Isobel Coleman, senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations of James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank Group (1995 – 2005), discussed the role of women in economic development. Some of their main points:
- There is a vicious cycle between food insecurity and conflict. Post-war nations, which often struggle with food security, have a hard time stabilizing and growing, because hunger causes more violence.
- Women are often the first resources to move markets towards stabilization – because they survive more often than men (soldiers), and because they are intent on providing for their families.
- Agriculture can address both urgent and longer-term goals - feeding the population and kick-starting economies.
- Agriculture is primarily women’s work in developing nations, but women are often not allowed to own land or control income from their labor. When the legal structure evolves to allow female land ownership, as in Women for Women’s work in Sudan, women accumulate wealth at a level previously unattainable. Wealth leads to greater political power over how resources are spent.
- Women consistently and disproportionately invest wealth on their children’s health and education.
- If economic empowerment is not combined with political empowerment, making more money does not always translate to better rights for women. Legal frameworks need to change to encompass women's legal, social and economic rights.
- Macro programs that focus on legal rights, access to capital etc. are an excellent complement to microfinance and other more targeted business opportunities - which cannot function without a base layer of stability and infrastructure.
- Inequality and homogeneity are bad for business. Gender-diversified economies--economies where women are present and empowered in every economic sphere--are found in wealthier, more stable states. Gender-diversified boards make better decisions, reducing risk and increasing profit; a 2007 Catalyst, Inc. study found that boards with more women outperformed those with less by as much as 66%.
Learn more at on the Women for Women page, or read Isobel Coleman’s new book Paradise Beneath her Feet.