Why Economically Empower Women

Today, women all across the world confront implicit and explicit hurdles to full economic participation. As professionals working in global development, we should take a moment to recognize both the women who are achieving their economic potential through entrepreneurship and the initiatives that have assisted them in their pursuits. Pursuing women’s economic empowerment includes providing equal access to resources, education, and economic prosperity for women, as well as using their skill, creativity, and resolve for economic good. This is an admirable goal in and of itself, and the benefits of involving all citizens (particularly women) in development are widely recognized. But what about the less tangible effects that go beyond monetary gain? So, how far does the impact of women’s economic empowerment extend?

Economically empowered women shift gender norms.

It’s human nature to stop, stare, and gossip about anything strange the first time we encounter it. We shake our heads and sigh the second time we see it. The third time, we merely shrug and move on; what was once strange has become routine. Women have long been discouraged from working outside the home in Bangladesh’s firmly patriarchal society. However, female dairy pioneers are now taking on roles such as mobile input suppliers and artificial inseminators, contributing to a shift in gender norms. Women in these positions have increased daily milk output, household income, won women respect for their technical competence, and begun to normalize women’s work outside the home.

Economically empowered women contribute to better health and nutrition outcomes.

Increased income for women increases food security for children by increasing the quantity, variety, and nutritional value of food consumed in homes. The same logic applies to women’s and children’s health; in many developing countries, a woman will find it difficult to take a day off and drive to a faraway clinic for treatments when her first concern is how to feed her children. When a woman’s income becomes more stable as a result of learning to grow a more profitable crop or obtaining financing to expand her business from a local village savings and lending association, she can afford more diverse, nutritious foods and take time off work to seek health care for herself and her family.

Much progress has to be made in the years ahead as we continue to examine the meaning of economic empowerment, but it is evident that supporting women like these in their pursuits is not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

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