Why Women’s Economic Empowerment is Not Just a Women’s Issue

Why women's economic empowerment is not just a women's issue
Written by Shwetha Srinivasan

We are excited to welcome Shwetha Srinivasan as the latest contributor at DoubleXEconomy!
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Often issues like violence against women, reproductive and maternal health are termed as women’s issues. When someone talks about women’s economic empowerment (WEE), it’s convenient to group this topic under that same category. But issues that affect women affect the rest of society. The economic empowerment of women has far reaching positive effects – not only on the lives of women, but also on families, communities and the economies. Hence, the need to understand why we all should care about, support and promote women’s economic empowerment.

Around the world women are deprived of the ability to pursue economic opportunities because of a combination of factors, including rigid gender norms, lack of access to information and resources or institutional barriers. I see the essence of women’s economic empowerment as bridging the inequalities that prevent women from fully participating in economic life. Since WEE is a broad and cross-cutting topic, it requires multiple actions such as changing mindsets, access to information, economic and legal reform so that women can lead self-determined lives.

Findings from the 2016 World Bank report on Women, Business and the Law show that there is still a long way to go. According to the report, 155 out of 173 economies still have at least one law that impedes women’s economic opportunities. There are 100 economies where women face gender-based job restrictions and 18 economies where husbands can legally prevent their wives from working. 46 economies have no law that protect women from domestic violence. Lower legal gender equality in society points to a larger problem. Lower legal gender equality is associated with a wider gender wage gap, fewer girls in secondary school compared to boys and fewer women working or running a business.

At the root of these disparities is the notion that women aren’t equal. Ensuring women’s rights and working towards gender equality can tackle some of the inequalities present in society.

Unfortunately, the human rights argument isn’t always convincing. Besides looking at this issue from a human rights perspective, the evidence for supporting women’s economic empowerment is compelling. Enabling favorable conditions and providing resources for women to pursue economic opportunities works.

Facilitating WEE requires a broad range of interventions from providing quality education for girls to financial inclusion for women. Education offers a way to diversify income earning opportunities.  In Indonesia, the share of rural workers with no education employed in non-farm work is 15% of men and 17% of women. However, this share of lucrative non-farm work increases to 61 percent of men and 72 percent of women for those with secondary education. Apart from contributing to economic growth, higher levels of education for women increases women’s wages, delays marriage and decreases child and maternal mortality.

Increasing women’s access to formal financial institutions and savings system promotes business opportunities for women and leads to lower unemployment levels. When more women are part of the labor force, it leads to faster economic growth and advances gender equality. For example, if male and female labor force participation were equal, it would lead to a 27 percent GDP increase in Middle East and North Africa and a 19 percent GDP increase in South Asia.

Investing in women has a multiplier effect that benefits children and communities. When women control an increasing share of the household income, they spend more of it on education, food, clothing and health of their children compared to men. This can be instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty.

Progress in achieving women’s economic empowerment has a generational impact. Supporting and working towards WEE and gender equality means you’re helping to improve the status of girls and women in the coming generations. The impact of WEE efforts may not be felt immediately but they will be lasting. Half the world’s population consists of women. We must let this part of the population have the same choices and abilities to lead a better life.

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