CARE International’s Program Strategy identifies strengthening gender equality and women’s voice as a cross-cutting approach and articulates women’s economic empowerment (WEE) as a priority outcome area. The strategy sets out to enable 30 million women to have greater access to and control over economic resources by 2020.
CARE defines WEE as the process by which women fulfill their right to economic resources and power to make decisions that benefit themselves, their families and their communities. CARE recognizes that this requires women to have equal access to and control over economic resources, assets and opportunities; also that it requires long-term changes in social norms and economic structures.
CARE works primarily with women who often face economic – and often ethnic or caste-based – marginalization, and work as micro-entrepreneurs (often in the informal sector), small-scale producers in agricultural value chains, workers in the formal and informal sector (domestic workers, workers in the hospitality and plantation industries, etc.) and financially excluded women. CARE also recognizes that this work requires engaging across genders to change deep-seated gender norms and stereotypes that constrain the economic potential of women, men and families.
Pathways to economic empowerment
CARE focuses on four interrelated pathways to WEE, recognizing women’s economic roles as producers, workers, entrepreneurs and consumers.
1. Financial inclusion
CARE is a leader and innovator in savings-led financial inclusion. Through Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and other informal savings groups, CARE helps poor women to build their financial skills and assets. This is combined with helping women to increase their decision-making power and voice within households and communities, and advocating for policies, regulations and corporate practices that enable equal access to financial inclusion for women and men.
- Evidence from CARE’s extensive experience with VSLAs shows that, when coupled with enterprise training, VSLAs are a platform for women to enter productive value chains or start more successful income-generating activities.
- While VSLAs are a first step toward financial inclusion, mature VSLA groups require a safer place to keep their savings and more sophisticated financial services such as credit and insurance. CARE partners with the financial and telecommunications sectors to co-create models to formally expand financial inclusion of poor women.
- CARE’s experience shows that VSLAs and other financial inclusion groups can be powerful platforms not only for advancing outcomes such as FNS Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) and Sexual, Reproductive and Maternal Health Rights (SRMHR), but also for developing women’s leadership and fostering women’s political participation; and
2. Women and value chains
Global value chains led by multinational companies account for 80% of the world’s trade (UNCTAD, 2013). However, women are often at the lower end of these global value chains and do not benefit as they should because they have less control over land, and less access to financial services, rural extension services and technology. CARE works to: recognize and expand women’s role in value chains; increase the value that women capture from contributing to value chains; and strengthen women’s economic decision-making power. The goal is to promote gender-inclusive value chains that deliver equitable gains and control over productive resources for women and men.
- CARE partners with companies – national and multinational – to adapt their business models to reflect more inclusive value chains.
- CARE works at all levels – from the community level to the national policy level – to improve women’s access and control over productive resources and promote women’s leadership and voice.
- When working on agricultural value chains, CARE seeks to ensure these value chains have food and nutrition security, and environmental and climate sensitivity at their core as well as that the most powerful institutions have transparent and accountable governance systems in place.
3. Dignified work
Women participate in the labor market at a lower rate and, when they do, they do not participate on equal terms. Women often work in invisible roles – for example, working from their own homes or in other people’s homes as domestic workers – and are not protected from discrimination or exploitation. Patriarchal gender norms mean that, on top of paid work, women shoulder most of the unpaid care-giving work in their households. CARE works to: improve women’s access to safe, dignified work; enable women to have greater control over their earnings; change attitudes toward women’s productive vs. reproductive roles; enable women workers to realize their rights by supporting collectives and organizing; and advocate for reforms of discriminatory labor laws.
CARE has learned from experience that WEE must be accompanied by a shift in the expectation (rooted in patriarchal social norms) – at the family and community level – that women must do all or most of the care-giving work. This must be complemented by supportive social protection policies such as affordable childcare.
Equal Value, Equal Rights, is a CARE regional initiative in Latin America, working in partnership with National Union of Domestic Workers and Related Worlders (UNTHA), Union of Domestic, Similar, and Self-Employed Workers (SITRADOMSA), the Honduras Domestic Workers' Network, and the Honduras Independent Monitoring Team (EMIH) through CARE offices in Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras. In Colombia and México, CARE works with the National Domestic Workers Union of México (SINACTRAHO), and the Afro-Colombian Domestic Service Workers Union (UTRASD). Equal Value, Equal Rights seeks to advance the rights of millions of domestic workers in the region. This program focuses on public policy advocacy, building networks and alliances between national, regional and international organizations, and internal communication strategies of national and global domestic workers' organizations. This regional initiative is currently being implemented in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and México, allowing CARE to learn together with domestic workers' organizations about best practices and strategies to continue advancing their rights.
Made by Women is CARE's regional strategy to promote dignified work for women garment workers in Asia by strengthening women's organizing and leadership, promoting improved business practices in global supply chains, and working with governments to promote public policies which will positively impact workers. Made by Women works in 10 countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam) and builds upon years of promoting the rights of women garment workers in more than 200 factories. CARE works in collaboration with regional and international partners including, HomeNet South Asia, International Trade Union Confederation-Asia Pacific, Fashion Revolution, Ethical Trading Initiative, and Better Work. Made by Women seeks to advance the rights of millions of women garment workers to ensure a workplace free of violence and to provide greater access to and control over economic resources for women in the region.
4. Female entrepreneurship
The majority of the one billion women who will enter the workforce by 2020 will do so through entrepreneurial work (IFC and GPFI, 2011). As such, female entrepreneurship is a critical avenue for WEE. CARE will build on its financial inclusion work by support women’s ability to building financially (and environmentally) sustainable, profitable enterprises by targeting specific vulnerabilities that women face.
- CARE will help build a supportive set of relationship for women entrepreneurs, by facilitating peer networks, mentoring and women’s collective organizations.
- CARE will engage men to challenge gender norms that view men as sole breadwinners and natural decision-makers, and to encourage men to take a larger role in family care-giving.