Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment: A Global Effort

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WAGE_GhanaPhoto
© Grameen Foundation

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of State was proud to serve as a strategic partner for the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s International Women’s Day (IWD) Forum, amplifying the voices of women in business and recognizing champions across the world who are working to advance women’s economic empowerment.

Women face significant challenges to full participation in the economy, including limited access to finance, markets, networks, and information; disproportionate burdens of unpaid care; gender-based violence (GBV); underinvestment in their education; and a lack of affordable, available childcare. Many of these barriers have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As stated at the IWD Forum by Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, Senior Official for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, “There could not be a more important time to reflect on the role of women in the global economy.”

When women are economically empowered, they re-invest in their families and communities, producing a multiplier effect that spurs economic growth and contributes to global peace and stability.

At the State Department, and across the U.S. government, we support innovative partnerships and programs to help women entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world access capital, markets, networks and training, and address the social barriers that restrict their economic participation.

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CIPE_CentralAsiaPhoto
Participants at the Regional Women’s Business Forum and Expo in Tajikistan in 2019
© National Association for Small and Medium Business of Tajikistan

This month, my office was proud to launch the National Women's Business Agendas for Central Asia project, implemented by American Bar Association Role of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI)-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium and supported through a partnership with USAID. As the technical lead for this initiative the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) will convene a diverse group of stakeholders in five Central Asian economies to identify barriers to women’s economic participation, offer recommendations for reform, and advocate for their recommendations to governments through public-private dialogue. National Women’s Business Agendas will be developed and advocated in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and women in Turkmenistan will receive capacity-building support to form a women’s business network. The initiative will be implemented in partnership with ABA ROLI and Search for Common Ground.

We were also excited to announce the start of a project focused on women’s economic empowerment in Ghana – Women Entrepreneurs in Northern Ghana Gain Access to Integrated Services via Agent Networks (WE GAIN). Also implemented by the WAGE consortium and led by the Grameen Foundation in partnership with ABA ROLI, WE GAIN improves the capacity of local civil society organizations to sustainably deliver a more comprehensive range of services to underserved women entrepreneurs, including digital financial services, business training, and GBV referrals.

Additionally, across North Africa and the Middle East, the State Department launched the Women Tech Founders Program led by the Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise (POWER) in partnership with Google. This partnership leverages Google’s technical expertise and the State Department’s diplomacy tools to convene likeminded partners in supporting women in the tech industry. The first iteration of this program will be implemented in partnership with U.S. Embassies in Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates with support from those governments. Over the course of a four-week period, a select group of women tech founders in the Middle East and North Africa region will receive technical and soft skills training from Google, while also building networks that span the region and the U.S. 

Women’s full participation in the global economy is critical to addressing the key issues of our time. We are proud to work with partners across the U.S. Government interagency, including the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, which highlighted during the IWD Forum the innovative ways it is mobilizing private-sector investment in women-owned and women-led businesses to increase their access to financing, products, and services to drive economic growth.  

The Biden-Harris Administration has made gender equality and women’s empowerment key tenets of U.S. domestic and foreign policy, as expressed in the newly released Executive Order establishing a White House Gender Policy Council reporting to the President. With collaboration across the federal government, private sector, civil society, and partners such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, we know that we are better able to achieve our common goal of stronger and more resilient families, communities, businesses, and global economies.

Vice President Harris has made clear, “Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully.” As we build back better and continue to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s empowerment will remain a key component of our recovery.