Promoting and measuring women's economic empowerment

Research shows that when women are economically empowered, entire families, communities and nations benefit.

Yet for many companies and organizations, it can be difficult to identify and measure programs that will directly advance women’s economic opportunities.

To address this knowledge gap, in 2012 the ExxonMobil Foundation helped to develop The Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment and later its companion report, Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment.

The Roadmap summarizes the findings of 18 commissioned research studies and 136 empirical evaluations and policies to analyze the effectiveness of women’s empowerment programs. The initiative analyzed programs across four categories — entrepreneurship, farming, wage employment and young women’s employment — assessing how these interventions increased women’s productivity and earnings across different economic and social contexts.

By gathering the best available evidence in the field, the Roadmap provides funders, NGOs and governments with a framework for smart programs and investments in women, including key lessons and recommendations:

  • Proven and promising interventions: The Roadmap identifies nine proven and promising interventions, including savings accounts and the use of mobile phones, which increase productivity and deliver financial services in a cost-effective way to women farmers and entrepreneurs.
  • The very poor need more: Very poor women need a more intensive package of services than less poor women to break out of subsistence production in agriculture and entrepreneurship.
  • In-kind assistance: Providing capital in-kind (as inventory, for instance) rather than in cash can help women micro-entrepreneurs keep capital in the business and avoid pressure to divert it to other family members or household needs.
  • Wage employment: Access to childcare increases women's wage employment levels and earnings, but design and delivery matter to ensure quality, affordable and cost-effective care.
  • Young women: Cash grants to poor and very poor young women may increase their employment options and resulting income, and have sizeable social benefits.
  • Country context: Whether a program works depends on the economic situation of the woman and the context in which she lives. In agrarian economies, for example, programs for women farmers need to be complemented by programs seeking to reduce women's work and time burdens, including access to quality family planning and reproductive health services.

In 2014, the UN Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation expanded the initiative to explore impact measurement. In developing the Roadmap, researchers found that women’s empowerment programs utilize very different metrics, making it difficult to compare program outcomes and build a global body of evidence. To address this, the Foundations commissioned five expert researchers to produce independent think pieces on distinct measurement topics. The researchers discussed recommendations and identified together a set of widely applicable outcome measures for women’s economic empowerment programs.

These recommendations culminated in a companion report, Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment. The report provides recommended measures to help companies and organizations assess the direct, intermediate and final outcomes of women’s economic empowerment programs. By filling another critical knowledge gap, these measures help drive impact in key areas of women’s empowerment, including increased productivity, income and overall well-being.

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