2.3.2. Resource 2: Decent Work and Income


Decent work1 and income are central to economic empowerment, given their inherent importance to women’s well-being and ability to advance in acquiring assets and wealth. Due to a combination of social barriers and structural restrictions, women often face greater obstacles in accessing formal employment and experience lower rates of labor force participation. Globally, women represent a higher proportion of the informal sector, where regulations and protections to ensure decent work and income are less likely to be enforced. Women in both high- and low-income countries earn less than men for work of equal value, in formal or informal occupations—a situation exacerbated by women’s poor representation in decision-making and leadership positions across the public and private sectors. Furthermore, women are disproportionately represented in unsafe, insecure, and low-paying employment, and they are more likely than men to be either unemployed or working part-time in formal employment.

While entrepreneurship and business ownership can allow women more flexibility and control over safe and decent work and income in a way that other occupations may not, the disproportionate amount of time that women spend on unpaid work can be a significant constraint on their ability to start, grow and formalize their businesses. Tailored interventions are needed to support women’s entry and ascent into better, more profitable, safe and empowering work, and to improve precarious working conditions.

To assist USAID staff in learning more about the complex interplay of variables affecting decent work and income for women and how to address them, this section offers a wide selection of resources including: information on labor market trends, opportunities, barriers, and sector-specific resources; economic development policies and practices to expand decent work opportunities for all women; studies that address discriminatory norms embodied in different areas of work, along with recommendations to donors, governments, and civil society on how to address them; and policies and programs that support women entrepreneurs.

Wage Work:2 General

International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)—Group of Seven Background Paper: Women’s Economic Empowerment

This background paper provides recommendations for proposed investments in sustained gender equality, with an explicit focus on women’s economic empowerment. The recommendations include building the talent pipeline, investing in girls’ education, dismantling barriers to employment, investing in care services and infrastructure, and recognizing and supporting the role of migrant care workers.

International Development Research Center (IDRC)—Stalled Progress: Recent Research on Why Labor Markets Are Failing Women

This paper draws on findings generated through the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) initiative—a multi-funder partnership that has supported 14 research projects in 50 developing countries—to explore why labor markets are failing women. It addresses complex linkages between factors that shape women’s labor market participation and their economic empowerment. It synthesizes research findings on why development gains have yet to translate into more and better employment for women in some regions, and why employment gains seen in other regions have failed to empower women.

International Labor Organization (ILO)—Game Changers: Women and the Future of Work in Asia and the Pacific

This report examines the future and the potential of decent work to transform the lives of women and men in Asia and the Pacific. It highlights practical and effective measures for women and men alike to achieve gender equality and build a future of work that upholds their bold aspirations, dynamism and rich culture. The report offers five game-changer ideas with the potential to accelerate progress on equality and usher in a more just and inclusive world of work.

ILO—Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020: Technology and the Future of Jobs 

Incorporating the most recent employment trends for young women and men, this report explores the state of the youth labor-market situation around the world. It shows where progress has or has not been made; updates world and regional youth market indicators; and gives detailed analyses of medium-term trends in youth population, labor force, employment, unemployment, working poverty, and informality. The 2020 edition discusses the implications of technological change for the nature of jobs available to young people. It focuses on shifts in job characteristics, sectors and skills, as well as examining the impact of technological change on inequalities in youth labour markets.

ILO—Towards a Better Future for Women and Work: Voices of Women and Men

This study provides the first account of global attitudes and perceptions of women and men regarding women and work, based on the 2016 Gallup World Poll. This poll, conducted in 142 countries and territories, is representative of 98 percent of the global population. The results, based on interviews with nearly 149,000 adults in 142 countries and territories, suggest that women might find support in their quest for productive employment and decent work from an unexpected source—men.

ILO—World Employment Social Outlook: Trends for Women 2018

This global snapshot looks at the progress over the past decade in women’s employment globally—or the lack thereof. This study examines women’s labor-market prospects by identifying labor-market gaps between men and women, in labor force participation, unemployment, informal employment, and working poverty. It shows that not only are women less likely than men to participate in the labor force, but that when they do participate, they are more likely to be unemployed or in jobs that fall outside the scope of labor legislation, social security regulations, and relevant collective agreements.

Mastercard Foundation—Gender and Youth Livelihoods Programming in Africa

This study examines the extent to which interventions supporting young people’s access to employment or entrepreneurship opportunities in Africa are tailored to address gender barriers. It shows that youth livelihoods programs often are gender-blind, which further disadvantages vulnerable youth. In particular, the barriers adolescent girls and young women face in accessing high-quality and relevant education and skills, financial and business development services, and economic opportunities are extreme, resulting in higher proportions of young women in vulnerable employment.

UN High-Level Panel (UNHLP) on Women’s Economic Empowerment—Driver 6 Working Group Paper: Improving Public-Sector Practices in Employment and Procurement

This paper argues that governments are uniquely situated to advance gender equality and to empower women economically through their policies and practices related to procurement and employment. Public procurement is a powerful tool for promoting socio-economic objectives, because it operates at the intersection of the government’s regulatory and buying powers.

USAID—Evidence and Guidance on Women’s Wage Employment

There is growing consensus, supported by a robust evidence base, that significant growth and welfare gains can be achieved if gender gaps are addressed and women are able to fulfill their full labor market potential. This report provides guidance on women’s employment and explores several investments that can be made to increase gender equity in labor markets and improve the terms and conditions of women’s employment.

USAID—Women’s Wage Employment in Developing Countries: Regulatory Barriers and Opportunities

This report examines how laws and regulations in developing and transitional countries either limit or enable women to enter, remain, and advance in the formal sector workforce. Specifically, this study analyzes how gender inequalities in civil and administrative laws, regulatory employment restrictions, occupational licenses, employment discrimination, and sexual harassment limit women’s abilities to engage in wage employment. It also analyzes how laws and policies can support working women and working parents in remaining, and thriving, in the workplace.

W20—Argentina Labor Inclusion Concept Note

Steps towards women’s economic empowerment must consider women’s experiences throughout their lifecycle, recognizing that inequalities and barriers based on gender may intersect with other characteristics, such as age, disability, and marital status, as well as with socioeconomic factors including migration and refugee status. This W20 concept note illustrates a targeted approach to using the Women’s Empowerment Principles matched with more women in leadership roles and with robust national action plans that help build the environment and framework for gender equality to thrive in the world of work.

W20—W20’s Perspective on the Future of Work: Understanding the Present to Build a Better Future for Everyone

This document outlines the position of the W20 Argentina on the importance of addressing the issue of gender in the future of work. It provides a summary of the reasons why the future of work for women will be worse than the present situation, unless G20 governments pay special attention to gender issues.

World Bank—Unrealized Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings

Because women earn less than men, human capital wealth worldwide is about 20 percent lower than it could be. This study examines the economic cost of gender inequality in lost human capital. Globally, countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. This amounts to an average of $23,620 for each person in the 141 countries studied by the World Bank Group. In nearly every country today, women face barriers to fully participate in the workforce and earn as much as men. Because of this, women account for only 38 percent of their country’s human capital wealth (defined as the value of the future earnings of their adult citizens) versus 62 percent for men. In low-income and lower-middle-income countries, women account for just a third (or less) of human capital wealth. According to the report, programs and policies that make it easier for women to get to work, access basic infrastructure and financial services, and control land could help achieve gender equality in earnings.

Wage Work:3 Industry-Specific

FP Analytics—Women as Levers of Change

Recognizing a major knowledge gap relating to how women are helping to advance organizational and industrial transformation, FP Analytics conducted a pioneering global study of 14 legacy industries that are among the most male-dominated and that have wide-reaching environmental, health, and social impacts. Building on original data analysis of over 2,300 publicly listed companies around the world, and more than 160 in-depth one-on-one interviews and surveys of women at all stages of their careers, this report illuminates the current levels of gender inequality in these legacy industries; examines the many ways that women can advance, or are advancing, positive change; pinpoints factors preventing gender diversity; and highlights best practices to address them.

USAID—Advancing Gender and the Environment: Making the Case for Women in the Energy Sector

This brief provides an overview of the role of women in the formal energy sector. It presents evidence that women’s equal participation in the sector will result in measurable benefits, including increased returns on investments and stronger development outcomes. Additionally, the brief identifies ways in which women are driving the growth of the renewable energy sector, and it presents a global overview of best practices and solutions that remove barriers to participation. A list of recommendations with links to resources for stakeholders, including policymakers and practitioners, is provided at the end of the brief.

USAID—Engendering Utilities. Delivering Gender Equality: A Best Practices Framework for Increasing Gender Equality in Male-Dominated Sectors

USAID is committed to both promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, and strengthening the energy and water sectors in order to fuel economic growth and social development. Through its Engendering Utilities program, USAID identified the employee life cycle as a key entry point to effecting long-lasting and impactful change within partner utilities. From attraction and talent outreach to separation and retirement, there are numerous opportunities to promote gender equality within utilities. To serve as a guide for implementing gender equity practices throughout the employee life cycle, USAID developed this Best Practices Framework. The framework provides utilities with global best practices and practical resources to identify gaps, define objectives and establish a road map for sustained progress in integrating gender equality throughout their operations and corporate structures. This latest report builds on prior iterations of the framework presented in Delivering Gender Equality: A Best Practices Framework for Utilities.

USAID—Municipal Waste Management and Recycling Women’s Economic Empowerment and Equality Gender Analysis Report

USAID and its partners are actively working to integrate women’s economic empowerment and gender equality into its global program to reduce land-based sources of ocean plastics pollution.  To best understand the context, opportunities, challenges and innovative ways to integrate and strengthen women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in its programming, USAID commissioned the first global gender analysis of the waste management and recycling sector, with a special focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. The report offers global and regional recommendations to ensure the effectiveness of interventions in addressing the myriad of constraints faced by women entrepreneurs and employees working both formally and informally across the waste and recycling value chain. The report also stresses the critical need for collaboration between donors, the private sector, civil society and municipal and national governments to effectively integrate women’s economic empowerment within their broader efforts to tackle ocean plastics pollution. 

World Bank—Women in Water Utilities: Breaking Barriers

Less than one in five water workers are women, according to new research by the World Bank’s Water Global Practice. Women are also underrepresented in technical and managerial positions, where, in sampled utilities, on average only 23 percent of licensed engineers are women. The figure is the same for female managers. Some utilities have no women in technical and managerial positions at all—32 percent of utilities (almost one in three) in the sample have no female engineers, and 12 percent of utilities have no female managers. Focusing on water and sanitation utilities, this report gathered data from 64 utilities in 28 low and middle-income economies, bolstered with focus group discussion and interviews with water utility staff as well as secondary data from a global benchmarking database (IBNET—The International Benchmarking Network for Water and Sanitation Utilities), among other sources.


Asian Development Bank—Emerging Lessons on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Asia and the Pacific

This report was prepared as a guide for governments, donors, development partners, investors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders on how to support women’s entrepreneurship in Asia and the Pacific. Rooted in case studies of Asian Development Bank and Asia Foundation projects across the region, the report focuses on key barriers that women face when trying to establish or grow a business and suggests areas for further research on women’s entrepreneurship. The report also offers recommendations aimed at creating an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs and strategies for addressing gaps and leveraging opportunities.

Dell—2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders (GWEL) Scorecard

Dell commissioned this research study to address information gaps and evaluate the conditions for high-growth female entrepreneurs across the globe. The GWEL Scorecard ranks 31 countries—comprising 70 percent of the world’s female population and 76 percent total GDP—and ranks them based on a composite index, comprising 21 indicators that highlight important aspects of their institutional and business environment, gendered access issues and individual-level entrepreneurial characteristics grouped into five categories. (The results are also presented in the GWEL Scorecard Infographic.) Data is sourced from existing internationally recognized datasets, including the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), World Economic Forum (WEF), World Bank, UNESCO, ILO and others. The GWEL also provides actionable steps for governments, corporations, the media, entrepreneur leaders and individuals to help expand the pool of high-impact female entrepreneurs. In addition, the scorecard highlights global best practices such as policies, programs and breakthrough initiatives that jumpstart the growth of high-impact female entrepreneurs.

Dell—2018 Women Entrepreneur Cities Study

The Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index is a measure of a city’s ability to attract and support high- potential women entrepreneurs—women who want to grow and scale their businesses. Cities included in this report already hold strong rankings in commercial entrepreneurship; however, the report gives specific guidance on how city leaders and policymakers can cultivate an enabling environment for high- potential women entrepreneurs.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—Strengthening Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

This report seeks to better understand the causes behind the persistent gaps in female entrepreneurship and proposes policy solutions to help close them. It is structured around three sections: an overview of progress made in achieving gender equality in employment and education; an examination of the participation of women in entrepreneurial activity; and a framework for, and description of, country-level and regional programs supporting the development of women entrepreneurs and their enterprises.


UNHLP on Women’s Economic Empowerment—Driver 7 Working Group Paper: Strengthening Visibility, Collective Voice and Representation

This paper demonstrates that women are far from powerless in exerting their voice, agency, and autonomy, and that they can transform their living and working circumstances. It recommends that governments ratify and implement certain ILO conventions to guarantee and protect the human rights of freedom of expression and assembly, and support international labor standards on violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work. The paper concentrates on four women’s worker groups—women in the informal sector, women in agriculture, women entrepreneurs, and women in the formal sector—emphasizing that each group faces different norms and collectively can influence formal and informal work.

  • 1The International Labor Organization (ILO) describes decent work as work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives, and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men. Source: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/decent-work/lang--en/index.htm.
  • 2These may be (i) salary jobs in a private firm or in the public sector; (ii) casual informal wage work in farms or microenterprises, or seasonal work on construction sites or in factories; or (iii) wage work in households. Source: “Getting employment to work for self-reliance: A USAID framework for programming,” https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1865/EF-FINAL-2019-11-12.pdf.
  • 3These may be (i) salary jobs in a private firm or in the public sector; (ii) casual informal wage work in farms or microenterprises, or seasonal work on construction sites or in factories; or (iii) wage work in households. Source: “Getting employment to work for self-reliance: A USAID framework for programming,” https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1865/EF-FINAL-2019-11-12.pdf.