Employment & Enterprise Development

Employment and Enterprise Development

The Issue: Employment and Enterprise Development

Women’s work is crucial to the survival of poor households and an important route through which families escape poverty. When women earn an income, they are more likely than men to spend it on food, education and heath care for their children and families. And research shows that women’s access to employment can be empowering: it boosts women’s self-esteem and bargaining power within the household, gives them more mobility and exposes them to new ideas and knowledge.

Despite these potential benefits, women’s status in the labor market is significantly inferior to that of men. Women tend to be concentrated in the informal economy, working as day laborers on farms or construction sites, domestic servants or petty traders. Such informal sector jobs can make up more than half of the labor market in developing and emerging economies. These jobs often are characterized by lower pay, less security and poor working conditions with few opportunities to advance.

Where weak job markets and other barriers limit women from accessing formal employment, they support themselves primarily through small business enterprises. But women’s enterprises face multiple challenges. Women have limited access to credit and markets. They often lack education and other life skills, such as money management and negotiation. And they rarely have training opportunities for management, basic book-keeping and accounting.

Our role

ICRW’s early research quantified for the first time the extent of women’s participation in the economy, revealing that women’s work was both underestimated and undervalued. By better understanding the complex dynamics of women’s lives in poor families, we have uncovered effective ways to strengthen women’s economic contributions and reduce their vulnerability to poverty and economic downturns.

Today we collaborate with various partners to design programs, strategies and policies that improve women’s work opportunities and help them grow their small businesses. Although improvements in productivity and incomes are vital for success, to truly demonstrate the multiple outcomes of women’s economic contributions, we measure how their and their family’s lives improve, whether women can control their assets and income, and if they are able to live with autonomy.

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