more women than ever are managing family farms and businesses. As technology enhances their access to information, they are starting to demand their rights. With millions of men migrating to urban areas for work, new opportunities for women are opening up. More women entering the labour force can accelerate poverty reduction, support sustainable markets and improve the welfare of families.

Companies have greatly benefitted from increasing leadership opportunities for women. Their participation in more advanced positions in the corporate hierarchy has led to increase in organisational effectiveness. The private sector should continue to support women in the workplace, as this plays a vital role in creating an environment in which women can more meaningfully participate in the economy. An inclusive corporate environment has helped improve the employment conditions of women and other minorities by extending decent work standards to them and giving them better access to the labour market.

Neven Mimica, the European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, has called attention to this by saying, “Investing in gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is also a good thing for the economy.”

Women’s economic empowerment depends on political commitment and support at international level.

The European Union has taken steps to prioritise gender equality and women’s empowerment in their approach to cooperative initiatives. Both the EU’s Gender Action Plan Women’s and their plans on Sustainable Development Goals list economic empowerment and entrepreneurship as key pillars in their fight to close the gender gap and achieve gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth.

All around the world, access to financial services has proven to be as one of the important entry points for the promotion of female participation in the economy and reversal of adverse gender dynamics. Ensuring that women and girls are empowered through the protection of their economic and social rights and of an environment that enables their fair and active participation in the economy would contribute to faster growing economies and prevent human exploitation.

Women’s economic empowerment depends on political commitment and support at international level. We collectively need to go beyond microcredit and enterprise development by also supporting comprehensive strategies that implement labour standards, improve working conditions and advocate for equal access to property rights, credit and financial services essential for business development.

This would allow countries not only to achieve a greater degree of gender equality and women’s rights, but also allow them to reap the economic benefits that accompany the full utilisation of women’s human capital. Many countries have produced updated strategies to enhance women’s economic empowerment and demonstrate their renewed commitments to gender equality as well as welcoming the private sector into their development strategies. This is a start, but there is still much to do to create true women’s economic empowerment.

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