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Women's economic empowerment: navigating enablers and constraints

Research reports

Written by Abigail Hunt, Emma Samman

Men are more than twice as likely to be in formal full-time employment as women in 17 countries with poor records on gender equality. 

New analysis of Gallup World Poll data reveals that in 17 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa surveyed in 2009, on average, about 90% of women and men reported that having a good quality job is ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ to them – yet only one in seven women (14%) in these countries was engaged in formal full-time employment compared with one in three men (33%).

This report details how gender equality, poverty eradication and human development require increased investment in women’s economic empowerment.

Other key findings from the report include:        
• World Poll data from 138 countries in 2015 found that on average 36% of women were employed full time for an employer, compared with 44% of men
• Women consistently fare worse than men do in unemployment and underemployment (not working to desired capacity), with 42% of young women underemployed compared with 36% of young men

This report brings together new and existing evidence to propose a set of core building blocks for the complex process of women's economic empowerment. No single intervention or actor can address all of its aspects, but we identify 10 key factors that can enable or constrain women’s economic empowerment, and make recommendations for policy and practice for each:

  • Education, skills development and training
  • Access to quality, decent paid work
  • Address unpaid care and work burdens
  • Access to property, assets and financial services
  • Collective action and leadership
  • Social protection
  • Labour market characteristics
  • Fiscal policy
  • Legal, regulatory and policy framework
  • Gender norms and discriminatory social norms