By Elaine McCartin —

In part two of our Women’s History Month series, we’re looking at women’s role in economies. All over the world women are making important contributions to economies.  They are farmers, business owners, entrepreneurs, employees, and so much more.

Between 1980 and 2008, 552 million women joined the workforce.  Now, nearly half of all workers in the world are women (UN Women).

Labor Participation, By Gender

Discrimination Keeps Women From Reaching Their Full Potential

Women have enormous potential to fight poverty worldwide and contribute financially to their communities, but many obstacles stand in their way.

Women are more affected by poverty, discrimination, and exploitation. They are more likely to have low-wage jobs.  And women have a much harder time accessing loans  (UN Women) Building a business or receiving credit, therefore,  is difficult or flat-out impossible.

UN Women also reports that rural women may have it the hardest. These women are more isolated, and have even less access to education, health care, or banks.

Because rural women farmers lack the same access to resources as men do —resources like seeds, farming tools, and credit —they typically produce 20 to 30 percent less (UN Women).

Lack of Land Rights Is One of the Biggest Obstacles for Rural Women

When women don’t own the land they are farming, they don’t get the same say in decision making, and they face great uncertainty about their farming future.

Without land ownership, women are more likely to be taken advantage of, or even have their land stolen.

  • In Sub Saharan Africa, women make up 75 percent of the workforce on farms, but they only own 1 percent of the land (Oxfam).
  • And in India, only 13 percent of women whose parents own land will inherit that land (reports Times of India).

Investing in Women’s Economic Empowerment Would Result in Huge Progress

The research speaks for itself.  Women working for fair wages and under equal circumstances would be good for economies all over the world.

  • If all forms of discrimination against female workers were eliminated, productivity per worker could increase by up to 40 percent (UN Women).
  • If women working in agriculture had the same access to resources as men there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world (UN Women).

Promising Actions Are Pending on the Global Stage

World leaders recognize that if we want the global economy to grow we have to empower women, so they’re taking action to make sure that happens.

The UN has made the commitment to economically empower women.
  • In 1995 the UN convened the Fourth World Conference on Women, which resulted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (UN).
  • The UN committed to promote women’s economic independence, and to ensure that women have equal access to economic resources (UN Women).
The International Labour Organization (ILO) continues the fight…

In the past few years ILO has been a driving force in the fight for women in the workforce by organizing international conventions on gender equality.

These conventions have resulted in historic sets of international standards that include basic labor rights, improved working conditions, reasonable work hours, and much more (UN Women).

Today, countries and communities all over the world are investing in women’s economic empowerment.

From a bank in Ethiopia providing special loans to female entrepreneurs, to local governments in Nigeria providing women with sewing machines, it’s clear that progress is underway.

Want to get involved in promoting women’s economic opportunities? Get started by visiting our Women and Economic Opportunity page »