A member of a village savings and loan group in Côte d’Ivoire A member of a village savings and loan group in Côte d’Ivoire

The current UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment is highlighting the major attention being paid by governments, the development community and others to the importance of women’s economic empowerment to tackling poverty and ensuring women achieve the target of gender equality which the world has agreed to as Sustainable Development Goal 5.

CARE has long placed a focus on empowering women, and our recently agreed global Program Strategy highlights four areas in which we hope to support women and their communities: dealing with how the impacts of emergencies (conflict, natural disasters, food shortages) differ by gender, and ensuring that the world humanitarian system properly takes women’s needs into account; ensuring women can fulfil their sexual and reproductive health rights; achieving food and nutrition security including resilience in the face of climate change; and women’s economic empowerment.

For this last area we have committed to the ambitious target of 30 million women having greater access to and control over economic resources by 2020.

Of course, women’s economic empowerment is a massive subject and the paths to empowerment will often be different depending on the context: developed economies versus developing; fragile contexts versus stability; urban versus rural, to name a few. CARE’s programmes and projects are in developing countries and, as both a humanitarian and long-term development organisation, frequently in fragile and conflict-affected areas.

Our many years of experience have led us to focus on five key areas:

Financial inclusion

With 25 years’ experience of setting up and supporting Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs,) CARE knows that access to savings is one of the most proven and effective interventions in empowering women. There are now more than 5 million people in VSLAs in sub-Saharan Africa, of whom 75% are women. That has taken us 25 years, but our long experience has taught us how to set up these groups highly effectively with a micro-franchising model. Further, we have worked extensively over the last few years, initially with the Barclays and Plan Banking on Change programme, to link savings groups to the formal financial sector. This work has spread rapidly, particularly in Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana.

Value chains

With a strong agricultural background, CARE has worked extensively with companies and smallholders in agricultural value chains, for instance cocoa, coffee and dairy products. Much of this work has involved identifying the role of women in the value chains, ensuring that their key contributions to the quality and sustainability of crops is valued and rewarded, and that they receive the support that they need to be effective.


Entrepreneurship is a key concept underpinning much of our work across the other areas of women’s economic empowerment, for instance in how members of VSLAs invest loans to access new livelihood options, or how women farmers can acquire the skills and finance, networks, self-confidence and ability to identify opportunities that allow them to be more productive. Successful entrepreneurship also relies on an enabling environment where policies and systems are supportive of women as economic actors. We have therefore developed a stream of work and learning to focus on removing barriers to female entrepreneurship, supporting and training female entrepreneurs. CARE is working with female micro-entrepreneurs in different sectors, eg agriculture, livestock, food production, garment industry and handicrafts.

Dignified work

CARE looks to support women to gain equal access to quality work which is safe, fairly and equally rewarded, and to have greater levels of control over their earnings from this work. Our work includes garment factories in Bangladesh, tackling stigma in Cambodia’s beer industry, and facilitating dialogue between workers, management and the broader community in the Sri Lankan tea industry.

Resilient markets

Women are often disproportionately affected by the impacts of crises and disasters. With poverty being increasingly located in fragile contexts, and with the poor lacking the ability to tackle disasters, we believe economic empowerment is a critical element in building the capacity of women and their communities to survive and thrive through crisis. Our work, focused to begin with on the Middle East, is seeking to strengthen the resilience of markets to crisis, by identifying and empowering women who are at their core, but also building in crisis flexibility to better anticipate and respond to disaster when it hits.

Cross-cutting approaches

Across all these areas our work necessarily involves supporting women in changing the social norms and attitudes that so often restrict their ability to earn a living, whether that is the share of household chores and care that they are expected to shoulder, or the policies and processes of local banks who only accept land titles for loan collateral. This always requires engaging men and boys in the process of change, so that they feel less threatened and can themselves act as advocates for change.

Across all these areas we are committed to multiplying our impact by advocating for change, engaging with partners in civil society, the private sector or government, and encouraging others to use the effective tools and techniques we have created.

Emily Scott

Emily was formerly Head of Women and Markets for the Women's Economic Empowerment team at CARE International UK and formerly led the private sector engagement team.

She has experience in retail management & marketing, programme management (in Indonesia, Myanmar & India) and in ethical trade in a multi-stakeholder environment. She worked as a VSO small business advisor in Tanzania. She holds an MSC in Responsible Business Practice from Bath University.

Email: Scott@careinternational.org