Economic Empowerment

Women bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty. Statistics indicate that women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and control of assets. Poverty implications are widespread for women, leaving many without even basic rights such as access to clean drinking water, sanitation, medical care and decent employment. Being poor can also mean they have little protection from violence and have no role in decision making.

According to some estimates, women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. They are often paid less than men for their work, with the average wage gap in 2008 being 17 percent. Women face persistent discrimination when they apply for credit for business or self-employment and are often concentrated in insecure, unsafe and low-wage work. Eight out of ten women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with global economic changes taking a huge toll on their livelihoods.

The current financial crisis is likely to affect women particularly severely. In many developing countries where women work in export-led factories, or in countries where migrant women workers are the backbone of service industries, women’s jobs have taken the greatest hit. The International Labour Organization estimates that the economic downturn could lead to 22 million more unemployed women in 2009, jeopardizing the gains made in the last few decades in women’s empowerment.

In many countries, however, the impact goes far beyond the loss of formal jobs, as the majority of women tend to work in the informal sector, for example as domestics in cities, and do not show up in official unemployment numbers. Economic policies and institutions still mostly fail to take gender disparities into account, from tax and budget systems to trade regimes. And with too few seats at the tables where economic decisions are made, women themselves have limited opportunity to influence policy.

Women lag far behind men in access to land, credit and decent jobs, even though a growing body of research shows that enhancing women’s economic options boosts national economies.

Macroeconomic policies and policy-making can make the connections to gender equality. The multiple barriers that prevent women from seizing economic opportunities must be dropped.

What UN Women Aotearoa NZ does about Economic Empowerment

Pacific women face issues of lack of rights to own land, few voices in positions of power and decision-making and major responsibilities for many aspects of family life. There are many strong civil society organisations within the Pacific working on these issues but many face challenges in attracting funding. UNWNCANZ is currently working on a new project with UNW Pacific to empower women market vendors in the Solomon Islands. More details will be made available as the planning progresses.

Within NZ we promote the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs).