With International Women’s Day coming up on the 8th March, we ask why empowering women is an essential part of sustainable development.
It’s widely recognised that creating opportunities for women is essential to build stronger economies, achieve development goals, and improve the quality of life for whole communities. The OECD state that Women’s Economic Empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable development and pro-poor growth . But, what do we mean by ‘Women’s Empowerment’?
The Institute of Development Studies  defines economic empowerment as “the capacity of women to participate in, contribute to and benefit from economic activities, on terms which recognise the value of their contributions, respect their dignity and make it possible for them to negotiate a fairer distribution of returns.”
Across all economies and cultures women perform the bulk of unpaid care work . Oxfam America  estimate that across the world, 66% of work falls on women’s shoulders, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income. Why is this?
Many societies dictate that girls and women have the main responsibility for the care of children, the elderly and the sick, as well as for running the household, including the provision of water and energy supplies. And, whilst some of this work, particularly looking after family members, is valued by those undertaking it, much – such as water and fuel collection – is classed as drudgery and takes time away from school or generating secure incomes and better working conditions
Free up time and you will tackle poverty
Unlocking time and relieving the burden and drudgery of household tasks is the most important first step to economic empowerment  for women in the world’s poorest countries. And it can act as a stepping stone to tackling poverty and improving life for the household and community.
Time Poverty and Income Poverty reinforce each other . Time poverty prevents women expanding their capabilities through education and skills development that could improve their ability to generate income. Lack of time also makes women less able to take part in income generating activities. So how can we free up time?
The need for clean energy
In the developing world, where 3 billion people  still cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves – time spent collecting fuel is a major issue. In Zambia  for example, women spend more than 800 hours a year collecting firewood, compared to less than 50 hours spent by men. Fuel gathering limits time for other productive and income generating activities and takes children away from school. In less secure environments, women and children are also at risk of injury and violence.
Improving access to alternative sources of clean energy through improved cookstoves, clean energy and safe water programmes frees up time by eliminating the need to walk long distances to gather fuel. It also reduces exposure to indoor air pollution – a deadly killer, responsible for the death of over 4 million people every year – and affecting the health of many more. At the same time these programmes reduce deforestation and help tackle climate change by reducing emissions.
Find out more
The provision of clean energy or safe water is just one example of how integrated Climate+Care programmes are empowering women – freeing up time, creating jobs, generating prosperity and improving health – as well as protecting the environment. Check out our case studies to find out more.
 The Institute of Development Studies, in their report on Empowerment and Participation: bridging the gap between understanding and practice
 The unpaid “care economy”, an analysis by the OECD, Women Economic Empowerment
 Women’s Economic Empowerment: The OECD DAC Network on Gender equality: http://www.oecd.org/dac/povertyreduction/50157530.pdf
 World Bank Working Paper No.73: Gender, Time Use and Povery in Sub-Saharan Africa
 World Health Organisation March 2014