Unlocking women’s economic power as the key to development

04 May 2011

Women sell mango and sweet potato jam produced in a UNDP supported project in Senegal (UN Photo/Evan Schneider) Women sell mango and sweet potato jam produced in a UNDP supported project in Senegal. Photo: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Recognizing that the status of women is closely bound to other development issues, Head of UNDP Helen Clark has described investment in women as key to striving for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

  Sexual and reproductive health services, girls’ education and women’s legal rights all require investment if women are to lift themselves and their children out of poverty.

Efforts to promote women’s economic power must begin by addressing the many barriers women face. 

First, there must be a focus on removing the legal hurdles that stand in the way of women accessing financial services. 

In Africa, where women make up a majority of the agricultural labour force, it has been estimated that they receive less than 10 percent of all credit going to small farmers and only one per cent of the total credit for the agricultural sector.

Second, there must be a drive to strengthen women’s legal rights to own land and property and to inherit, which are often limited by social customs, as well as by law. At the moment, women not only lose out on the opportunity to produce and earn income, but they continue to be denied equal status in their families and communities.

Third, efforts must be made to tackle the disproportionate burden of unpaid work which women carry. The time that women devote to domestic chores limit their choices and the time they have to generate income. 

With fewer than five years to go until the 2015 deadline for the MDGs, UNDP’s message is that the goals can be met – but to achieve them investment in women and girls is vital.

Supporting women to start their own businesses, or expand existing ones, empowers them, reduces inequality, and stimulates economic growth.

Talk to us: What do you think have been successful strategies for strengthening women’s economic empowerment? We would love to hear about any innovative projects that are going on in the world to support this crucial building block of the MDGs.

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