Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment

Article Date

16 September 2011

Article Author

By Gillian Gaynair

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

No single program can address every underlying influence in the process to economically advance women. Instead, those working in global economic development should choose an area within the process where they can make the most difference – and measure its impact, according to an upcoming paper by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

Scheduled to be released in October, the brief paper defines women’s economic empowerment and provides a framework developed by ICRW to guide the design, implementation and evaluation of economic advancement programs. The framework is built on concepts that ICRW experts gathered from existing literature and from their experience of integrating economic empowerment for women into programs and evaluating it.

“An increasing number of governments, corporations and donor organizations recognize that women’s involvement in the global marketplace is critical to alleviating poverty,” said Anne Marie Golla, a senior economist and evaluation specialist at ICRW. “But it became clear to us that many are unsure how to determine whether their work – and investments – are indeed economically empowering women.”

“We believe ICRW’s framework will help provide some guidance to practitioners, donors and other researchers working on the issue,” she said.

However, Golla stressed that for a woman living in impoverished conditions to arrive at a point where she is armed with the ability to make her own financial decisions and succeed economically, is a complex, multidimensional process. With that, “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to ensure the success of programs that focus on and want to measure women’s economic empowerment,” she said. “It depends on the context in which you’re working and which underlying factors that contribute to women’s empowerment you’re trying to address.”

Those factors vary, according to ICRW’s paper. They can include the resources available to help a woman prosper, such as skills training and loans, to the institutions that determine how those resources reach her, such as legal bodies. Each is an influential element on a woman’s path to economic empowerment.

The key to creating meaningful economic empowerment programs is to select a slice of this complex economic empowerment process where the most impact can be made – given the project timeframe and funding – and concentrate on that. ICRW also recommends that the project’s evaluation should align with the particular slice it chooses to address.

To provide more guidance, ICRW offers within its measurement framework several examples of indicators of success, not only at the individual and household levels but at the community and institutional levels, too.

“Measuring women’s economic empowerment is akin to measuring outcomes for poverty reduction,” noted Anju Malhotra, ICRW’s vice president of research, innovation and impact and a co-author of the paper. “It’s a complex process, but it can and should be measured.”

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW’s senior writer and editor.

ICRW’s report, Understanding and Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment, is available for download.