Trends on WEE: addressing systemic barriers, the new world of work and evidence of impact

The recent WEE Global Learning Forum was a unique opportunity to explore the trends on WEE and to learn from innovative initiatives implemented by development actors. This article gives some insights on our take-aways from the event!

Systemic barriers, including social norms freezing the expected roles of women and men, were high on the agenda and there appeared to be consensus amongst presenters that increasing women’s participation is not enough. Not only were there multiple sessions dedicated to the topic (Social Norms and Financial Inclusion, Shifting Social Norms at Scale), but it was also a key element of Keynote Speaker Naila Kabeer’s opening speech.

The centrality of unpaid care work as a constraint to women’s full and equal participation to the market was largely acknowledged during an Oxford-Style debate, during which participants made their arguments for or against addressing women’s unpaid care work in markets programming for economic growth, and was evidenced by the success of the Rapid Care Analysis (RCA) training.

A lot of attention was also placed on measuring progress towards women’s economic empowerment and social norms change. Case studies were presented on the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) and on measuring the progressions of women’s role within the market. Presentations also highlighted the growing body of evidence generated by rigorous monitoring and evaluation.

The potential of innovation and technology to support WEE was illustrated notably by Smasource’s “impact sourcing” for major multinational corporations – hiring people from the bottom of the pyramid to complete digital work. The downsides of the use of technology within the “gig economy” (defined as a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs) was also addressed. Technology can increase access to work, but can impact on workers’ rights and capacity for collective action, for instance through the “Uber-isation” of domestic work.

There was considerable interest in engaging the private sector. Linda Jones, Senior Director of Global Programs for MEDA highlighted that “Oversees Development Assistance cannot cover the cost of achieving the SDGs alone. The private sector holds the key to contributing to those development outcomes.” During an Oxfam-led panel session, Coca-Cola and Marcatus QED presented their initiatives aimed at improving women’s participation in their value chains, highlighting notably the economic rationale behind their investments.

Financial inclusion was addressed through different lenses. A study on Saving Group members’ financial diaries in Guatemala and El Salvador highlighted the high potential for linking them with banking institution, while digital finance is clearly gaining traction, as illustrated by major donors’ ambitions to substantially increase the use of digital finance services, UNCDF’s sponsorship to the event, as well as the tools and approaches that were shared during the event.

Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville / Oxfam

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