A Roadmap for Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment

Published: December 2012

This document summarizes findings of 18 research studies commissioned across 4 categories (entrepreneurship, farming, wage employment, young women's employment) to find out what works to empower women, for whom (categories of women), and where (country scenarios). The Roadmap is designed to guide investments from private sector and public-private partnerships, and highlights 9 proven, 9 promising, and 6 high-potential interventions to increase women's productivity and earnings in developing countries.

Key Findings

  • Livelihood programs that combine reproductive health education with income and asset-building show promising results for young women, espe cially in low-income, socially conservative settings.
  • Mobile phones help increase earnings of women farmers and rural entrepreneurs by providing access to market information.
  • Female autonomy is an important determinant of rural women's earnings and influences the success of interventions targeting women farmers and rural entrepreneurs.
  • Skills training, job search assistance, internships and wage subsidies introduced to cope with economic shocks increase employment levels of adult women, but do not raise wages.
  • Access to childcare increases women's wage employment levels and earnings, but design and delivery matter to ensure quality, affordable and cost-effective care.
  • Demand-oriented skills training, combined with on-the-job training and wage subsidies, increase young women's employability and earnings, if social restrictions against hiring young women are not binding.
  • Cash grants to young women, conditional on them attending school, increase their attendance and may improve educational outcomes. Cash grants with no conditions may increase young women's employment and income and have sizeable social benefits.
  • A relatively large capital transfer, if paired with income generation training and follow-up technical visits, can transform occupational choices of very poor women, and can be cost-effective.
  • Capital alone can work if it is delivered in-kind (e.g., inventory) to more successful women microentrepreneurs with larger-sized businesses. In-kind capital seems to nudge women to keep the money invested in their businesses.
  • Financial services delivered through mobile phones are less costly and may be more effective than other delivery mechanisms in increasing women's business investments.
  • Business training improves business practices but has few measurable effects on the growth of women-owned subsistence-level firms.
  • The impact of business training may be improved by increasing the quality and duration of the training, combining training with customized technical visits or expert advice to the firm, and targeting women running larger sized firms.
  • Savings interventions increase women's business earnings. Women seek savings vehicles, and use personal savings to invest in their businesses.
  • Formal ownership and control over farmland improves women's productivity and economic security. But the success of land tenure interventions depends on paying attention to social and local contexts.
  • Farmer groups and collectives can provide individual women producers with access to markets and help overcome constraints in meeting demands of agricultural supply chains.
  • An integrated suite of services, which target both production and marketing and address social constraints, is the main feature of agricultural projects that succeed in raising the productivity of small-scale women farmers.
  • Single agricultural services, rather than a full suite, may be enough to increase productivity of women with larger sized farms, more assets, and more control over those assets.
  • Access to electricity increases rural women's productivity and earnings. Access can be increased by providing targeted loans or subsidies for connection costs to existing grids.
  • Capital alone, as a small loan or a grant, is not enough to grow women-owned subsistence-level firms.

Populations Adolescent Girls, Poor, Rural, Urban, Women

Industries Agriculture/Food Processing, Business, Finance, Manufacturing, Service/Hospitality

Publishers ExxonMobil Foundation, UN Foundation

Funded by ExxonMobil Foundation, UN Foundation