Women's Economic Empowerment

Women's Economic Empowerment

Giving women greater access to and control over economic resources

CARE’s women’s economic empowerment strategy seeks to ensure that 30 million women have greater access to and control over economic resources by 2020. CARE defines women’s economic empowerment as the process by which women increase their right to economic resources and power to make decisions that benefit themselves, their families and their communities.

The Problem: 

In the world’s poorest communities, women and girls bear the brunt of poverty. Women continue to earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent what men earn (World Bank Gender Data Portal). Laws in many countries restrict women’s economic opportunities, dictating the types of jobs that women can do, or giving husbands the right to prevent their wives from accepting jobs. The disadvantages and discrimination faced by women and girls severely limits women’s and girls’ ability to lift themselves out of poverty. As a result, women are more likely to work in informal, low-wage jobs with exploitative and unequal working conditions, and have restricted access to affordable, quality financial products and services, like a savings account or small loan. In the home, women do most of the unpaid household and care work, with less time for education, leisure, political participation and self-care (Eurostat 2014).

Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a path for poverty reduction and for equality between men and women. When more women work, economies grow – making women’s economic empowerment an issue of social justice, gender equality and an important tool to help women, their families and their communities escape poverty and build prosperity.

What CARE is Doing: 

A woman is empowered when she has the ability to succeed economically and the power to make and act on economic decisions that influence her life. She needs equal access to and control over economic resources like income, assets like farming equipment and plots of land and opportunities like potential jobs as well as an enabling environment that will support and foster her. CARE focuses its efforts on four key pathways where it believes it can have the most impact – financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, dignified work and inclusive value chains.

Increasing access to financial services

CARE’s flagship work around Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) builds a woman’s ability to manage financial resources and use relevant financial services such as bank accounts. At the same time, a woman’s participation in a VSLA increases her decision-making power within her household and helps her to assert her economic rights at community and national levels. 

Feature Highlight

Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA)

  • A VSLA is a group of community members, usually women, who contribute small amounts to group savings monthly
  • Funds are kept in a lock box and notes are kept in ledgers
  • The group lends to a member, who starts a business or expands a current business
  • The member pays back her loan with a manageable amount of interest and savings continue to grow

What CARE is Doing, Continued: 

Encouraging women as entrepreneurs

CARE helps women gain access to basic financial services such as bank accounts and to business skills training. Combined with efforts to strengthen women’s economic decision-making power and develop a more supportive environment in both the household and the community, this enables more women to start businesses, leading to financial independence. For example, in Jordan, CARE Canada is helping to provide vocational training and small loans to vulnerable young Jordanian women and men so that they can start their own business.

Safe and fair working conditions

CARE works with women to ensure they have a workplace that provides adequate wages and safe working conditions, where they are protected from sexual and gender-based violence. For example, CARE has been working in the garment industry in Cambodia since 1998 to improve occupational health and safety through the creation of industry standards, and to reduce workplace harassment to protect the primarily young female migrant garment workers.

Inclusive value chains

A value chain is the series of activities required to bring a product from its design and manufacture to consumers. Including small-holder farmers and women in value chains and ensuring that they receive their fair share of profit means a more equal share for everyone as a country’s economy grows. For example, in Bolivia, CARE successfully engaged small rural associations, municipal governments and national ministries to prioritise local economic development and fund small businesses in key value chains, such as chilli and groundnut, in addition to providing training on gender equality awareness at the local and municipal levels.

Changing the rules

Too many women and girls are held back by discriminatory laws, policies and social norms that exclude them. CARE works with local organizations, traditional leaders, women’s groups, policymakers and government bodies to advocate for change and to build better regulations that will enable women to fulfil their potential – to go to school, to earn an income with dignity, and to be a part of the decision-making process.

Engaging men and boys

To more effectively challenge deep-seated gender stereotypes for both men and women, CARE includes men and boys in its women’s economic empowerment efforts. Working with men and boys is essential to achieving our goal, as CARE believes that the economic empowerment of women will support both men and women, and their families, to achieve their economic goals, pursue new roles and better balance family and work.