Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe.
Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe.

Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home. But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. 

FAQs: Economic empowerment

  • Women’s economic empowerment is a transformative, collective process through which economic systems become just, equitable, and prosperous. This process envisions a world where all women enjoy their economic and social rights, exercise their agency and power to challenge inequalities, and level the playing field. For this to happen, all women need equal rights and access to, ownership of and control over resources, assets, income, time, and their own lives.

  • Gender equality is a fundamental human right and is crucial for fostering peaceful, healthy, and prosperous societies. Development will only be sustainable if its benefits accrue equally to women, men, and gender non-conforming people; and women’s rights will only become a reality if they are part of broader efforts to ensure that all people can live with respect and dignity.

    Many international commitments support women’s economic empowerment, including the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a series of International Labour Organization conventions on gender equality in the world of work, and multilateral environmental agreements such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Global Biodiversity Framework. UN Women supports women’s economic empowerment in line with these global commitments, and with the growing body of evidence that shows that gender equality significantly contributes to advancing economies and sustainable development.

  • Promoting women’s economic empowerment, rights, and resilience sets a direct path toward gender equality, poverty eradication, and environmentally sustainable economic prosperity. Inclusive and sustainable economic growth paired with adequate wealth distribution to address income inequality is essential for prosperity. But gender inequalities continue to hamper economic development and shared prosperity. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees or by doing unpaid care and domestic work. However, there are significant barriers to women’s ability to equally participate in, contribute to, and benefit from economic development.

  • Women’s economic empowerment is essential to achieving women’s rights and gender equality. Women’s economic empowerment means ensuring women can equally participate in and benefit from decent work and social protection; access markets and have control over resources, their own time, lives, and bodies; and increased voice, agency, and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels from the household to international institutions.

    Promoting women’s economic justice and rights in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Women’s labour force participation has other benefits as well. For example, an increase of 11 per cent in women’s labour force participation in Latin America and the Caribbean was linked to investments in education and care services, declining fertility rates, and access to technology, among other factors.

    Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment also contribute to ending hunger, guaranteeing food security and nutrition, and realizing the right to food, not only for women themselves but also for their households and communities.

  • Patriarchy, power imbalances, discriminatory laws, policies, and social norms are key factors of gender inequalities and economic disempowerment. These barriers prevent women from fully participating in the economy and increase their vulnerability to poverty, food insecurity, violence, and exclusion.

    Women’s unequal economic rights and opportunities trap them in poverty, creating gender gaps in income, savings, assets, and well-being throughout the life course. Care responsibilities and wage discrimination mean women only earn a third of labour income globally. Women also face obstacles in accessing resources like land, technology, and financial services. For example, women have only 64 per cent of the legal rights of men in 190 countries, and the level of legal protection for women’s land rights is low in half of reporting countries (34 of 68 countries). Less than 15 per cent of agricultural landholders globally are women. And the gender gap in bank account ownership dropped to 6 per cent in 2021 after stagnating at 9 per cent since 2011.

  • Achieving women’s economic empowerment means breaking down barriers and unlocking opportunities on many levels: from how individuals, communities, and institutions behave, to the laws and policies that shape economies both locally and globally. It also means rallying a wide range of actors to work towards this common goal, including civil society organizations, the private sector, employers and international organizations, financial institutions, and policy and decision-makers in the public sector.

  • Today 1 in 10 women globally are living in extreme poverty and more than 1 in 4 are affected by food insecurity. If current trends continue, by 2030, an estimated 8 per cent of the world’s female population – 342.4 million women and girls – will still be living on less than $2.15 a day. Women’s empowerment has a positive influence on the health and overall well-being of societies and households. Evidence shows that increasing women’s access to education, social services, asset ownership, and decision-making power can lead to a significant decline in poverty. For example, by improving access to education and family planning, ensuring fair pay, addressing the impacts of climate change on women, and expanding social safety nets, governments could lift over 100 million women and girls out of poverty. Investing in caregiving services is especially important. This can help women get back into the workforce and speed up efforts to eradicate poverty.

  • Women’s economic empowerment can be measured in various ways, whether it is looking at individual achievements, household dynamics, community progress, or broader collective efforts. These can be measured through data, like income levels, access to assets, and time, as well as other factors such as how empowered a woman may feel in making economic decisions. Experts often use different indices- economic, social, political, and environmental- to get a full picture of economic empowerment. For instance, the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index measures how empowered women are in the agricultural sector by analyzing production, access to resources, income, leadership roles, and time.

    Measures of women’s economic empowerment are also embedded into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and several SDG targets. However, data to track progress on the SDGs related to women’s economic empowerment are incompleteUN Women is working to improve how we collect and use gender-disaggregated data to measure economic empowerment, such as through the Women Count flagship programme and close collaboration with feminist economists and our Research and Data team.

  • Women's empowerment has a strong impact on economies around the world, contributing to their growth and sustainability in numerous ways. When women are empowered, they are more likely to participate in the labour market. This increases the overall labour force, leading to higher productivity and economic output. Empowering women to become entrepreneurs fosters innovation and inclusive, more sustainable, economic prosperity. Women-led businesses contribute to job creation, wealth generation, and diversification of economies. Women's economic empowerment often correlates with increased access to education and healthcare. When women have access to education and healthcare they are better equipped to participate in the workforce, make informed decisions, and contribute to environmentally sustainable economic development.

  • Improving economic empowerment within communities requires a multifaceted approach that tears down barriers and promotes inclusive policies and programmes. Providing accessible and quality education, as well as skills training equips women with the necessary knowledge to participate effectively in the economy. Access to affordable financial resources and services enables women to manage their finances and build assets. But, to guarantee equal pay and access to decent work for all, discrimination in the workplace must be tackled head-on.

    Supporting women's enterprises and entrepreneurship through initiatives that provide training, mentorship, access to finance, and networking opportunities creates a better environment for women-owned businesses to thrive. Facilitating women's involvement in community leadership and decision-making processes can also improve economic empowerment.

    Recognizing and closing the gap of women’s share of unpaid care and domestic work can also enhance women’s economic empowerment. When unpaid care and domestic work are equally distributed, women have better opportunities to participate in paid work and contribute to the labour force. Removing laws and policies that discriminate against women and changing harmful gender and social norms is also critical for women’s empowerment.

  • The private sector can sustainably create jobs, increase access to decent work, spur innovation, and provide essential goods and services. As a major employer of women, the private sector plays a huge role in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. According to the International Labor Organization, private enterprises create a significant proportion of jobs – with over 90 per cent in developing countries.   

    The role of the private sector is integral to advancing women’s economic empowerment in the world of work when accountable to its duty to (a) protect and respect women's rights, (b) enable women's leadership, decision-making role, (c) promote positive social norms, (d) contribute to women’s economic empowerment and autonomy, (f) adopt family-friendly workplace policies and schedules, and (e) prevent and protect women from violence and discrimination in and through the world of work.

  • Paid maternity, paternity, and parental leave policies are essential to the realization of gender equality and the overall prosperity of society. Paid parental leave for all parents regardless of gender, including parents who adopt, foster, or have children through surrogacy or assisted reproductive technology, is just one example of family-friendly policies needed for workers to balance their work and family responsibilities and contribute to inclusive, thriving economies. Such provisions ensure workers’ economic security and promote women’s decent employment. Implementing inclusive and accessible paid maternity leave, equal time for paid paternity leave and parental leave is key for equally sharing unpaid care work between women and men. For people working in low-wage and part-time jobs—most of whom are women and people of colour— access to paid leave is limited and this needs to change.

  • Informal workers routinely work for lower wages and in unsafe conditions, including a higher risk of abuse such as sexual harassment. Informality is characterized by a lack of social protections, which has a long-term impact on women. For example, fewer women receive pensions globally, and as a result, more elderly women are now living in poverty. Women working in informal employment are also constrained by a lack of voice (to negotiate or influence decisions), visibility (reflected in the scarcity of data and evidence on informal work), and validity (in legal identity or recognition).

    For these reasons, the contributions of millions of women in informal employment, including the contributions of migrant women, to national economies go unrecognized and undervalued. Moving women workers and women-led enterprises into the formal economy, under the protection of the law and out of informality, would be a major step towards realizing women’s right to work and protecting their rights at work through decent work and access to social protection.