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Policy Lessons About Investing to Achieve Women’s Economic Empowerment

  • May 2017
2014 Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images, courtesy of the Hewlett Foundation
Policymakers can support women’s economic empowerment by investing in:
  • Access to family planning and reproductive health services.
  • Help for women to delay pregnancy and limit childbearing.
  • Increased years of schooling for girls and women.

What Is the Issue?
Women’s economic empowerment is defined as women’s capacity to bring about economic change for themselves and may be measured through woman’s entrepreneurship, participation in the formal or informal economy, income, assets, decisionmaking, and well-being. In many countries, women’s economic empowerment is tied to age of childbearing and family formation, educational attainment, and labor force participation.

PopPov research shows that high fertility rates are associated with lower labor force participation—one additional child can reduce a woman’s labor force participation by two years. Additionally, women and girls who become pregnant while attending school may drop out and may lack the necessary social and financial support to return to school after giving birth. Early or increased childbearing can have lasting economic consequences for a woman and her family.

Why Does It Matter?
By delaying or preventing pregnancy, women can increase their educational attainment, earning potential, and assets. Avoiding unplanned pregnancy is associated with more years of schooling, improved cognitive skills, and increased economic opportunity. Women and girls with more education are more likely to delay marriage and childbearing, and to acquire the skills necessary for gainful employment. Additionally, new research indicates that economic empowerment can have positive effects on reproductive health outcomes, resulting in a cycle of better health and wealth for women.

What Can Be Done?
Being able to determine whether and when to have children is key to women’s education and employment, and thus their economic empowerment. Increasing girls’ and women’s access to a comprehensive range of contraceptive methods can help them avoid or delay pregnancy and achieve greater educational attainment and economic productivity. Policies and interventions that support access to contraception and educational attainment could contribute to greater economic empowerment for women and carry over into future generations.

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