CARE defines women’s economic empowerment as the process by which women increase their right to economic resources and power to make decisions that benefit themselves, their families and their communities. Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a path for poverty reduction and for equality between men and women. CARE works to ensure that poor women have access to a full range of suitable and affordable financial services critical to withstand shocks and fulfil their economic and social potential. We empower women to build better livelihoods, earn more income, and create businesses that provide jobs and boost local economies. With improved financial security, other areas of women’s lives also improve: they can afford healthcare, to purchase uniforms for their children, and are more likely to play a leadership role in their communities.
Around 2 billion poor people around the world – particularly women – are financially excluded and women and girls make up the majority of the poorest people in the world today. Women continue to earn on average only 60 to 75% of what men earn. Laws in many countries restrict women’s economic opportunities, dictating the types of jobs that women can do, or giving husbands the right to prevent their wives from accepting jobs. Women bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work: women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.
The disadvantages and discrimination faced by women and girls severely limits women’s and girls’ ability to lift themselves out of poverty. As a result, women are more likely to work in informal, low-wage jobs with exploitative and unequal working conditions, and have restricted access to affordable, quality financial products and services, like a savings account or small loan. Only 37% of women in poor countries have access to basic financial services. CARE focuses its efforts on four key pathways where it believes it can have the most impact – financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, dignified work and inclusive value chains. We also put particular attention on helping people recover their livelihoods after natural disasters and humanitarian crises.
CARE’s Village Savings Loans Associations (VSLAs) have greatly fostered women’s economic empowerment. VSLAs allow the most vulnerable to efficiently save and invest small amounts of money to grow a new business. Of the over 5 million members, 79% are women. These saving programmes also give women and girls vital financial skills to build their businesses by providing training in savings, loans and financial literacy.
CARE helps women gain access to basic financial services such as bank accounts and to business skills training. Combined with efforts to strengthen women’s economic decision-making power and develop a more supportive environment in both the household and the community, this enables more women to start businesses, leading to financial independence. For example, in Jordan, CARE Canada is helping to provide vocational training and small loans to vulnerable young Jordanian women and men so that they can start their own business.
CARE works with women to ensure they have a workplace that provides adequate wages and safe working conditions, where they are protected from sexual and gender-based violence. For example, CARE has been working in the garment industry in Cambodia since 1998 to improve occupational health and safety through the creation of industry standards, and to reduce workplace harassment to protect the primarily young female migrant garment workers.
A value chain is the series of activities required to bring a product from its design and manufacture to consumers. Including small-holder farmers and women in value chains and ensuring that they receive their fair share of profit means a more equal share for everyone as a country’s economy grows. For example, in Bolivia, CARE successfully engaged small rural associations, municipal governments and national ministries to prioritise local economic development and fund small businesses in key value chains, such as chilli and groundnut, in addition to providing training on gender equality awareness at the local and municipal levels.
One of the best ways to help people get back on their feet after a disaster is to support them to start earning an income. We give cash grants to people affected by disasters so that they can purchase basic supplies, and use the money to get their livelihood back on track. We also give specific support to rebuild livelihoods such as:
Read our CARE 2020 programme strategy summary on Women's Economic Empowerment here.