Empowering Women: Essential to Sustainable Development

By Marie Le Page, Corporate Partnerships Manager, ClimateCare

Empowering Women: Essential to Sustainable Development

It’s widely recognised that creating opportunities for women is essential to build stronger economies, achieve development goals, and improve the quality of life for whole communities. The OECD state that Women’s Economic Empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable development, pro-poor growth and the achievement of all the MDGs[1]. But, what do we mean by ‘Women’s Empowerment’?

Defining empowerment

The Institute of Development Studies [2] defines economic empowerment as “the capacity of women to participate in, contribute to and benefit from economic activities, on terms which recognise the value of their contributions, respect their dignity and make it possible for them to negotiate a fairer distribution of returns.”

Across all economies and cultures women perform the bulk of unpaid care work [3]. Oxfam America [4] estimate that across the world, 66% of work falls on women’s shoulders, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income. Why is this?

Many societies dictate that girls and women have the main responsibility for the care of children, the elderly and the sick, as well as for running the household, including the provision of water and energy supplies. And, whilst some of this work, particularly looking after family members, is valued by those undertaking it, much – such as water and fuel collection – is classed as drudgery and takes time away from school or generating secure incomes and better working conditions

Free up time and you will tackle poverty

Unlocking time and relieving the burden and drudgery of household tasks is the most important first step to economic empowerment [5] for women in the world’s poorest countries. And it can act as a stepping stone to tackling poverty and improving life for the household and community.

Time Poverty and Income Poverty reinforce each other [6]. Time poverty prevents women expanding their capabilities through education and skills development that could improve their ability to generate income. Lack of time also makes women less able to take part in income generating activities. So how can we free up time?

The need for clean energy

In the developing world, where 3 billion people [7] still cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves – time spent collecting fuel is a major issue. In Zambia [8] for example, women spend more than 800 hours a year collecting firewood, compared to less than 50 hours spent by men. Fuel gathering limits time for other productive and income generating activities and takes children away from school. In less secure environments, women and children are also at risk of injury and violence.

Improving access to alternative sources of clean energy through improved cookstoves, clean energy and safe water programmes frees up time by eliminating the need to walk long distances to gather fuel. It also reduces exposure to indoor air pollution – a deadly killer, responsible for the death of over 4 million people every year – and affecting the health of many more. At the same time these programmes reduce deforestation and help tackle climate change by reducing emissions.

Find out more

The provision of clean energy or safe water is just one example of how integratedClimate+Care programmes are empowering women – freeing up time, creating jobs, generating prosperity and improving health – as well as protecting the environment. Check out our case studies to find out more.

Marie Le Page is ClimateCare’s Corporate Partnerships Manager. Marie works with national and international organisations to design business relevant climate and social impact programmes. She specialises in creating programmes that deliver measurable outcomes to meet both CSR and sustainability agendas, whilst also delivering business value.


[1] http://www.oecd.org/dac/povertyreduction/50157530.pdf

[2] The Institute of Development Studies, in their report on Empowerment and Participation: bridging the gap between understanding and practice

[3] The unpaid “care economy”, an analysis by the OECD, Women Economic Empowerment

[4] http://www.internationalwomensday.com/oxfamamerica

[5] Women’s Economic Empowerment: The OECD DAC Network on Gender equality:http://www.oecd.org/dac/povertyreduction/50157530.pdf

[6] World Bank Working Paper No.73: Gender, Time Use and Povery in Sub-Saharan Africa

[7] World Health Organisation March 2014

[8] ICW

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