Unleashing the transformative power of women at work – Interview with DEVCO Director B, Ms Henriette Geiger

Unleashing the transformative power of women at work – Interview with DEVCO Director B, Ms Henriette Geiger


Improving gender equality, reducing vulnerabilities and building sustainable and inclusive economies and societies.


Q. What is the status of women’s economic empowerment across the world?

When women can access decent economic opportunities, it sets off a virtuous cycle that improves gender equality, and reduces poverty and vulnerability of women and communities. If provided with opportunities, women can make a tremendous impact to economies, as entrepreneurs, employers or employees.

There has been some progress over the past 20 years, with more women than ever before being educated and participating in the labour market. However, many women remain in vulnerable situations, disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation, especially in the world of work. 

Women are over represented in insecure, low-wage jobs, and are underrepresented in decision making positions. Moreover, women tend to shoulder a lot of the burden with unpaid care work at home. 

85% of working women in sub-Saharan Africa are in vulnerable employment, which compares with 70% of men. Women spend roughly three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men. And when it comes to pay, while 50% of the world’s women are in paid employment, they earn 24% less than men, for the same work.

As a result, women have less access to economic assets such as land or finance, have less say in economic and social policies and have less time and opportunities to pursue economic opportunities. 
If men and women played an identical role in labour markets, as much as EUR 25 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global GDP.  We also know that women reinvest up to 90 percent of their earnings into their families – compared to just 30 to 40 percent for men, even when basic needs are unmet. Women are also more likely to spend on food, healthcare and their children's education. When women cannot access decent economic opportunities, everyone, not only women, suffer.

Q. How is the European Union supporting women’s economic empowerment and access to decent work in its partner countries?

Gender equality is right to the core of the European Union’s values and women’s economic empowerment is not just a moral, social or legal obligation, but is a prerequisite for sustainable development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 
The EU promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women across all areas of action, including the economic empowerment of women.  Our aim is to mainstream gender equality across 85% of new initiatives by 2020. And, in addition, to increase resources targeted specifically at women's empowerment.

Women must be provided with the same opportunities as men to secure decent jobs, access education and training, accumulate assets, and influence institutions and public policies determining growth and development. We are working hard to end specific vulnerabilities, such as discrimination in the workplace, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and stamp out gender based violence and harassment in and around work. 

Our "Gender Action Plan", now in its second cycle, sets the framework for our cooperation with partners internationally, and economic and social empowerment is a key priority of this plan. In practical terms, it means providing both financial and non-financial support, including credit, insurance, technology, education and training, and other services – as well as improving business and policy environments, and access to supply chains, for women. We are working in partnership with governments, civil society, social partners and entrepreneurs, and international organisations, to advance these goals. 

For example, we have a close partnership with UN Women and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the 'Responsible Business Conduct’ programme, to promote women's economic empowerment through both public and private sector engagement. Another area we have paid special attention to is the garment sector, with most of the world's clothes being predominantly produced by women. We are also combating persistently low levels of wages, and improving labour conditions, qualifications and protection, in this sector. 

Our global flagship project, the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, is making a real difference to women and girls lives across the world. One example of the Spotlight Initiative’s work is the Safe & Fair project, which is helping ensure that vulnerable women labour migrants are safe and can access fair opportunities in the ASEAN  (Southeast Asian Nations) region. It is being implemented in partnership with UN Women and the ILO.

These are just some examples. In reality, our work to promote the economic empowerment of women continues daily and must never cease, as until there is true gender equality, especially in the economic sphere, sustainable development will always be out of reach.