Women’s economic empowerment is seen today as the single most important factor contributing to equality between women and men. Economic stability increases an individual’s options and choices in life. Economic empowerment puts women in a stronger position
and gives them the power to participate, together with men, in
the shaping of society, to influence development at all levels of
society, and to make decisions that promote their family’s and
their own wellbeing. Economic empowerment of women is a
matter of human rights and social justice.
Conceptualizing women’s economic empowerment. A common definition of empowerment encompasses both the process of change that enables individuals to have greater freedom of choice,
and the actions and choices that the individual makes. The
World Bank is one of the few actors to have defined women’s
economic empowerment. However, the World Bank definition
focuses principally on markets, that is, “…making markets
work for women and empowering women to compete in markets”.
Access to markets is important because inequality prevents
women from having equal access to productive resources
and economic opportunities. Sida’s definition of women’s economic
empowerment goes beyond the market and also encompasses
change in relation to access to and control over critical
economic resources and opportunities; it also addresses the
need to eliminate structural gender inequalities in the labour
market and reduce women’s unpaid work.
Sida defines women’s economic empowerment as the process which
increases women’s real power over economic decisions that influence their lives and priorities in society. Women’s Economic Empowerment can be achieved through equal access to and control over critical economic resources and opportunities, and the elimination of structural gender inequalities in the labour market including a better sharing of unpaid care work.Women can achieve economic empowerment if
(1) the resources are available and women have the skills to
(2) they have access to economic opportunities and control
over the economic benefits of those opportunities; and
(3) they can use those benefits to make strategic choices leading
to positive changes in their lives.
In reality, women face obstacles throughout this process and overcoming many of them requires society to actively reduce gender discriminatory norms and practices and to ensure that public institutions are accountable for putting gender rights into practice. Female illiteracy, women’s lack of access to information, and gender discriminatory norms that prevent women from using and/or owning land are examples of obstacles that limit their access to and control of economic resources. Exploitative and discriminatory working conditions, gender segregation in the labour market, restricted mobility, women’s double work burden and diminished health – caused by gender-based violence, for instance
– are examples of factors that limit women’s ability to access
and/or enjoy the returns on their work.
Unpaid work, both in the productive and domestic spheres is one of the single most important obstacles to women’s economic empowerment.
Overall, women across the world endure heavy workloads
both outside and inside the home. Many studies show that
women’s work day is longer than men’s and that the proportion
of work receiving economic remuneration is smaller. A
substantial part of productive agricultural work today is unpaid
and carried out by women. In addition to productive
work, one of the major differences in economic empowerment
of women compared to men is the fact that women shoulder
the primary responsibility for unpaid care work within the
home. Indeed, society depends heavily on women’s unpaid
work to provide the necessary care of its citizens today. This
limits women’s free time to engage effectively in income-generating
work, and in many developing countries results in women’s acute ‘time poverty’. As a result more women than men lack access to valued resources and opportunities and continue to have a subordinate status in society.
The economic empowerment of women requires working with men, and challenging long-standing gender stereotypes. A vital starting point for increasing women’s economic participation is to work with
men to address the double burden of care-giving and paid work. Working with men and women to confront gender stereotypes
is important for economic empowerment of both women
and men, as it will expand men and women’s opportunities
to provide for themselves. Addressing the gender stereotyped
division of labour that condemns women to carry out the bulk
of unpaid work will also provide men with opportunities to expand
their role in society. It will allow men to combine family
and work, and engage in the care of their children and other
family members; it will also increase opportunities for them to
take up non-traditional male jobs and increase their options
for income-generating work. Overall, increasing women bargaining
power within the family is essential to enable women to take control over economic benefits and to expand their strategic life choices. Interventions that change power relations within the family for example addressing gender norms and practices limiting women and men’s choices will be essential to achieve women’s economic empowerment.Finally, a precondition for the effective economic empowerment of women is increased accountability by and systematic transformation of institutions to actively promote gender equality and women’s rights. In practical terms this means institutions questioning and changing their goals, strategies and working processes to promote gender equality. Understanding women’s economic empowerment in this way opens up opportunities to improve the situation of women through a number of interventions in different sectors.