1.1 Overview

Tapping into the potential of women is not only a social but also an economic imperative. Globally in 2019, only 47 percent of women participated in the labor force, compared to 74 percent of men.1   If female labor force participation rates in each country increased at the same pace as the most rapidly improving country in their region, $12 trillion could be added to global GDP in 2025.2 Further, with gender equality in earnings, human capital wealth could increase by 21.7 percent globally and total wealth by 14.0 percent.3   While women make up almost two-fifths of the global workforce, they have suffered more than half of total job losses from the COVID-19 crisis. This makes women 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impact than men. Left unchecked, the situation could reduce and impede global GDP growth.4

Key Messages
  • Greater women's economic empowerment and gender equality can reduce poverty, promote prosperity, and improve development outcomes for future generations.
  • Investing in and tapping into the potential of women--half the global workforce--can help countries become more competitive on a global scale. 
  • Systemic constraints and structural barriers contribute to persistent gender gaps in markets, finance, decent work and income, assets, and human capital. Innovative partnerships with the public and private sectors are crucial in addressing these barriers.
  • Despite the clear economic case for WEEGE, only one percent ($460 million) of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee programs in the economic and productive sectors principally target gender equality--and this level has decreased from previous years.5
  • While gender equality is integrated into donor support agriculture and employment programs, the proportion of aid to other productive sectors--such as energy and transport--remains small. 

Empowering women to reach their full potential as employees, entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers is essential to global economic growth, innovation, competitiveness and stability.  While there is widespread agreement on the importance of women’s economic empowerment and gender equality (WEEGE), practical resources on how to address constraints to WEEGE are lacking. To this end, USAID has developed the WEEGE Technical Guide to help fill the critical gap in practical resources to advance women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.

Defining Women’s Economic Empowerment and Gender Equality

In 2016, USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (now known as the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Hub) held global workshops that brought together more than 400 experts working on diverse issues related to women and the economy.6   As part of a broader conversation on gaps and opportunities in WEEGE programming, these experts developed a common understanding of WEEGE (summarized in Box 1). This is not an official definition of USAID or any other organization but rather a practical working definition that provides sufficient clarity in pursuing USAID’s economic goals with regard to gender equality and female empowerment.

Box 1: Defining WEEGE

Women’s Economic Empowerment and Gender Equality: Women’s economic empowerment exists when women can equitably participate in, contribute to, and benefit from economic opportunities as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors. This requires access to and control over assets and resources, as well as the capability and agency to manage the terms of their own labor and the benefits accrued. Women’s economic equality exists when all women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys for education, economic participation, decision-making, and freedom from violence. This requires collectively addressing barriers to commercial activity and labor market participation, such as restrictive laws, policies, and cultural norms; infrastructure and technology challenges; unpaid care work; limits on collective action; and poorly enforced protections. Women's economic equality is just one facet of gender equality more generally, which requires attention to the full range of gender gaps - economic, political, educational, social and otherwise.


  • 1“World Employment Social Outlook: Trends for Women 2020 Global Snapshot.” (ILO, 2020). Available at https://www.ilo.org/global/research/global-reports/weso/2020/WCMS_734455/lang--en/index.htm
  • 2Jonathan Woetzel, Anu Madgavkar, et al., “The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth” (McKinsey Global Institute, September 2015). Available at https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Public%20and%20Social%20Sector/Our%20Insights/How%20advancing%20womens%20equality%20can%20add%2012%20trillion%20to%20global%20growth/MGI%20Power%20of%20parity_Full%20report_September%202015.pdf
  • 3 Q. Wodon and B. de la Brière. “Unrealized Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings.” The Cost of Gender Inequality Notes Series. (The World Bank, 2018). Available at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/29865/126579-Public-on-5-30-18-WorldBank-GenderInequality-Brief-v13.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  • 4Anu Madgavkar, Olivia White, Mekala Krishnan, Deepa Mahajan, and Xavier Azcue, “COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects.” (McKinsey Global Institute, July 2020). Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects
  • 5Statistics based on DAC members’ reporting via the database, Gender Equality Policy Marker, 2016-2017 Creditor Reporting System (OECD, 2019). Available at: http://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-topics/Aid-to-gender-equality-donor-charts-2019.pdf
  • 6USAID Women’s Economic Empowerment and Equality Assessment Report (FHI 360, February 2016). Available at https://www.fhi360.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/womens-economic-empowerment-assessment.pdf