Things we learned from a year of implementing our Women’s Economic Empowerment strategy

(Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment)

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Our Women’s Economic Empowerment strategy is based on the premise that much of economic policymaking, if it attends to women’s needs at all, tends to focus on changing women to fit into existing economic systems and structures, rather than seeking to change those systems and structures to better address women’s needs.

So how can we shift economic systems and structures to better meet women’s needs? Our grantmaking approach emphasizes strengthening the field of actors working to improve macro-level policymaking¹ to better respond to women’s needs and aspirations (what we refer to as WEE-Macro) in East and West Africa. This entails promoting fiscal, labor, and social policies that directly impact women’s everyday lives, including access to quality and affordable childcare, recognizing the value of unpaid work, and ensuring social protection for informal workers.

Strengthening the WEE-Macro field begins with funding organizations that are already working in these spaces. It also means encouraging other organizations and funders to enter the space — whether they come from a human rights lens or an economic development lens. And ultimately, it means sharing learning and increasing collaboration across these diverse domains.

Rather than supporting one type of organization or one perspective working on WEE-Macro, we support a range of different stakeholders, adopting what some might call “a field” or “an ecosystem” building approach.

“Taking that field level view,” as former Program Director Ruth Levine explained in her blog, Strength in Numbers: Taking a Field Level View, “program staff know that no one organization, no matter how impressive, will be able to make big change happen and stick. A whole constellation of organizations, both ones that are peers and ones that have different roles, are needed.”

A field is made up of many different players

Some of the grantee partners supported by our WEE strategy are think tanks focused on policy reform who are interested in including gender considerations in their economic policy work. For example, the Africa Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) works with African governments to embed a gender-responsive lens in developing and implementing policies for economic transformation. Through its new Gender Equality Program, ACET’s gendered analysis focuses on the intersection of gendered power dynamics and economic policy formation and implementation.

Other grantee partners are women’s rights organizations who approach WEE-Macro from economic justice, feminist, and rights-based perspectives. Organizations such as the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) work to deepen knowledge and skills to engage and influence macroeconomic policies from a feminist perspective. Through its African Feminist Macroeconomy Academy, FEMNET brings together feminist economists, women’s rights activists, and youth movements to analyze, challenge, and influence orthodox macroeconomic policies and spaces across the region.

Additionally, international financial institutions or multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank or the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) play a crucial role in influencing economic policy. We work with them to enhance their understanding of and willingness to invest in approaches that address the differentiated needs of women through macro-level economic policies. For instance, the World Bank’s Invest in Childcare Initiative aims to scale up quality, affordable childcare in low- and middle-income countries. While childcare is only one element of the care economy, it is an important entry-point for broader work on the care agenda.

These different stakeholders may not always agree on how to approach the work, or even who should be doing it. They may challenge each other and hold each other accountable to do better. At times, they may not even be aware they are working on similar issues. But working across domains and encouraging the push and pull of ideas is important to develop the supply of policy solutions and to increase the demand for the uptake of those solutions. All of these actors across the WEE-Macro field need to be ready when policy windows open, and the opportunity for change presents itself. This doesn’t happen fortuitously. It’s based on a lot of hard and unrecognized work and collaboration occurring first.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good

The WEE-Macro field is beginning to coalesce both in terms of the supply of ideas developing and the demand starting to build. And a cohort of organizations working on these issues is starting to emerge, some of which did not exist just a few years ago.

Take for example Nawi — Afrifem Macroeconomics Collective — which started working to build a community focused on deconstructing and reconstructing macroeconomic policies and narratives through an intersectional Pan-African feminist lens three years ago — and has been growing by leaps and bounds.

Nawi Collective’s work includes a collaboration with Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA) — a network of African civil society organizations focused on influencing and reshaping tax policy. Together, they are developing a Pan-African feminist tax initiative. The collaboration between Nawi Collective and TJNA demonstrates the potential of building bridges between those working on macroeconomic policy from a feminist lens and those operating in more traditional fiscal policy spaces to strengthen the WEE-Macro field.

The Africa Tax Administration Forum — an intergovernmental platform that promotes collaboration among African tax authorities — is also working to build out its Women in Tax Network. This initiative aims to foster women’s leadership in the African tax space and promote the development of African tax policies that contribute to greater gender equality.

We are excited by the increased engagement of different actors in the WEE-Macro field, and the various entry points we have seen into this work from across economic development-focused organizations and human rights-based organizations, as well as from technical areas of work such as taxation and the care economy.

It will take communication, engagement, collaboration, shared learning, and ultimately having a multiplicity of voices at the table to encourage policymakers to start adopting and implementing macro-level economic policy that responds to women’s needs and aspirations. And we’re not there yet. We’re not even close. But we’re moving in the right direction.

This month, two important gender-focused conferences will take place in Africa, providing invaluable opportunities for diverse actors and funders working on WEE-Macro issues to come together. The International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) Conference, dedicated to Envisioning Feminist Economics Strategies for an Equitable and Sustainable World, will take place from July 5-8 in Cape Town, South Africa, both in-person and virtually. And Women Deliver will be held both in-person and virtually from July 17-20 in Kigali, Rwanda with a pre-conference on Strengthening Care Policies and Intersectional Movements for Care Justice.

Both conferences offer a platform to learn from each other, build bridges, and continue to grow and strengthen the field. It’s time to build economic systems and structures that support women’s opportunities, aspirations, and well-being.


[1] The feminist economist Stephanie Seguino coined the term “macro-level economic decisions” to encompass macro-level policies beyond the traditionally narrower definition of macroeconomics. In our use of “macro-level” policy here, we mean economic development efforts broad enough to have important aggregate or economywide distributional and welfare implications (e.g., taxation, transfers including social protection, public spending, and infrastructure including child care).

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