IWD 2017 CPAN Blog series: #2 - The poorest women have a right to earn and spend their own money too!

This blogpost is part of a series entitled IWD 2017 CPAN Blog series, which have been published in celebration of the 2017 International Women’s Day. The aim of this series is to emphasise the need to economically empower chronically poor women and girls.

By: Kate Bird

A right to equal treatment irrespective of gender is a basic human right. Women deserve autonomy and independence. They have a right to participate in decision-making on equal terms to men. Their right to engage in markets; to make investment decisions; to work and to hire labour; to own, sell or rent property and to move around freely and independently should not be constrained by their gender. These basic statements may seem self-evidently true but customs, norms and institutions (including laws) block full gender equity all around the world. This often applies especially strongly to the poorest women.

On International Women’s Day (8th March, 2017) there will be a flurry of activity around the globe, with people demanding greater equity for women. CPAN is joining its voice and hosting a roundtable on ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment: practical measures to ensure no one is left behind’.

But why do we think women’s economic empowerment (WEE) matters so much? Without it, many women cannot demand the right to go out to work, run their own business, own land or other assets or control the money that they earn. Without being able to do these things, getting out of poverty is difficult, and their children may also not get the good start in life they need to escape poverty.

Currently, the lack of gender equity leaves women more likely to:

  • Work in poorly paid and insecure employment (unpaid family work, subsistence farming, domestic work etc.)
  • Own fewer assets than their male counterparts and face challenges exercising their right to inherit, purchase, own or rent land.
  • Have less autonomy and to be blocked from taking an equal role in decision-making
  • Lack access to education, markets, financial services and basic social protection

The constraints are particularly severe for chronically poor women, as they tend to live in spatial poverty traps and lack the education, assets and leverage to gain access to the goods and services they need.

Despite improvements in girls’ education, persistent underinvestment in women’s economic empowerment means that these improvements have not translated into reduced gender gaps in labour markets. The intersecting inequalities faced by chronically poor women lead us to think that they face even more powerful barriers to decent work and greater pay differentials than other women.

WEE benefits individual women themselves

Their economic independence boosts their autonomy and their economic and social status. It can shift power relations between women and men, including within the household. For instance, being able to own land matters to women. Land ownership gives women greater status. It gives them more power in family relationships and helps provide them with an income. Being able to generate regular, adequate and independent income, is linked to women’s ability to enjoy their rights, make strategic choices, and exercise agency in key areas of their lives. It supports their psychological development and self-confidence, saving and asset accumulation. It is linked with increased aspirations, reduced domestic violence, having a greater say over household decisions and delayed marriage and childbirth. Women working outside the home also have better access to financial services, property and other productive assets, skills development and market information. They can gain new opportunities, develop new skills and build social networks.

WEE also benefits wider society

The SDGs will not be achieved unless far greater gender equity is achieved. Gender equality and empowered women are catalysts for development across a range of sectors. WEE is a prerequisite for sustainable development and pro-poor growth, as it increases agricultural productivity, reduces hunger and boosts GDP growth.

Empowering women helps reduce poverty

Healthy, educated, empowered women are better able to contribute to economic productivity and the socio-economic development of the next generation. Women’s central role in producing, maintaining and reproducing the population (child bearing and raising, care of the family, sick and elderly) means that policy measures to support WEE can have multiple positive spill-over effects on childhood and household poverty as well as women’s well-being. Women’s empowerment can also underpin pro-poor demographic transitions.

Women’s greater labour force participation benefits their children. Women tend to invest their earnings in their children and community, producing a positive ripple effect in a way that does not occur when men’s incomes rise. Their investment in their children’s education and health help build capabilities and interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty. So, in Brazil, for instance, the likelihood of a child’s survival increased by 20% when the mother controlled household income and in Bangladesh women and children’s deprivation declined. Women land owners in Nepal are more likely to have the final say in household decisions, benefitting their children, who are less likely to go hungry.

Ongoing research by CPAN has identified some of the key policies and programmes for enabling WEE for chronically poor women. These are summarised in IWD CPAN Blog series: #3.

There will be a portfolio of publications in April going into greater detail.

Other blogs: 

For more on this topic, visit the project page Donor’s best practices in reducing chronic poverty among women and girls

Photo credits:  woman crossing stream Bangladesh. 2002. Shehzad Noorani / World Bank Photo ID: SNO0338BAN World Bank