Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment: A 2020 Update

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Julia Arnold, Aria Grabowski, Elizabeth Anderson, Seyram Dodor, and Lyric Thompson

In 2018, ICRW released a brief summarizing available literature on the links between women’s health and economic empowerment. It suggested that emerging efforts within U.S. foreign policy and assistance to advance women’s economic empowerment would benefit from support to women’s health, given the overwhelming evidence of their interdependence. Specifically, the brief found that access to family planning was among the most salient variables for predicting women’s ability to advance economically, given the overlap of reproductive and economically productive years.

This brief offers an update to reflect recent literature, as well as to respond to the 2020 political context, where what is now known as the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative is celebrating its first anniversary. The initiative is an interagency effort to advance women’s economic empowerment (WEE) through U.S. foreign policy and assistance, led by the White House and involving 10 agencies. The brief also, where possible, addresses how the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to play out on these two related factors of women’s health and their economic participation.

In this context, the updated analysis continues to build the case for strong linkages between women’s health and economic outcomes, calling attention particularly to the connection between reproductive choice and empowerment to women’s ability to choose where and when they work, and under what conditions. It then makes specific recommendations for changes to ongoing efforts within U.S. foreign policy—including its W-GDP initiative and COVID-19 response—that will bring these efforts in line with this evidence and increase overall impact for the women they intend to serve.