Women and the Economy

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Many doors have opened. Women today are farmers, factory workers, CEOs of companies, scientists, engineers, doctors, and hold many other jobs that may have been unthinkable in the past. Women have vast and positive impacts on the economy, in business, agriculture, and industry, and as domestic workers, market vendors, migrant workers, and through their unpaid care work. Despite some progress, obstacles to women’s full and equal participation, including the lack of an enabling environment, persist. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted by Member States in 1995, highlighted women and the economy as one of the 12 critical areas of concern. The 189 governments that signed the agreement committed to undertaking concrete action to address specific objectives towards enhancing women’s positions in the economy.

In spite of strong evidence that realization of women’s economic rights, especially in terms of work and income, advances economies and sustainable development, women still remain disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of land and inheritance rights, and discrimination and exploitation in the labour market. Early and child marriages, as well as lack of access to education has negative impacts on women’s lives and well-being, as well as their human potential and economic contributions. Though progress has been made on ensuring primary school education for all girls and boys, access to secondary and higher-level education remains a challenge in some countries for girls, limiting potential choices in employment. The pandemic of violence against women also has a profound impact on families and communities, hampering development, and costing countries billions of dollars annually in health care costs and lost productivity.

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The forward-looking Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action agreed to make substantial changes in women’s lives in all of these areas, and also undertake improvements in eliminating occupational segregation, especially by promoting the equal participation of women in highly skilled jobs, STEM industries, and senior management. It also committed to promoting the balance of work and domestic responsibilities for women and men, including improving access to quality, affordable childcare, and stressing the need to ensure that pregnant women, women on maternity leave and women re-entering the labour market after childbearing do not face discrimination.  Renewing and reinvigorating these commitments will promote greater gender equality and enhance the well-being of women and men, households and communities in both the global North and South.

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Fast facts

Infographic: Women and the Economy

In the words of...

Christine Lagarde – The 3 L's of Women's Empowerment

Christine Lagarde
Photo Courtesy of International Monetary Fund

A former French minister for various economic portfolios – including finance and employment, agriculture and fisheries, and trade – Christine Lagarde was the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 economy and is the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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Editor's picks

Markets set to improve, with Pacific women in the lead

Markets set to improve, with Pacific women in the lead
UN Women/Marni Gilbert

Where: Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
Organization: UN Women

UN Women is working with women market vendors in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to improve their working conditions, earning power and leadership skills.

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Working Women: Snapshots from Around the World

Economy Editor's Picks WB Ghana
Photo: The World Bank/Arne Hoel

Where: Global
Organization: The World Bank

Good jobs increase women's ability to make their own choices and act on them. Yet by virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men, according to a new World Bank report, "Gender at Work."

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Related publication: Gender at Work: A Companion to the World Development Report on Jobs

Women dairy farmers reinvest income to support their families

Where: Afghanistan
Organization: FAO

In Afghanistan, an FAO project has raised the capacity of thousands of smallholder dairy farmers, especially women, in producing milk and establishing viable and functional dairy enterprises. The project has improved family nutrition and food security, and also contributed to income and employment generation.

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The fight for women's rights in the workplace – an ILO history

Economy Editor's Picks ILO archive
Photo: ILO

Where: Global
Organization: ILO

Take a look back at the ILO's contribution towards gender equality in the workplace. This slideshow begins with the Maternity Protection Convention (No. 3) in 1919, one of the first acts of the inaugural International Labour Conference (ILC), all the way up to more recent Conventions to provide provisions for equal treatment in the workplace.

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Brazil's first indigenous woman lawyer beats prejudice to battle for land rights

Brazil's first indigenous woman lawyer beats prejudice to battle for land rights
Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Thin Lei Win

Where: Brazil
Agency: Thomson Reuters Foundation
Author: Thin Lei Win, correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Women's economic empowerment is one of the themes at the forthcoming Trust Women Conference in London, 18-19 November, hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. UN Women is an event partner of the Conference. In this context, this story features Joenia Batista de Carvalho, the first female indigenous lawyer in Brazil who took to the Supreme Court to fight for land rights.

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With sewing and sowing, self-reliance blooms in Central Asia

With sewing and sowing, self-reliance blooms in Central Asia
Photo courtesy of Mukarrama Kajumova/"Half paikar" Fund

Where: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation
Organization: UN Women

A regional migration programme ensures more than 5,000 families of migrant labourers in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have received training, resources and micro-credit loans to become self-reliant entrepreneurs.

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Empowering Young Women in Upper Egypt: ENID's work in Qena

Economy Editor's Picks UNDP Egypt
Photo: UNDP Egypt/Heewoong Kim 

Where: Egypt
Organization: UNDP

Saaeda Atta Ahmed thought her destiny was set in stone as a young women living in a poor rural village of Upper Egypt. But with education and training provided by UNDP, she now envisions a different future.

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Women in Science Awardees 2014

Where: Global
Organization: UNESCO

The L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards are presented every year to five women, one from each world region (Africa and the Arab States, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America), in recognition of their contribution to the advancement of science. The awardees in 2014 come from France, Kenya, USA, Japan and Argentina and have made many advances in their respective field of work.

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Smart cards save time and money for Nepal's women farmers

Economy Editor's Picks WFP Nepal
Photo: WFP/Frances Kennedy

Where: Nepal
Organization: WFP

An electronic smartcard supplied by WFP is changing the lives of women farmers in rural Nepal by helping them feed their families and teaching numeracy and banking skills.

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