In 2015, the leaders of 193 nations made a pledge through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end gender inequality in all forms by 2030, highlighting that for the first time, gender equality was a priority for the world’s leaders. Additionally, in response to longstanding patterns of abuse and discrimination, women around the world have raised their voices and have brought attention to inequalities like never before. It’s clear that gender inequality runs deeper than many of us understood, does more damage than we admitted, and needs to be urgently addressed.
We know that there is no silver bullet to solving gender inequality. But when we look at developing countries that are making significant progress in empowering women and girls, we see that harnessing economic power is a consistent and tangible thread.
Economic empowerment has material benefits in its own right. From 2008 to 2014, for example, the number of female-headed households living in extreme poverty fell by 2 percent because of access to the mobile money product M-PESA.(2) But economic empowerment also has powerful spillover effects. With greater economic access and control, women can attain more years of education; they can choose when and whether to marry and have children; and they drive social, economic, and health benefits for themselves and the next generation of girls.
In Bangladesh, for example, decades-long growth in the garment industry brought many women into the formal workforce, leading to declines in child marriage and early motherhood. These effects show that it is about more than economics; it is about changing the way society views women and girls, and indeed, how women and girls see their own role in society.
A woman in charge of her economic future is a woman with power over her own life. If the world can unleash that power for 3 billion women and girls, we will begin to untangle some of the most persistent roots of poverty.
(2) “The long-run poverty and gender impacts of mobile money,” Tavneet Suri and William Jack, 2016