Unlocking the potential: investing in women and girls

Unlocking the potential of women and girls can bring direct economic, social and business benefits. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has put this issue at the heart of its development assistance and over the past few years, a number of programmes have been launched (increasingly by private sector companies) to create more opportunities for women and girls. With international momentum growing, new cross-sector commitments forming and arguably a brighter spotlight on the issue than ever before, now is a good time to take stock.

According to the UN, women make up a huge 70% of the 2.5 billion people who live on less than $2 a day. Over 60 million girls globally still don’t have access to primary education, approximately 10 million women die each year due to poor healthcare and three out of every four war fatalities are women or children.  A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report also points to research showing that corruption has a greater impact on women and girls than on men and boys. It is also shown to compound the barriers women face with regards to economic and social empowerment.

The upshot is, women and girls continue to confront many challenges around the world today.

So what’s the solution? Donor organisations, governments and corporations are increasingly coming together to test and embed joint initiatives designed to improve opportunities for women and girls. The case for doing so is clear:  delivering girls’ education, providing access to financial capital, increasing political participation and generating more opportunities for women in the economy, are among the most effective strategies for advancing long-term sustainable development and poverty reduction. 

When girls receive a quality education, it can dramatically increase their life chances. Furthermore, when 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3%. Girls who go to school are more likely to marry later, less likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth and often have fewer and healthier children.

Furthermore, eliminating barriers to employment could raise labour productivity by 25% in some countries. When women are able to earn a decent living, they sustain a powerful multiplier effect. On average, women spend 90% of their income on their families, investing in the education of their children and the healthcare of their relatives. 

Evidence strongly suggests that the economic advancement of women leads to greater overall prosperity. However, it is also important to note that the reverse relationship is not necessarily true – economic growth does not automatically lead to greater gender equality.  It is important to enable girls and women to assume greater control over the decisions that affect them to help break the cycle of poverty between generations.

Over the last few years, a number of programmes have been launched to improve the lives of women and girls. In many cases, they have involved elements of partnership, new ways of doing business and working at scale, and the private sector is playing an increasing role.  If it is true that the world’s greatest untapped resource is girls and women, then cross learning and more action is critical to the ongoing effort to achieve greater prosperity for all.


Bethan Grillo | International Development
Profile | Email | +44 (0) 207 804 5746


Emily Coates | International Development
Profile | Email | +44 (0) 207 213 5207


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