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Aligned Missions: WfWI Programs Foster Women’s Economic Empowerment Goals Outlined in UN Report

We believe that empowering women economically is not only the right thing to do to honour the world’s commitment to human rights—it is also the smart thing to do for development, economic growth and business.”

― Jeni Klugman and Laura Tyson, co-authors, Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment

International travel can be great for catching up on reading. Last week, while on the long road to Jordan, I had the chance to review ‘Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment.’ It is a fascinating report created by the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (UN Panel for short), whose membership includes researchers, business leaders, international development professionals, and representatives from several national governments and multilateral organizations.

With their first report, the UN Panel members sought to “corral energy, commitment and action to accelerate the economic empowerment of women across the world.” They identified several factors holding women back from equal economic participation, including oppressive social norms, discriminatory laws, undervaluing of household work, and lack of access to formal financial services.

Women for Women International (WfWI) was founded on the belief that strong women build strong nations, and economic empowerment – the ability to earn an income, save money, and to budget and monitor expenses – is an important indicator of one’s overall strength. Our 12-month program provides cash stipends, training, and resources to help marginalized women in conflict-affected areas to empower themselves economically. We combine these activities with others designed to facilitate social empowerment, such as teaching women about their rights and the laws designed to protect them, discussing the importance of children’s education, and connecting women affected by gender-based violence and other rights abuses to legal resources (if desired).

The women we serve learn to create and run Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and cooperatives, allowing them to access financial services for their households or businesses. At the same time, our local staff members and partner agencies work with men in these communities, facilitating discussions on women’s rights and how traditional gender norms can hurt both women and men. As the UN Panel notes, “challenging and transforming the negative and harmful norms that limit women’s access to paid work and often undervalue the unpaid work by women are core to achieving women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.” In other words: economic and social equality are two sides of the same coin – you can’t have one without the other.

WfWI has served over 447,000 women since 1993 and we’ve seen how their economic and social empowerment can transform families and communities. I hope this UN Panel report will inspire more sustained engagement on these issues by individuals and organizations all over the world. Here at WfWI, we’ll continue to lead the way.

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