Measuring Women's Economic Empowerment: Are We Moving the Needle?

To mark International Women’s Day 2017, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the fourth in our “Be Bold for Change” blog series celebrating the power of women entrepreneurs and their partners around the world.

We all know what gets measured gets done. If we are measuring attendance at a particular training, the training will take place and will likely be well-attended. If we are measuring adoption of a new farming technique, chances are there will be efforts to support farmers in adopting. If we are measuring redemption of equipment discount vouchers, there will be activities in place to distribute the vouchers and disseminate information on the merits of the equipment. When the targeted outcome is women’s economic empowerment, having clear indicators for measurement is equally important, but for more complex. How do we know we are making a real difference in the lives of our female clients? Are we moving the needle?


USAID LEO WEE FrameworkThe International Center for Research on Women defines women’s economic empowerment as an improvement in two things: access and agency (1). When a woman is able to access the opportunities, services, assets, and knowledge she needs to succeed economically, and when she has the agency, or capacity, to make decisions and act on those opportunities, she is economically empowered. Much has been done with this framework to further explore what access and agency look like in women’s lives and what factors influence them (2). One particularly useful idea has been that women live within the boundaries of a set of sub-systems such as household, community, business and enabling environment, each contributing its own opportunities and constraints relating to a woman’s access and agency.

Breaking it down this way is extremely helpful when probing for positive change in the lives of our women clients. By analyzing key indicators within each of these sub-systems, we can determine where change is taking place and where old systems are maintaining barriers for women to move on economically-speaking. These results help us to adapt our programming and design more effective ways of strengthening women’s access and agency where we can. This table shows some of the key indicators MEDA uses to measure whether we are moving the needle of change.

Women's Economic Empowerment Key Indicators

Sub-system Access Indicators Agency Indicators
Household Ownership and use of household assets such as vehicle, bicycle, cook-stove

Acceptance of women’s participation in household discussion on variety of topics
Level of participation in decisions relating to household expenditure, saving, credit, children’s education, healthcare etc.

Incidence of violence against women in the household

Division of household tasks including care of children

Level of mobility (i.e. ability to leave the household)
Community Availability of and participation in community-based savings group or business alliance Level of participation in community meetings

Incidence of women holding community leadership roles

Incidence of violence against women in public spaces
Business Ownership and use of productive assets such as farm equipment, livestock, land

Availability of and participation in skill-building education

Variation in income levels/remuneration between men and women

Access to high value markets

Working hours and conditions
Participation in economic activity (employment or family business)

Division of labour

Incidence of women holding senior management roles

Level of participation in local business group (e.g. farmer business group) – including incidence of women holding leadership position
Enabling environment (e.g. government, civil society, financial sector) Availability and use of financial services (suitable for women)

Availability of and participation in government and civil society programs geared to improving women’s economic opportunities

Ratio of male-female high school, college and university graduates
Incidence of women holding senior political roles

Existence of (new) policies aimed at supporting women in business

Allowance for public demonstration relating to women

Incidence of women’s expression of opinion in public forums and spaces (e.g. media)

(1) Anne Marie Golla et al., Understanding and Measuring Women's Economic Empowerment: Definition, Framework and Indicators. (Washington,DC: International Center for Research on Women, 2011)

(2) See, for example USAID LEO Brief and Beam Exchange article

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