MAMPU Learning Series – Women’s Economic Empowerment

Over the course of the MAMPU, we’ve had to explore some deceptively simple sounding questions about women’s economic empowerment, including:

‘How does women’s economic empowerment fit with women’s empowerment in general?’

‘Is income generation the most important part of economic empowerment?’

‘Is income generation even necessary?’

‘How can organisations that don’t have business background run successful women’s economic empowerment projects?’

While we don’t claim to know all the answers, over the last eight years our MAMPU partners have been grappling with these issues and building their expertise. We want to share some of what they’ve learned with a wider audience to help contribute to the national and global efforts to empower women. Our paper, Approaches to Women’s Economic Empowerment, tells of what we have learned, and what we can recommend form this to other organisations and programs with an economic empowerment agenda.  The full document can be download below, but here are the top three takeaways:

(1) A fuzzy and complex concept like women’s economic empowerment needs to be clearly defined, because it means different things to different people… and this can take time.  For women’s economic empowerment, this means being clear about the people you are ultimately trying to support and ensuring they are economic actors, rather than social actors – for example, ‘homeworkers’, and not ‘poor and vulnerable women’. 

Then comes the issues of what economic empowerment is for your organisation or program…  Economic empowerment covers a broad range of issues and is both a process and an outcome, making the right focus difficult to find.  Our paper describes the framework that MAMPU developed, bringing together a number of existing approaches and conceptualing economic empowerment through five ‘assets’ – human, agency, social, financial and resource, and enablling.

This framework provides a common language for the whole program, and can be used for a variety of purposes: as an assessment tool to help identify and prioritise problems; as a design tool to select areas of intervention and work out how they combine to achieve a project’s outcomes; and as an evaluation and learning tool to check that the project is on track, or whether activities need to be adapted.

(2) The government is not the only focus for advocacy, funding and service interventions. The private sector needs to be accountable too… Due to their experience and backgrounds the four MAMPU partners looked to the government as the primary institution to involve in their interventions, but over time they realised that there was also a lot of potential to involve the private sector. They established that both the government and the private sector can be involved in women’s economic empowerment interventions as:

A target of advocacy work: to change regulations in the organisation, or at the local or national government level

As a partner to deliver or fund activities: to support women in a particular value chain, organisation, or region

As a service provider: to provide training, savings or loans services, social protection, and other assistance.

(3) It’s not enough for women to provide input to economic empowerment projects, they must play an active role in the design and selection of activities… Participation is key in any development activity, especially one that claims to be empowering, but the recommendation here is to include women at the design stage to identify and select the interventions they want to participate in. This means that women’s needs, preferences and skills are taken into account from the beginning, and avoids the common trap of income generating interventions – the assumption that all women have the capacity and desire to become entrepreneurs.

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  • Publication date:

    December 2020