1.2. WEEGE Barriers, Opportunities and Evidence

To help countries to achieve self-reliance (as described in  Box 2), as well as to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, women’s economic empowerment and gender equality must become cornerstones of development programming.  There are some promising developments. The past decades have seen a significant increase in the health and education levels of women and girls. Similar progress, however, has yet to be achieved in women’s economic empowerment. Women continue to trail men in formal labor force participation, rates of entrepreneurship, and income levels, in part because of structural barriers (including inadequate access to credit and weak inheritance and ownership rights) and in part due to social norms and unconscious bias in the workplace.

Box 2: WEEGE Alignment with USAID's vision and U.S. National Security Strategy
  • Women’s empowerment is a core USAID development objective that is fundamental to the realization of human rights and key to fulfilling the Agency’s vision for helping countries. USAID knows that investing in women produces a multiplier effect and is essential to strengthening partner countries and transforming communities.
  • USAID’s efforts to address WEEGE also align with the US National Security Strategy, which states “societies that empower women to participate fully in civic and economic life are more prosperous and peaceful.”

When women do join the labor force, they are more likely to work part-time and in occupations that pay less. Moreover, 58 percent of women globally rely on income from work in the informal sector (such as domestic work or self-employed, home-based work) which is more vulnerable.1  As a result, women earn less than men on average, which, in turn, diminishes their bargaining power and voices in both workplaces and households.

The gender wage gap also has significant global economic implications. The World Bank estimates countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.2  Reducing gender gaps can have far-reaching benefits: it boosts economic growth and productivity; leads to greater equality in the overall income distribution; supports higher corporate profits; increases economic resilience; supports bank stability; contributes to improving other development outcomes.3  A significant body of academic, donor-funded and evaluative research and evidence supports this conclusion. Table 1 highlights some of the opportunities offered through meaningfully advancing WEEGE, alongside the risks of continuing under a business-as-usual scenario. 


Among other statistics, in 2019 less than 1/2 of all women participated in the labor force. If every girl received 12 years of quality education, lifetime earnings could increase by $15 trillion. The proportion of women using the Internet is 48%. 40% of economies limit women's property rights. If women’s unpaid work were assigned a monetary value, this would constitute between 10% and 39% of GDP. Women are paid approximately 20% less than men.

Footnotes from table: 4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14

For additional facts and figures about WEEGE, refer to Resource 1: Data Sources which provides a list of relevant sources for gender-related data.

  • 1Global Commission on the Future of Work, “Empowering women working in the informal economy” (International Labour Organization, February 2018). Available at https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---cabinet/documents/publication/wcms_618166.pdf
  • 2Quentin Wodon and Benedicte de la Briere, “The Cost of Gender Inequality – Unrealized Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings” (The World Bank Group, May 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
  • 3“Pursuing Women’s Economic Empowerment” (International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2018). Available at https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Policy-Papers/Issues/2018/05/31/pp053118pursuing-womens-economic-empowerment#:~:text=The%20economic%20and%20social%20imperative%20for%20women%E2%80%99s%20economic,economic%20diversification%20and%2C%20in%20turn%2C%20supports%20economic%20resilience
  • 4“Legacy industries” refers to fourteen well-established industries across a range of sectors, including energy, materials, industrials, consumer products, utilities, and waste services. Source: ”Women as Levers of Change: Unleashing the Power of Women to Transform Male-Dominated Industries,” FP Analytics, 2020. Available at: https://womenasleversofchange.com/
  • 5“Is the X chromosome the X factor for business leadership? Find out why companies led by women are outpacing the market,” EY, 2018. Available at: https://www.ey.com/en_us/growth/growth-barometer-diversity
  • 6“Investing in Women: New Evidence for the Business Case,” International Finance Corporation (IFC), 2017. Available at: https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/ac8fca18-6586-48cc-bfba-832b41d6af68/IFC+Invest+in+Women+October+2017.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CVID=lYLVAcA
  • 7"Demirgüç-Kunt, Asli; Klapper, Leora; Singer, Dorothe; Ansar, Saniya, and Hess, Jake. “The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution,” The World Bank Group, 2018. Available at: https://globalfindex.worldbank.org/
  • 8“Women in the Workforce - Global: Quick Take” Catalyst, Available at: https://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-workforce-global
  • 9Wodon, Quentin; Montenegro, Claudio; Nguyen, Hoa; and Onagoruwa, Adenike; “Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls,” July 2018, Available at: https://www.globalpartnership.org/content/missed-opportunities-high-cost-not- educating-girls
  • 10“Measuring Digital Development, Facts and Figures 2019,” International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2019. Available at: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/FactsFigures2019.pdf
  • 11Women Business and the Law 2020, World Bank, 2020. Available at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/32639/9781464815324.pdf?sequence=10#:~:text=Women%2C%20Business%20and%20the%20Law%202020%20finds%20that,regions%20and%20income%20groups%20have%20made%20women%E2%80%99s%20eco-
  • 12Women’s Workplace Equality Index, Available at: https://www.cfr.org/legal-barriers/country-rankings/
  • 13UNRISD, Research and Policy Brief 9: Why Care Matters for Social Development. Available at: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/113201/RPB9e.pdf
  • 14Global Wage Report 2018/19: What lies behind gender pay gaps, ILO, November 2018. Available at: https://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_650553/lang--en/index.htm