Women at Work

Supporting women’s agency through economic programming

Women’s economic empowerment (WEE) is key to not only increased gender equality but also inclusive economic development and sustainable poverty reduction.

Designing interventions without considering gender and WEE could increase the likelihood of weakening women’s positions and exacerbating gender imbalances. Rather than driving economic growth, such interventions could hinder economic development by preventing a significant portion of society from achieving its fullpotential. In extreme instances, these interventions may even weaken women’s positions and widen gender gaps, resulting in a further shift in power dynamics.

Across the Market Development Facility’s (MDF) operating country contexts, women face various constraints that limit their involvement and recognition in the workforce or overall economy. As in many other contexts, women are responsible for most household duties and undertake unpaid work that often equates to more than a full-time job on top of their formal employment. While women are present in the economy through visible or invisible roles, MDF has found that they often do not receive proper recognition or support that could accelerate and facilitate their participation. This paper explores the link between providing increased support to women in the workplace (access) and subsequent increases in their decision-making, recognition and influence (agency).

Investing with the private sector in designs that enhance women’s roles in the workplace has been an integral part of MDF’s economic programming. MDF’s work in WEE has focused substantially on the importance

of interlinking access and agency, such as presenting business cases to increase women’s roles and influence at the business and household levels. MDF’s efforts with the private sector have provided women with increased access to opportunities (e.g. developing skills and finding employment), as well as increased decision-making around these opportunities.

This paper, Women at Work, presents the continuation of MDF’s work in WEE, particularly in programming and measuring the link between access and agency, and builds upon the two previous reports: What Can Be Achieved in Women’s Economic Empowerment1 and Beyond Income.2 Women at Work analyses five case studies to delve into the impact that economic development programs can have on increasing women’s roles in the economy. The studies are drawn from knowledge and experience across five Asia-Pacific countries to establish insights on measuring agency in a range of contexts. These case studies also aim to encourage and inspire other development programs and the private sector to take necessary steps to ensure that more women enter and remain in the workforce, including in leadership positions. MDF has derived the selected case studies from regular monitoring of its interventions to highlight how programs can evolve and adapt to better suit their operating contexts and create lasting change.

While the intended audience includes other economic programs, their implementers and measurement teams, as well as donors and the private sector, the authors extend the invitation for feedback and discussion to all interested parties and professions.