Investing in women’s economic empowerment is at the forefront of the global agenda, as recognized by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations secretary-general’s High-Level Panel (HLP) on Women’s Economic Empowerment, and more recently the G7 summit in Canada. The importance of women’s economic empowerment is increasingly accepted, but inclusive progress can only be made if attention is paid to empowering women in the most fragile and conflict-affected settings.
Globally, about 264 million women live in the 36 countries classified as fragile and conflict affected (FCA) by the World Bank Group’s annual “Harmonized list of fragile situations.” These women face cross-cutting challenges of poverty, gender-based violence, and discriminatory norms. Evidence shows that they are more likely than men to experience displacement or have their education interrupted, and that they have less access than men to employment and income opportunities.
Our analysis, while limited by data constraints, suggests that women’s economic opportunities in FCA settings are restricted on multiple fronts, with worse outcomes in countries in protracted conflict. Specifically, the study found the following:
- Female employment rates are low in FCA countries, and paid work is predominantly in agriculture. Only 44 percent of women are likely to be in paid work, compared to 66 percent of men in the same set of countries. Nearly 60 percent of working women and men in FCA countries are in agriculture, with similar shares in countries with protracted conflict and post-conflict countries.
- Women fare worse in countries with protracted conflict than in post- conflict countries. Fewer than one in five are employed for pay or profit, compared to three in five in post-conflict countries. This underlines the importance of attaining sustainable peace.
- Women are more likely than men to be working either for themselves or with their families, which means that they have fewer legal protections and are often low paid and low skilled. In post-conflict countries, close to four in five women who are employed work for themselves or with family members. Interestingly, in countries with protracted conflict, fewer women are in paid work, but close to half of women who do report are in wage and salary work.
The obstacles that limit women’s access to economic opportunities in FCA countries go beyond the adverse norms and legal barriers that characterize the situation for women in many other countries. Insecurity and instability, lack of access to education, weak institutional capacity, and lack of private-sector investment exacerbate the constraints to women’s paid work in fragile contexts and, unsurprisingly, are worst in countries experiencing protracted conflict.
The findings of this study advance our understanding of constraints facing women in fragile contexts and should help inform the design of policies and programs to advance women’s economic empowerment. This topic is explored in a companion paper.