A growing number of organizations are committed to strengthening women economically, but few understand exactly how to make it happen. Nor are they clear how to evaluate whether their efforts are successful. To help address this need, ICRW today launches its latest report, “Understanding and Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment.” One of its authors, ICRW’s Anju Malhotra, highlights below a few findings from the research that guided the document. Malhotra responded to questions via email.
ICRW: Our latest report lays out a framework to guide the design, implementation and evaluation of programs that aim to advance women economically. How did researchers determine there was a need for this?
Anju Malhotra: In the past few years, and especially the last few months, ICRW has been approached by a number of organizations seeking clarity and guidance on this point. We responded to this demand by developing the framework featured in our report. An increasing number of organizations and individuals understand the importance of advancing women economically. But they are less clear on the exact steps to take in bringing it about. And they are seeking markers of success: How will they know empowerment has been achieved? Based on ICRW’s research and programmatic experience in this area, we felt that clarity on these points would be welcome by a large number of stakeholders committed to economically empowering women.
ICRW: What must governments, corporations, donors and nongovernmental organizations consider if they want to include women more in the global marketplace and help strengthen them economically?
AM: Recognize that women are both producers and consumers in an economy. Consider women in the full range of their productive activities and the contributions they make. Like all entrepreneurs and workers, women need resources and skills to thrive and help economies grow. They need access to banks, markets and companies. They need policies that will create an environment for them to progress economically. Unfortunately, the reality for most women is that their opportunities and access to money and power are often limited. So we need to ensure equal access.
Women also are important to economies as consumers. They buy staples like food, shelter and clothing. As their buying power rises, they are increasingly a market for education and health services as well as goods such as scooters, cars and cell phones. Companies with products and services to sell need to cater to women’s preferences and consumption needs. And governments and the private sector need to recognize that providing opportunities to the female workforce can strengthen the business bottom line and help economies grow.
ICRW: What are some common misconceptions practitioners and organizations have about building economic empowerment programs?
AM: The biggest misconception is that because women’s economic empowerment is a complex concept, we need to undertake complex and comprehensive programs to bring it about. But no one organization or program can effectively address all the dimensions of women’s economic empowerment in a single stroke. We don’t advise that they do. Rather, it is important for professionals to “choose their slice.” By that I mean choose the women, locations and contexts where the interventions they are best equipped to undertake have the greatest chance of being successful. For example, while many women can benefit from acquiring business skills, it may be best to invest in such skills for women who are in environments where policy and economic circumstances are favorable for women’s business growth. In environments where these factors are lacking, such an intervention is less likely to lead to desired results.
ICRW: How would you like to see this latest report from ICRW used in the field?
AM: Our hope is that the report will facilitate more effective allocation of resources and effort among initiatives that are aiming to economically empower women. We also hope that it will make the task of devising and assessing such programs much easier for those committed to opening up opportunities for women to contribute more equitably in the global economy.
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