BRIEF Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment: A 2020 Update

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BRIEFEnablingWomen’s EconomicEmpowerment:A 2020

Authors:Julia Arnold, Aria Grabowski, Elizabeth Anderson, Seyram Dodor, and Lyric Thompson.Recommended citation:Arnold, J., Grabowski, A., Anderson, E., Dodor, S. & Thompson, L. (2020). EnablingWomen’s Economic Empowerment: A 2020 Update. Washington, DC: International Centerfor Research on Women.Cover photo: ICRW

ICRW ENABLING WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT 03BackgroundIn 2018, the International Center for Research on Women released a brief summarizingavailable literature on the links between women’s health and economic empowerment. Thebrief suggested that emerging efforts within U.S. foreign policy and assistance to advancewomen’s economic empowerment would benefit from support to women’s health, given theoverwhelming evidence of their interdependence. Specifically, it found that access to familyplanning was among the most salient variables for predicting women’s ability to advanceeconomically, given the overlap of reproductive and economically productive years.iFast forward to 2020, when what is now known asthe Women’s Global Development and Prosperity(W-GDP) initiative is celebrating its first anniversary.The initiative is an interagency effort to advancewomen’s economic empowerment (WEE) through U.S.foreign policy and assistance, led by the White Houseand involving 10 agencies. A number of programshave been deployed to impressive global reach withmore than 12 million women having accessed W-GDPprograms. These efforts include providing 1.6 billionin U.S. Government-backed loans to 9,000 women-ledbusinesses and supporting nearly 2 million women’sparticipation in workforce training and developmentprograms. ICRWLegislation to codify the initiative has also beenintroduced in both chambers of Congress. And yetdespite the considerable evidence of the links betweenwomen’s health and their economic advancement,there is next to no mention of women’s health amongany of these legislative or executive efforts, even as acomponent of the enabling environmentii for women’seconomic empowerment.iii At the same time, theCOVID-19 pandemic is unfolding and illustrating instarker terms than ever how deep the links betweenhealth and the economy run: as the virus wreaks havocon global health, so too does it reduce global economicactivity to a near-standstill. And for women, whoalready shoulder disproportionate care burdens thatdepress or prohibit economic participation, decades ofprogress increasing women’s economic empowermentare threatened to be reversed.In light of this context, this brief offers an updatedanalysis to reflect recent literature on the linkagesbetween women’s health and their economicparticipation, and, where possible, to address howthe impacts of the virus are likely to play out onthese two related factors. It then makes specificrecommendations for changes to ongoing efforts withinU.S. foreign policy that will bring these efforts in linewith this evidence and increase overall impact for thewomen they intend to serve.

04 ICRW ENABLING WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENTSTATE OF THE EVIDENCE:Linkages between economicopportunities and women’s healthAs global industry has come to a halt — putting economic and relationship strains oncountless families worldwide and particularly on the economically vulnerable — women andgirls’ health is also put at risk. Women make up a majority of low-wage workersiv and aremore likely than men to work in the informal sector. This makes them more likely tobe impacted by the pandemic and places them at greater risk for economic hardship.vBecause a woman’s economically productive ageoverlaps with her reproductive years, her ability tocontrol her reproduction is one of the more significanthealth factors impacting her economic trajectory.viWhen women access a full range of reproductivehealth services and have the ability to plan and spacebirths, they are better able to invest in their familyand children, contribute to household income andeconomic activity, and improve their own wellnessand livelihoods.viiGlobally, there is a 43 percent gap in labor force ICRW/Shana Pereiraparticipation between men and women,viii but withmore equal participation there could be large gains.According to the World Bank, if women and menworked at equal rates in the workforce for equal payand equal hours, this could lead to a global gain ofUS 160 trillion. Instead, countries lose 14 percent oftheir wealth as a result of gender inequality. Moreover,there are multiple health and wellbeing benefits suchas lower malnutrition and child mortality that wouldbe reaped with women’s equal participation in theeconomy.ix A study in India found that nearly a thirdof Indian housewives wanted to work, and that if thesewomen were brought into the labor force, it wouldincrease India’s female labor force participation rate bynearly 80 percent.x This highlights that the gender gapis not simply a matter of choice; women face externalbarriers to labor force participation.One way in which women’s labor force participation isconstrained is through unmet need for contraception—an issue that 214 million women in low resourcecountries experience. This unmet need results in84 percent of unintended pregnancies.xii With eachpregnancy, many women must interrupt paid workto care for their children, a challenge men do nottypically face since women spend two more hours ofunpaid work per day than men.xiii Studies show thatwomen who are able to consistently use contraceptivesbetween pregnancies are significantly more likely toparticipate in the formal labor force and to receivecash payments for that work.xiv Women who accesscontraceptives also have more control over decidingwhen to re-enter the workforce after giving birth.xv Astudy in Ethiopia demonstrates that the quality — thatis the length of use and type of contraceptive used —has a direct impact on a woman’s ability to work andreceive remuneration for her work.xvi

ICRW/Shana PereiraICRW ENABLING WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT 05Access to contraceptives enables girls and womento stay in school or skill training programs longer,xviiwhich is linked to increased labor force participationand greater lifetime earnings.xviii Based off of theexperience of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, however, wehave reason to believe that access to family planningand maternal health services is likely to decrease as aresult of the COVID-19 pandemic,xix likely also limitingwomen’s labor force participation, advancementand attachment. The most recent estimate fromthe United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is thatCOVID-19 will be associated with seven million newunplanned pregnancies around the globe,xx which willdisproportionately occur among low-income women.Conversely, women’s ability to choose where and whenthey work, and under what conditions, is intimatelylinked to reproductive empowerment and the choiceabout the timing, spacing, and number of births.xxiWhen women contribute a majority of the householdincome, they have substantially higher decision-makingpower around household expenditures, particularlyfood, shelter, and health spending.xxii If women’s laborforce participation is compromised either from lossof access to reproductive control or job loss due toeconomic recession, their household and communitydecision-making power is greatly reduced. This lossof decision-making may further keep women fromspending limited income on family planning needs.As economic hardship increases, families may alsoturn to child early and forced marriages (CEFM),which in turn increase risk for dangerous adolescentpregnancies.xxiii In addition to CEFM, risks for genderbased violence (including sexual and reproductivecoercion) increase during economic recessions andmajor crises, in part because women have reduceddecision-making power when they have lower income.All this is especially concerning because access tofamily planning and prenatal health services is likelydecreasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic atthe very time women are becoming more exposed tosexual and reproductive coercion and risk as a resultof the economic downturn.Decreases in access to family planning are concerningbecause both maternal and infant mortality go up whenpregnancies are unplanned,xxiv, xxv as well as duringrecessionsxxvi and after disasters.xxvii In addition to thetragic loss of life, increased maternal mortality couldresult in worse outcomes for older children and lossof household income, which could result in childrenbeing pulled from school earlier.xxviii Shoring up systemsfor access to family planning and maternal healthcareis critical to prevent increases in maternal and infantmortality.This is especially necessary where delivery systems arealready weak, such as where transportation to healthclinics is difficult. These difficulties will be especially feltby women with disabilities, members of underservedethnic or religious minority groups, and migrants andrefugees who struggle to obtain sufficient access tohealthcare during the best of times.xxix

06 ICRW ENABLING WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT ICRWThe COVID-19 crisis will disproportionately impactwomen, creating a sharper link between economicand reproductive empowerment. While men are atgreater risk of dying from the virus, at least in Westerncountries, women and girls face unique risks from itssocial impacts. Women face additional care burdensand make up a majority of frontline health workers(including the lowest-trained and worst-paid positions).Women also face greater risk for loss of access andagency in decision making for sexual and reproductivehealth and rights, and an increase in gender-basedviolence due to increased domestic stressors such asisolation, financial instability and increased As health care systems becomeoverburdened and seeking care becomes dangerous,the risk for maternal mortality rises, more so whencontraception is unavailable or unaffordable in astruggling global economy. Meanwhile, women’seconomic activities are more unstable than men’s andthey are more likely to shoulder the responsibility ofadditional care work that accompanies stay at homeand social distancing orders, which may mean that theyare the ones who will bear the burden of economicrecession. Economic and reproductive empowermentis critical to ensuring women are adequately protectedfrom the impacts of this pandemic, so that past gainsmade toward gender equity are not lost and progresscontinues even in times of crisis.

ICRW ENABLING WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT 07Recommendations for U.S. Foreign Policy and AssistanceResearch makes it clear that women’s health is a criticalenabler of their economic empowerment, and thattheir access to full sexual and reproductive health andrightsxxxi is one of the most important factors necessaryfor them to reach their full economic potential.Absent this, COVID-19 will be the shock of the century,widening global gender gaps and leaving women, girls,and other marginalized groups even further behind,with the programs intended to help them havingmarginal impact.The Women’s Global Development and ProsperityInitiative provides an important infusion of politicalwill and financial resources to address the issue ofwomen’s economic empowerment. Its emphasis onthe enabling environment is a particularly welcomeundertaking to address the gendered social andeconomic structures that present obstacles to women’seconomic empowerment around the globe. However,the exclusion of health among these executiveand legislative efforts is a troubling omission thatignores the overwhelming evidence, both existingand that which is emerging in the onslaught of theCoronavirus, that health is an essential ingredient towomen’s economic empowerment. The DevelopmentFinance Corporation (DFC)’s focus in this area shouldbe replicated across other implementing agenciesand reflected in statutory guidance on the enablingenvironment, which was updated by PresidentialMemorandum in December to include issues such asgender-based violence and unpaid care work.If the W-GDP initiative and its authorizing bills are ableto achieve their fullest impact in terms of improvingthe lives of the women they are intended to benefit, anexplicit focus on women’s health in general — and theirreproductive health in particular — which is closely ICRW/Shana Pereira1. Immediately incorporate women’s healthas a critical component of the Women’sGlobal Development and ProsperityInitiative (W-GDP) Pillar 3 efforts toaddress the enabling environment forwomen’s economic empowerment,both in the executive initiative andintroduced bills.associated with their full economic participation —must be immediately incorporated into the 3rd pillarefforts to foster an enabling environment for women’seconomic empowerment. This action is paramount inthe time of COVID-19.Specifically, W-GDP’s Pillar 3 programs should includethe provision of access to healthcare, especially unmetneed for family planning, as one of the priority enablingenvironment factors they seek to address. Programmonitoring and evaluation efforts should track impactsof these services on women’s economic participation,advancement, attachment and earnings. Importantly,this work should not come at the expense of otherhealth efforts but must be in addition to ongoing familyplanning and health programming and funding.2. The next iterations of COVID-19supplemental funding must ensurethere is funding for both the long-termand short-term impacts to reproductivehealth and women’s economicempowerment, including providingexemptions on restrictions for U.S.assistance to support key partners inaddressing key health issues.

08 ICRW ENABLING WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENTThe United States should immediately reinstate itsrelationship with the World Health Organization (WHO)and restore and unfreeze funding to the WHO —including funding to the Human Reproduction Program,which had been discontinued due to ideologicalopposition to support for global family planningprograms prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Funding forthe COVID-19 response should be exempted from theharmful Global Gag Rule (also known as Protecting Lifein Global Health Assistance or the Mexico City Policy)and include a humanitarian exemption to allow UNFPAto be eligible for emergency supplemental funding.3. End the Protecting Life in Global HealthAssistance Policy, which is at oddswith overwhelming evidence on theimportance of women’s full access toreproductive healthcare and their abilityto thrive as economic actors.Having acknowledged the deep interconnectionbetween women’s health and their economicempowerment, the next step that logically follows is torepeal the Protecting Life in Global Health AssistancePolicy, commonly known as the Global Gag Rule (GGR).Since 2017, the GGR has resulted in a loss of 54 awardsand an estimated 150 million in global healthfunding.xxxii The policy reduces the impact of foreignassistance generally and the efficacy of women’sempowerment programs specifically.4. The annual budget and appropriationsprocesses need to ensure U.S. foreignassistance programs intended to addressthe intertwined issues of health andwomen’s economic empowermentreceive full and consistent funding.uu Fully fund the U.S.’s proportional contributionfor meeting the global unmet need for moderncontraception at 1.66 billion, or at a minimum of 1.03 billionxxxiii to allow a five year gradual increaseto meet the need. Current funding levels are only 607.5 million.xxxivuu Overall support for programming to advance genderequality is similarly lagging. General support forgender equality should at a minimum be restored toprior levels of at least 1.9 billion: Fiscal Year 2021’s request of about 875 millionxxxvwas a billion dollars less than the request in 2014— 1.9 billionxxxvi — even though the global gendergap has not gotten significantly better, and thereis a Presidential Initiative to address Women’sEconomic Empowerment that one would hopewould have resulted in increased funding. The above figures represent a drastically smallerdollar figure than is reported to the Organisationfor Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) for gender equality funding — 5.67billion in 2018.xxxvii It is critical that no matter howthe numbers are counted this work is scaled upnot scaled down. Since gender equality issues overlap with all of thework funded by the International Affairs Budget,there should be adequate funding so that 100percent of projects funded from the InternationalAffairs Budgets can robustly address genderdynamics within every project and program. Whilethe Women’s Entrepreneurship and EconomicEmpowerment Act of 2018 mandates theseefforts for USAID, there is a need for similarmeasures across all agencies, and funding toensure successful implementation.uu Fully fund the International Affairs Budget at 60 billion. It funds the majority of foreign policyprograms that tackle critical issues globally — issueslike health, education and economic support thatalso impact women. Without full funding for theInternational Affairs budget, the full range of issuesthat inhibit women’s economic empowerment wouldnot be addressed.

ICRW ENABLING WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT 09ReferencesICRW. (2018). Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment: ICRW Analysis Shows Women’s Health Status Crucialto Economic Participation. International Center for Research on Women. Available at economic-empowerment/iThe enabling environment for women’s economic empowerment includes the legal, regulatory, policy, and socialand gender norms that promote or restrict women’s voice, choices, and agency as economic actors. This includesbut is not limited to living free of violence and exploitation; achieving the highest possible standard of healthand wellbeing, including access to the full range of health services; enjoying full political, legal and human rights;accessing formal and non-formal education; unfettered access to land and property rights; and the enjoyment of allfundamental labor rights.iiA noteworthy exception to this rule is the promising practice of the U.S. Development Finance Corporation’s 2xinitiative, which provides financing for health projects globally and has signed a memorandum of understanding tomobilize financing for the MOMs (Maternal Outcomes Matters) Alliance to help ensure more women have healthypregnancies and safe deliveries.iiiILO. (2017). Women, Gender, and Work. International Labour Organisation. Available at rts/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms 488475.pdfivBonnet, F., Vanek, J., Chen, M., Baah-Boateng, W., Rogan, M., Alfers, L., Vryenhoek, L. (2019). Women and Men inthe Informal Economy: A Statistical Brief. WIEGO and ILO. Available at formal-economy-statistical-briefvGammage, S., Joshi, S. and van der Meulen Rodgers, Y. (2020). The Intersections of Women’s Economic andReproductive Empowerment. Feminist Economics, Vol. 26, No. 1: pp. 1-22. Available at 701.2019.1674451vivan der Meulen Rodgers, Y. and Lancaster, D. (2019). Women’s Reproductie Health and Economic Empowerment.Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health is Smart Economics at Home and Abroad The Center for Women andWork. Available at ents/Centers/cww issue brief gender equalityand reproductive health.pdfviiGammarano, Rosina. Having kids sets back women’s labour force participation more so than getting married.ILOSTAT Blog. Retrieved from: married/viiiWodon, Q. and de la Briere, Benedicte. (2018). Unrealized Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings.World Bank. Available at https://openknowledge.worldban

women were brought into the labor force, it would increase India’s female labor force participation rate by nearly 80 percent.x This highlights that the gender gap is not simply a matter of choice; women face external barriers to labor force participation. One way in which women’s labor force participation is

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