Supporting Women's Economic Growth

Students investigating Air RahMat
School programs teaching students sanitary practices and health information that help the whole family, including messages on HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, personal safety for girls, nutrition, civic education, environment, and hygiene.
Yessi Maryam

USAID has a long history of promoting economic growth around the world. Over time, we have learned that while there is no single recipe that can guarantee economic growth, empowering women and educating youth are indispensable ingredients.

Throughout the developing world, women are vital economic players.

Women now represent:

  • 40 percent of the global labor force
  • 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force
  • More than half the world’s university students

Yet pervasive gender equalities still exact a high cost on women, limiting their roles in a productive economy. Women are more likely than men to work as unpaid family laborers. Women entrepreneurs operate in smaller firms and less profitable sectors. Gender gaps in earnings and productivity persist across all forms of economic activity.

Research and experience show societies that empower women experience faster economic growth, manage public resources more effectively, and benefit from greater agricultural productivity and improved food security. 

USAID has a range of programs fostering women’s economic empowerment by promoting enterprise ownership. Our microenterprise development projects are improving access to financial services, training and technical assistance to enhance micro firms’ access to markets and value chains. These programs have benefitted close to one million poor people, a majority of whom are women.

Scaling up business ownership from micro to medium is the aim of USAID’s new Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises program. The program’s goal is to decrease the gender gap in business ownership—for example, in South Asia only 3% of small and medium businesses are women-owned. The initiative will help identify key determinants of successful women’s participation and leadership in the global business world.

USAID is also building on the synergies between broad-based economic growth and education. The new Education Strategy focuses on early grade literacy and tertiary and work force development. In November 2011, USAID announced the All Children Reading Challenge, a partnership with Australian Government Overseas Aid Program (AusAID) and World Vision to improve world literacy. Studies show that early grade reading competency is critical for success in future grades and learning outcomes have a direct correlation to a country’s economic growth. 

USAID is also partnering with the Peace Corps to scale up the Safe Schools Program to create more welcoming learning environments for young girls. Educated girls contribute to healthier and more prosperous families and communities, yet they often face teaching practices and textbooks that promote gender stereotypes. Unsafe school environments, such as school-related gender based violence, also inhibit girls’ ability to complete their education. 

Last updated: June 02, 2015

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