Women's economic rights

A woman stallholder supported by WHR Nepal

When women lack economic autonomy they face an increased risk of violence and limitations to their life choices. Having an independent income is key for women to exercise more control over their own lives. 

Why is women's economic rights important?

Having an independent income is key for women to exercise more control over their own lives. Engaging in paid work not only does provide women with income but is also an opportunity to expand their social circle and gain skills and knowledge as well as confidence. 

While paid work is critically important, there are other aspects of women’s economic rights that go beyond it. For example, the right to an adequate standard of living, which includes the right to food and the right to housing. Other critical rights are the right to health, to education and to social protection as enshrined in the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, ratified by 164 states.

The realisation of these rights is a duty of states, which have different policy tools, in particular economic policy, to use in order to do so. Find out more in our economic rights briefing: Rights and Realities.

Women farmers supported by WHR Nepal

The impact gender roles and stereotypes cast women as carers and men as breadwinner. This results in women being at disadvantage in all economic spheres:

• Women spend at least 2.5 times more time than men on unpaid care and domestic work, cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood and caring for children, the sick and the elderly. This work is essential to life and makes any other work possible but remains largely invisible. 

• The time women spend on these activities has a direct impact on the type of paid work they can access: women are clustered in part-time, precarious and low paid work and earn less than men. The global gender pay gap stands at 24%. Women belonging to ethnic minorities and migrant women face even more discrimination when it comes to the type of work they can access and how much they are paid. 

• Women have less access to productive resources such as land, even though their work ensures there’s food on the table. Globally, less than 20% of landholders are women and their land is often of less quality even though they represent between 43 and 70% of the workforce in agriculture. In many countries the constitution ensure women have legal rights to property but in practice women face many obstacles due to social norms and stereotypes. 

We are calling for structural changes to our economies to ensure women’s rights are realised for all. Find out more in our economic rights brief, Rights and Realities: a briefing on women and the economy.