International Day of Rural Women

Expert's Take: Women Empowerment Principles Contribute to Economic Empowerment

By Rukaya Mohammed, UN Women Deputy Representative in Kenya

Date: Friday, October 16, 2020

Expert Take: Women's Empowerment Principles Contribute to Economic Empowerment
Rukaya Mohammed. Photo: UN Women

The UN Women Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) seeks to identify best practices by elaborating the gender dimension of corporate responsibility, the UN Global Compact, and the role of businesses in sustainable development. In addition to being an essential guide for businesses, the principles inform stakeholders such as governments on how best to engage the private sector. WEPs emphasize the business case for corporate action to promote gender equality and women empowerment that is informed by real-life business practices and input from across the globe. Signatories are encouraged to champion one or more areas of the WEPs.

One of the principles is the elimination of gender stereotypes that states, “Treat all Women and Men by eliminating gender stereotypes at the workplace.  Stereotypes exist throughout corporate structures and there's need for meaningful and honest action to ensure that the talents, skills and perspectives of women are valued all the way up to boardroom level. However, women cannot be considered a homogeneous group and therefore when tackling barriers to women participation, an intersectional lens should be used to target women from diverse backgrounds with differing identities and abilities.

There is a clear focus to protect women and tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. UN Women Kenya is supporting the WEPs signatories in prioritizing, establishing, and implementing robust sexual harassment policies and practices, which promote the physical and emotional health, safety and wellbeing of all employees. This creates a culture of safety, respect and equality and in tackling sexual harassment at work makes business sense and for the benefit of both employers and employees.

Promoting inclusivity and women participation in leadership

Establishing high-level corporate leadership for gender equality and enhancing women’s active participation and decision-making in the economy is crucial for long-term economic prosperity. Organizations benefit greatly from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organizational effectiveness and growth. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance.

Realizing women’s rights

Women economic empowerment includes equal participation in existing markets; access to and control over productive resources, access to decent work, ability to take control of their time, lives and bodies; and increased voices, agency and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels from the household to international institutions.

Why is this key to economic empowerment of rural women ?

The majority of rural women in Kenya experience unequal access to land, credit, skills, and education. Women manage 40% of small-scale farms; and yet they have access to less than 10% of available credit. In terms of land ownership, only 2% own a title deed while 5% of titles are under joint ownership between men and women. 

The private sector is key to addressing principle five on “enterprise development and supply chains and marketing practices.” Bidco, a leading manufacturer of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) in East Africa has been providing financial support to women through its supply chain and source for raw materials from smallholder farmers including women in rural areas across Kenya and at the same time engage women through offtake contracts, access to markets, forward price, technical support to ensure productivity and link them to quality input suppliers.

Additionally, WEPs signatories have contributed to rural women empowerment through the following:

  • Financial inclusion: Banks like KWFT and Equity have provided rural women in Kenya with cheap affordable loans to start or expand their businesses
  • Climate-Smart Agriculture Inputs and Skills: Women farmers have benefited from capacity building in climate resilience agriculture; access to short cycled and drought-tolerant seeds and other agricultural inputs through companies like AMIRAN.