Introducing our new Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategy

These four women showcase their clothing for sale at Kwame Nkrumah Circle Market in Accra, Ghana. (Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment)

The Hewlett Foundation started its work on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) in 2015 to help women achieve “greater agency, opportunities, and control over resources.” We sought to reach this goal by making grants to develop critical policymaking inputs: gender-disaggregated data, improved macroeconomic research, and advocacy to make gender differences visible.

In 2020 we launched a strategy refresh process to gauge our progress and reassess our approach. The refresh began with a retrospective evaluation of our work on WEE. We invited current grantee partners to provide input in assessing our progress through interviews, focus groups, and a survey. We followed the evaluation by a landscape scan that looked at current and future trends in WEE, which was informed by what we heard from existing and new grantee partners, peer donors, and, importantly, African regional stakeholders. We are grateful for the support of our grantee partners, peer funders, and all stakeholders who meaningfully informed this work.

We learned that, despite continuing gaps in data and evidence, the WEE field has made much progress since 2015. Yet while inputs to gender-responsive economic policy (such as gender-disaggregated data) have improved, macroeconomic policies are still formulated and implemented in ways that disadvantage women. This is true in both high-income and low-income countries.

Strategic Priorities

Based on what we learned, we will shift our Women’s Economic Empowerment strategy from a focus on policy inputs to outputs, guided by our updated goal: to promote the adoption, funding, and implementation in East and West Africa of improved gender-responsive macro-level economic policy that supports all women’s opportunities, well-being, and agency. 

To advance this goal, we will focus on four mutually reinforcing outcomes. One overarching outcome centers on strengthening the field of WEE actors working towards macro-level policy change. The other three outcomes focus on specific actions that are critical to achieving our goal: expanding the macro-level solution set via research, strengthening WEE advocates, and leveraging the influence of multi-lateral and bilateral organizations to promote gender-responsive macro-level policies. In addition, a cross-cutting theme involves shifting funding, decision-making, and priority setting to African organizations that are closer to national policymaking. We illustrate and describe this approach in greater detail below.

To prioritize resources and deepen our impact, we will organize our efforts around a particular set of perceived needs and opportunities arising in connection with the economic recovery from-COVID-19: unpaid care, informal work, social protection, and tax justice. These choices are meant to guide and focus our work, though we will, of course, remain open to exploring other compelling areas of opportunity in service of the overall WEE goal.

The four outcomes we will be pursuing over the course of this strategy are:

  1. Strengthening the WEE Field: A well-resourced and effective WEE field positioned to influence gender-responsive macro-level economic policy in East and West Africa. While the WEE field has grown and evolved, actors supporting women’s economic empowerment still do not significantly influence macro-level economic policymaking, and the macro-level WEE field remains relatively nascent. To begin changing this, particularly given our own limited resources, we will aim to attract additional funders to support macro-level economic policy change.
  2. Expanding the WEE Macro-Level Economic Solution Set: Research institutions and think tanks in East and West Africa generate contextually relevant, gender-responsive solutions for use in macro-economic policy formulation and implementation. We will support and amplify evidence-based macro-policies that are responsive to the actual needs of advocates and policymakers in East and West Africa. These solutions will initially focus on unpaid care, informal work, social protection, and tax justice; they may shift or grow to include other areas of opportunity that emerge over time.
  3. Strengthening WEE Advocates: Women’s rights organizations, advocates, and feminist movements in East and West Africa advocate effectively for improved macro-level economic policymaking and implementation. We will support African WEE advocates, women’s rights organizations, and feminist movements to strengthen their efforts to promote macro-level economic policy using an intersectional feminist lens, including supporting them to partner with researchers to generate policy solutions. As we move into the feminist funding environment, we will do so in a learning mode.
  4. Leveraging the Influence of IFIs, Multilaterals, and Bilaterals: Select IFIs, multilaterals, and bilaterals provide resources and gender-aware advice and guidance to national governments in East and West Africa on gender-responsive macro-level economic policy that aligns with national and regional priorities. International financial institutions (IFIs) and multilateral and bilateral agencies are key influencers of country-level economic policy in Africa. But many of these organizations, especially IFIs, undervalue the need for systemic macro-level policy change supporting women’s economic opportunities. We plan to work with a select group of these institutions to increase their understanding of and willingness to invest in gender-responsive approaches to macro-level economic policy.

As our goal is to promote gender-responsive macro-level economic policy in East and West Africa, we will aim to shift priority-setting and decision-making power from global actors to local, national, and regional actors in Africa.  They are closer to both the problems and the aspirations of the women we seek to serve.

Over the coming months, we will share more about our new strategy through virtual and in-person launch events. We are thankful to our grantee partners, peer funders, and all the stakeholders who are embarking with us on these renewed efforts to further women’s opportunities and well-being.

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