Supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment Through Government Legislation and Programming
Recently, the U.S. Congress took important steps towards supporting women’s economic empowerment in foreign assistance programming. The House passed the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act (H.R. 5480) by voice vote on July 17, 2018. A few days later, Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John Boozman (R-AR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Senate bill (S.3247) of the same title. In introducing the bill, Senator Shaheen stated:
“Empowering women around the globe is the key to unlocking the economic and social potential that so many nations strive to reach. When women have the resources they need, they not only support themselves and their families, but also their communities. This spurs economic, political, and social progress throughout the world.”
The Senate bill seeks to:
- Establish a development cooperation policy of the United States to reduce gender disparities related to economic participation and opportunity, strive to eliminate gender-based violence, support women’s property rights, and increase the capability of women and girls to determine life outcomes.
- Require USAID to ensure that all strategies and projects of the agency are shaped by a gender analysis, and that gender equality and female empowerment are integrated throughout USAID’s programs.
- Expand USAID’s microenterprise development assistance authority to include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with an emphasis on supporting SMEs owned, managed, and controlled by women.
- Modernize USAID’s development assistance toolkit to include innovative credit scoring models, financial technology, financial literacy, insurance, and actions to improve property and inheritance rights.
If passed and adequately funded, this initiative could bolster other efforts launched this year at USAID to accomplish complementary goals. In addition to a wide range of country-level projects, global programs announced this year include:
- The Women Connect Challenge to promote innovative solutions to reduce the digital gender gap.
- The Women's Economic Empowerment and Equality Dashboard to monitor achievements in five pillar areas: Access to Capital; Access to Markets; Innovation and Technology; Leadership, Voice, and Agency; and Skills, Capacity-Building, and Health.
- A two-year Women’s Economic Empowerment and Equality Technical Assistance program awarded from the Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment to provide support to USAID Bureaus and Missions across sectors, including agriculture.
- A five-year Advancing Women’s Empowerment program awarded by the Bureau for Food Security that will support USAID Missions specifically to enhance programming and returns to women in agriculture.
Feed the Future country governments have also recognized the critical role of women’s entrepreneurship in contributing to women’s economic empowerment and have sought to strengthen their efforts through legislation and programming.
Several approaches have centered around providing new sources of financing for women and/or changing lending requirements to improve access for women:
- In Ethiopia, the government received funding from the World Bank to implement the Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Project to increase earnings and employment for women-owned enterprises by creating a women-focused line of credit of US $50 million. Although 74 percent of the women were first time borrowers, their repayment rate is over 90 percent.
- In Bangladesh, Bangladesh Bank is providing collateral free loans up to Tk. 2.5 million for women entrepreneurs and allocates 15 percent of certain refinancing scheme funds for women. This allows women entrepreneurs to take advantage of refinancing both from a joint fund of the Asian Development Bank and Bangladesh Bank. Women get a concessional rate of 10 percent interest. In Fiscal Year 19, the government has allocated new funds for women entrepreneurs through the Women Entrepreneurship Fund and the Women Development Special Fund.
Another approach involves finding ways to promote government procurement from women-owned businesses and businesses that employ many women. It is estimated that over 30 percent of GDP in developing countries is encompassed by government spending, yet of that only 1 percent goes to women entrepreneurs. Expanding women entrepreneurs’ knowledge of these opportunities could be a strong pathway to business expansion (ITC 2014).
Launched in 2010, the Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors, is a 10-year initiative seeking to increase corporate, government, and institutional procurement obtained by women vendors. It organizes training and facilitates market opportunities through Buyer Mentor Groups and participation in an annual Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum.
Key components in this approach include clear identification of the definition of “women-owned businesses” to set the eligibility criteria, including training for women entrepreneurs in how to access government procurement opportunities and simplified tendering processes.
- Kenyan government agencies such as the Public Procurement Oversight Authority, for example, is working with UN Women under its Women's Economic Empowerment program to implement the Access of Government Procurement Opportunities Program to reach a target of 30 percent of public procurement of goods, services, and works be allocated to women, youth, and persons with disabilities (ITC 2014:12).
- In Ghana, the government has supported new curricula in higher educations programs that cover procurement processes. The country has also sought to reform its government procurement system, sensitizing government officials to both the presence of women entrepreneurs and their specific needs (ITC 2014:51).
Data about women’s agri-enterprises are rapidly expanding. Attention to gender is being integrated in many data collection and assessment tools.
- Assessment tools, such as the Business Climate Legal and Institutional Reform and the Agribusiness Commercial, Legal, and Institutional Reform tools developed by USAID are increasingly including questions to look at the impacts of government policies on women’s business opportunities in agriculture and other sectors.
- Global surveys like the World Bank’s Enabling the Business of Agriculture (2017) also now include indicators on gender issues. But this also highlights the existence of data gaps; data must be used to monitor, track, and evaluate the gains (or losses) women experience as policy reforms occur (Cohen 2017).
Initiatives such as these, in the U.S. and in developing countries, are important steps in recognizing and supporting women entrepreneurs. But there is still much to learn. Governments can and should continue to support women’s access to financing as well as women’s participation in government supply chains, in clarifying the impact of policies on women’s businesses, and in ensuring that accurate sex-disaggregated data can inform the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
Cohen, E. 2017. Enabling the Business of Agriculture: Gender Data in Action. Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Food Security project. Washington, DC: Fintrac for USAID. https://www.agrilinks.org/sites/default/files/resources/eefs_eba_gender_data_in_action_final_2018.pdf
International Trade Centre. 2014. Empowering Women through Public Procurement. Geneva: ITC. http://www.intracen.org/publication/Empowering-Women-Through-Public-Procurement/
Niethammer, C. 2013. Women, Entrepreneurship and The Opportunity To Promote Development And Business. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2013-BBR-Women-Entrepreneurship.pdf
World Bank Group. 2017. Enabling the Business of Agriculture 2017. Washington, DC: World Bank. http://eba.worldbank.org/~/media/WBG/AgriBusiness/Documents/Reports/2017/EBA-Full-Report.pdf