Employment and Enterprises


Worldwide, women have the potential to change their own economic status, as well as that of the communities and countries in which they live. Yet more often than not, women’s economic contributions go unrecognized, their work undervalued and their potential untapped.

Supporting women’s economic empowerment is essential both to realize women’s rights and to achieve broader development goals, such as economic growth, poverty reduction, health, education and wellbeing. To be economically empowered, women must have the means to achieve economic security for themselves and their families and to influence the markets and governance structures, norms and expectations that affect their livelihoods.

Unequal opportunities between women and men continue to hamper women’s ability to lift themselves from poverty to enter the workforce and generate income. Throughout the world, significant gender gaps exist in women’s and men’s labor market participation rates with women typically reporting lower levels of participation in paid employment.  Moreover, women worldwide are more likely to work in lower paying occupations, such as care-givers, domestic servants, market vendors, and shop and sales workers. Nearly 25 percent of women globally are defined by the International Labor Organization as unpaid contributing family workers, which means they receive no direct pay for their work taking care of children, elders and the home. Further, there is a pronounced segregation of women into informal employment outside the home where labor protection laws and regulations — such as pensions or contracts — do not apply. This pattern of discrimination can be seen in the global gender wage gap. Worldwide, women only earn 77 percent of what men earn on average.

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ICRW's Role

ICRW works to support women’s economic empowerment using research, advocacy and capacity building to expand the array of policy and programming options that foster greater economic choice for women and more substantive gender equality in local and global markets. ICRW’s research and monitoring and evaluation activities focus on recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid work to promote women’s economic empowerment.

Worldwide, the responsibility for unpaid care work falls disproportionally on women and girls, leaving them less time for education, paid work and other economic activities, political participation, and leisure.  Much of this unpaid work is devoted to caring for household members and household provisioning such as cooking, cleaning, washing, and making and mending clothes. Caring work takes up a significant amount of time in most countries, especially where infrastructure is poor and publicly-provided services (such as water or electricity) are limited or absent.

ICRW’s research takes a look into intra-household processes and dynamics. Intra-household inequality —particularly in a context where men and women have different abilities to access and use productive resources and where there are marked gender differences in consumption — affects both individual and household wellbeing and ability to withstand shocks such as drought, natural disaster, ill-health or a death in the family. Without investment in changing how productive resources are used and bargained over – and without tipping the balance in favor of women’s greater and more equitable control over these resources – intra-household inequality may not be altered. For example, formal ownership of land and housing alone is not the same as having agency in the use of household income, let alone voice and influence in the community. Working on communication and norm change will be essential in reducing pronounced gender inequalities within households and in markets.

Through our research and advocacy, ICRW is shaping the enabling environment for women’s economic inclusion, through both markets and government policies. Investments in quality care services, infrastructure, energy, education and training can significantly increase women’s opportunities for economic empowerment both directly, by increasing their ability to earn and learn, and indirectly by reducing and redistributing unpaid care work. Ultimately this research and advocacy will contribute to reducing gender inequalities in the labor market and the household and foster more substantive and meaningful gender equality.

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