#GenderEqualityIs eliminating barriers in the way of global women’s economic empowerment

By Coryn Bookwalter
March 1, 2019

#GenderEqualityIs a global women’s economic empowerment initiative that addresses the many barriers hindering their participation in the economy. From harmful gender norms, to unsafe infrastructure and transportation systems that put women and girls at risk of sexual harassment, theft and kidnapping in cities, women face a plethora of challenges every day. When we think of women’s economic empowerment, we think of women starting their own businesses, accessing loans and other credit opportunities, and even entering the workforce. The social and systemic obstacles that prevent women from participating in those activities, however, is often overlooked.

In a recent Plan International study, about 48% of respondents stated that cities’ transportation systems are either extremely unsafe or unsafe for girls to use at night, restricting the time they are able to spend outside of their homes. Another 78% stated sexual harassment as an extremely high or high risk for girls in their city, and 77%stated that harassment most often occurs in a public space. A Plan International USA study found that three quarters of girls in the U.S. feel unsafe, at least once in a while.

On top of these unsafe systems, a World Bank report noted that about 155 countries have laws that restrict women’s economic activities, and 18 countries have laws that allow husbands to prevent their wives from working outside of the home. It is important to address these issues to meet the various social and safety needs of women and girls all over the world.

The Administration’s new Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP) is setting out to address these barriers with its third pillar: “Women Enabled in the Economy.” The goal of this pillar is to “promote an enabling environment that increases women’s economic empowerment by reducing barriers and enhancing protections in policies, laws, regulations and practices (public and private) to facilitate women’s participation in the economy.” While the W-GDP has not yet provided a detailed description as to how this goal will be achieved, it is a promising step in the right direction towards addressing issues that are often ignored.

Plan’s Safer Cities for Girls project in Egypt put girls’ needs at the forefront to create a safer public environment. Training sessions and community workshops provided more than 200 government stakeholders, law enforcement, transit staff, women’s groups and others the opportunity to strengthen regulations and guidelines related to prioritizing girls’ safety, gender-based violence and inclusive urban planning. A safer environment was created in Ezbet Khairallah through improving public spaces and transportation systems, allowing girls to safely commute to school. More than 1,000 adolescent girls and a wider circle of 1,600 private- and public-sector employees and employers, as well as 1,000 people in the general public, benefited from the violence prevention efforts and safer environment. It is initiatives like the Safer Cities for Girls project that will translate into economic development and empowerment for women and girls.

The W-GDP’s third pillar has the opportunity to create an enabled and sustainable environment that will only strengthen the outcomes of its first two pillars. The plethora of challenges women and girls face in their cities must be addressed so that they may thrive in any environment. As Plan’s Safer Cities for Girls project shows, removing the social and systemic barriers that prevent girls from going to school or women from participating in their economies benefits entire communities.