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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

Advisory Note on Measures: Women's Economic Empowerment

Advisory Note on Measures: Women's Economic Empowerment


The logic behind the current approach to measuring women’s economic empowerment programs is fraught with gaps and
contradictions. This reality became clear as we studied a program designed to work in actual engagement with the world
economy, rather than under the restrictions that typify research. After visiting women-owned businesses in Walmart’s
Empowering Women Together program and reviewing more than 700 sources for appropriate metrics to capture what we were
seeing, we concluded that there are major conceptual holes. The community engaged in this work must develop new measures,
refine its definitions, and better articulate its theory of change if real empowerment is to be achieved.
Of special concern was the practical trend that assumes ordinary business measures can act as a proxy for women’s
empowerment. When these measures are not adjusted for gender effects, they reproduce bias in analysis. Further, though
many claims are made for the human benefits of working to empower women economically, the propensity to look exclusively
at business growth or income indicators is symptomatic of unclear goals and disagreement about the intended beneficiaries.
We believe better measures of women’s empowerment are also needed, especially to provide comparability across nations,
including the developed and developing countries. In particular, we believe a focus on women’s subjective experience of the
empowerment process would help refine the international community’s understanding of the nature of this change, as well as
provide more explanation for impact as measured.

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