As the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts continue to unfold, it is clear that the disproportionate impact on women is large, multifaceted, and could reverse decades of progress on women’s economic empowerment and equality and women’s rights more broadly. This further frustrates the already daunting task of ensuring gender equality, including in economic participation and opportunity—a task that the World Economic Forum estimated would take 257 years to accomplish, pre-COVID. Achieving gender equality could help the global gross domestic product grow by $28 trillion.
The next Administration should accelerate this timeline by investing in and integrating women’s economic empowerment and equality into United States foreign policy, including COVID-19 response and recovery plans. This is critical for gender equality, the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights and the achievement of inclusive and transformative economic growth.
To be successful, women’s economic empowerment and equality (WEEE) efforts must be comprehensive and intersectional, incorporating all aspects of women’s economic empowerment: workforce participation; education and vocational training; support for entrepreneurs; access to and control over resources, housing, land and property, finance and opportunity; as well as women’s agency and ability to thrive as economic actors who can make and act upon economic decisions. Efforts must be inclusive so that no woman is left behind and people of all genders are counted. And they must address drivers of economic empowerment and work with all stakeholders, including men and boys, to ensure that root causes of gender inequality—which also inhibit women’s full and equal participation in the economy—are addressed in coordination with more traditionally economic focused activities.
The next Administration should take the following actions within the first hundred days:
- Take concrete and clear action in COVID-19 response and recovery plans to address the specific and disproportionate impacts of both COVID-19 and economic crises on women and other marginalized populations so they are centered in a post-pandemic economic order, rather than left further behind.
- Issue an Executive Order to expand the mandates around gender analysis and integration for USAID in the WEEE Act to all foreign assistance, diplomacy, and trade agencies/departments.
- Request sufficient funds for women’s economic empowerment and broader gender equality work to address the enabling environment needed for WEE’s success in all relevant agencies.
- Issue interagency guidance that centers women and marginalized communities and improves and expands the focus of the current initiative on women’s economic empowerment to emphasize:
- Social, regulatory, and policy factors such as gender-based violence, unpaid-care work, education at all levels, health, and access to technology in addition to the legal barriers for women’s economic empowerment as key components of the enabling environment.
- Ensuring that activities reach the most marginalized and vulnerable populations, including women of different backgrounds living in extreme poverty. This would require expanding access to capital to include access to bank accounts and other financial tools, guaranteeing access to justice systems, and broadening workforce development activities.
- Establishing systems of accountability that include regularly reporting to the public on outcome indicators.
- Establishing an advisory council that includes organizations from low-and middle- income countries.
- Ensuring adequate staffing to coordinate and implement the interagency effort.