About the themes
Theme 1 | The Rural Poor: Women’s Empowerment on and off the Farm
For the majority of poor women in low-income, and many middle-income countries, agriculture is still the main source of income and household well-being – often at a subsistence level and often in deteriorating situations due to environmental degradation and climate change. At the same time, women’s roles off the farm are shifting – either as they engage in off-farm wage labor, or as they expand their roles in agricultural systems. For a long time, women’s roles were invisible, particularly to development programs that were more aware of men’s roles in the marketplace (buying inputs, selling outputs) while ignoring the critical roles of women in most phases of cultivation and post-harvest handling and processing. This has shifted in recent years, and there is more learning on women’s economic empowerment in agricultural systems as well as in off-farm income generation activities from enterprise development to jobs. However, we still struggle to understand empowerment within the economic spheres in which low income rural women engage (home, community, networks and institutions, enabling environment). Sessions in this Theme focus on innovations in addressing systemic barriers to sustaining and growing opportunities for rural women.
Theme 2 | Employment Opportunities through Enterprise Development and Job Creation
Women struggle as owners and operators of enterprises as well as job seekers within growth-oriented businesses. The particular constraints of women entrepreneurs are embedded in the larger context of barriers to women’s economic empowerment. These include the challenge of balancing unpaid care and care work and discriminatory social norms which hinder their ability to thrive as workers and entrepreneurs. In both situations, women’s economic lives are most often situated in the informal sector – including as workers on the family farm, in agricultural day or construction labor, owners or employees of enterprises, paid and unpaid care and domestic workers, home-based pieceworkers. Even in formal industries and businesses like tourism, ready-made garments, and fast food establishments, women’s jobs are often unskilled, temporary, or part-time. These issues appear on both the demand and supply sides: on the supply side, women are often less prepared than men to grow enterprises or take on more skilled jobs due to limited time and availability due to unpaid care responsibilities, lower levels of education, limited role models, less confidence, higher social constraints, etc.; on the demand side, beliefs and prejudices about women’s roles and abilities can affect employers’ willingness to hire and/or train women. Sessions in this Theme will highlight approaches that hold promise for systemic change with potential to benefit large numbers of poor and marginalized women.
Theme 3 | Women’s Financial Inclusion: Leveraging Finance to Advance Women’s Empowerment
One of the greatest challenges and opportunities for women’s economic advancement is financial inclusion defined as access to, use of and quality of financial services – including loans, savings, payments, insurance, and investment. Financial inclusion can be a catalyst for widespread systems change. For example, savings groups can be a means for poor women to smooth cash flow and become more resilient to shocks; leases can enable rural women to access technologies that dramatically reduce drudgery while improving the quality and volume of agricultural outputs; and commercial credit can allow women to expand businesses, hire more employees, and contribute to the tax base. However, poor and marginalized women in particular are severely limited in their access to formal, and even informal, financial channels through constraints such as laws limiting collateral to real estate, self-selection, biased regulations, restrictive socio-cultural norms, and engagement in the informal sector, among others. Sessions in this Theme will demonstrate how finance can address relevant challenges women face as employees, employers and entrepreneurs as well as the enabling factors that can enhance women’s agency in the financial eco-system.