Women’s Economic Empowerment: The Unintended Consequences

Women’s economic empowerment (WEE) is often touted as the magic bullet — one that can redress gender inequality, reduce poverty, promote wellbeing and mitigate violence. The proposed panacea is enticing: increase women’s earnings and bargaining power, raise incomes, reduce poverty and promote gender equality within and beyond the household. However, others contend that while the focus on WEE is critical, social and gender norms that underlie gender inequality are so pervasive that a narrow or disproportionate focus on economic over empowerment outcomes may not work and can sometimes lead to unintended consequences.

This brief interrogates a number of these unintended consequences with the goal of highlighting how they could be addressed and mitigated through programming. These unintended consequences include increased time poverty, sex-segregated labor markets, gender-based violence, the cooption or loss of income and poor health outcomes.