Women's work – routes to economic and social empowerment

This project looks at what we know about the nature of women’s work in developing countries. The project will consider policy paths for the creation of productive jobs for women that are properly remunerated  and thus create a route to women’s economic and social empowerment.

Recent progress in narrowing gender gaps in education, health, and political representation has not been matched by similar improvements in labour market outcomes for women, or more broadly, women’s economic empowerment. Global data shows that there has been no increase in female labour force participation and no decrease in the gap between men and women. Women typically occupy the worst-paid jobs with the least protection, and attitudes toward gender often hinder access to better opportunities. (See policy brief and blog for more information)

Women’s work differs from men’s as women are more likely to be unpaid for their work in family enterprises, and women are primarily responsible for household and caring tasks. Such combined responsibilities to contribute to their family enterprises, earn income in typically low-paid jobs, and care for the household can negatively affect women’s physical and mental wellbeing.

For women to be economically and socially empowered, it is necessary to increase both the quantity and quality of jobs for women, and address gender barriers in accessing job opportunities and segregation in labour markets. Further, the achievement of gender equality in labour market outcomes critically depends on the adoption of policies that address the ‘double burden’ that low-income women in particular face —earning income for the family as well as caring for other household members.

Key questions
  • What explains uneven female labour force participation across the Global South? Why have we seen low rates of female labour participation in South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, as compared to other regions in the developing world?
  • What types and patterns of growth are most conducive to employment creation for women? How do the twin forces of globalization and labour-saving technical change affect job creation and destruction for women as compared to men?
  • How do gender discriminatory social norms affect women’s economic opportunities and their work experiences? How does economic, political and social change lead to shifts in behaviour and in gender norms, and how can economic empowerment programmes support processes of change for more egalitarian gender norms?
  • What types of public policies are more likely to enable women to obtain productive and remunerative jobs? How can gender-sensitive social policies be devised for low-income settings that address the ‘double burden’ of women’s work?
Watch this space

All papers, data, opinion pieces and opportunities to engage relating to this project will be available on this webpage. The project will be launched by the means of an inception workshop held at the University of Gӧttingen on 22 February 2019, which will set out the research agenda and modalities of the project going forward.

UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The project centrally addresses SDG5 (Gender Equality) and SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).


Main subject

Theme: 2019-23, Transforming societies