How women’s economic empowerment can help combat gender-based violence

International Development Week in Canada takes place from Feb 6-12th and MEDA is examining several key themes and areas during this time. Today, this blog examines the theme of Women’s Economic Empowerment, and the role it plays in contributing to gender equality and lifting women out of poverty.

As the world struggled to contain the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, another sinister pandemic came to the fore: gender-based violence (GBV). According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced violence in their lifetime.1 During the pandemic, the risk of GBV increased because of more significant tensions at home and the uncertainty within families because of job losses and bleaker financial prospects. A UN Women survey conducted in 13 countries confirms that violence against women has increased, with almost one in two respondents reporting that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence since the onset of COVID-19. Outside the home, 40% of respondents said they felt less safe walking alone at night during the pandemic. 2 

Despite solid evidence linking the two, few programs have addressed the link between economic participation and GBV, despite the well-known risks and consequences3. Yet, there is a silver lining. Research on women’s economic empowerment (WEE) and GBV demonstrates that women with greater economic power may be at a lower risk of experiencing this type of violence. 

Addressing GBV using finance is essential for women’s economic empowerment. This involves designing and implementing gender lens investment models that can positively change women-led businesses including addressing some of the factors that are holding them back and, in turn, can improve their lives. MEDA’s model for improving WEE begins with a deep analysis of the social, environmental and economic context and targeted work in all three areas. Interventions include promoting women’s rights, GBV awareness and prevention, financial literacy and improved access to business and financial services.

Through our programs, MEDA’s investments prioritize financing companies owned and managed by diverse women, supporting enterprises that promote gender-inclusive recruitment, retention, promotion, and leadership. Our investments back businesses benefit various women through gender-responsive products and services that meet their specific needs. Lastly, our programs help fund managers, gender equality experts, technical assistance providers, and other ecosystem actors to apply a robust gender lens to their operations. 

We invite various organizations to support WEE, including local and public organizations. These organizations understand the power dynamics and what levers can be used to create change to shift power, transform gender dynamics, and increase equitable participation by diverse women. 

Giving women more significant economic opportunities while addressing gender norms can reduce their vulnerabilities and risks of experiencing GBV. More stable financial situations for women can lead to more stable and better lives.  

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  • Jessica Villanueva

    Jessica Villanueva is MEDA’s Senior Director of Technical Areas of Practice with more than 20 years of management experience, focusing on agri-food market systems, financial inclusion, impact investment, and gender and climate lens investment projects in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

  • Jennifer Denomy

    MEDA's former Technical Director for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion

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