There Is No Women’s Economic Empowerment Without Reproductive Empowerment

Much has been written in recent days about Ivanka Trump’s new book, but very little attention had been paid to a compelling piece she penned in the Financial Times with Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, which argues that “we have not invested the resources to unleash women’s full potential.”

The authors noted that supporting women’s economic participation has tremendous dividends for families, communities and whole economies. Leaning on the extensive evidence base, they argue that by supporting an enabling environment for women’s labor force participation “we can add billions to the global economy… grow national economies and make countries more competitive.” But their list of “what works” to achieve this goal is missing some critical components.

Molly Adams

Yes, increasing access to finance, redistributing care work and offering training programs and mentorship for female entrepreneurs are essential—but if girls aren’t able to attend and complete secondary school, they will never get the skills they need to operate successful businesses. Girls and young women who are well educated are more likely to be employed, earn more over their lifetimes and have higher productivity than those with lower levels of education. As research conducted jointly by ICRW and the World Bank demonstrates, if girls are forced into marriage while they are still children, their future earnings and productive engagement in societal growth suffer considerably.

If adolescent girls continue to be infected with HIV and die from AIDS at higher rates than any other population in the world, they will never be able to contribute to their national and global economies. If they can’t access basic health care, including modern contraception that allows them to plan their families and maternal health care that permits their safe transit through pregnancy and childbirth, hundreds of millions of the world’s girls and women will never be able to remain in school or access the labor market, contributing to economic growth and enjoying the true definition of empowerment.

For more than five decades, women and girls across the developing world have benefited from U.S. support that has enabled their education, helped eliminate child marriage, provided basic and emergency obstetric care, advanced their sexual and reproductive health, prevented disease and death and in turn, enabled them to engage productively in their economies. This support, provided through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been critical and literally lifesaving for hundreds of millions of women and children. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in Fiscal Year 2016 alone, U.S. investments in international reproductive health made it possible to provide 27 million women with modern contraception and to help women avert six million unintended pregnancies, 2.3 million induced abortions and 11,000 maternal deaths.

It is thus confounding that the Administration is withdrawing its support for the very programs that foster such empowerment. We see this in the dramatic expansion of the Mexico City Policy, or Global Gag Rule, which will restrict health services for women worldwide; the decision to withdraw all U.S. funding for UNFPA; the proposed elimination of the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and other devastating cuts across the board to global health and women’s empowerment programs.

We applaud Ivanka Trump’s advocacy for women’s economic empowerment. It is an encouraging and sorely needed sign of U.S. global leadership for gender equality. To ensure these efforts are successful, we urge her and the Trump Administration to also demonstrate leadership on a comprehensive and rights-based approach to women’s empowerment—starting with the recognition that health, education and reproductive rights are the fundamental building blocks to achieving economic empowerment and enabling women to thrive.

The International Center for Research on Women is the premier research institute focused on women and girls. In 2016, ICRW merged with the U.S. research organization Re:Gender (formerly the National Council for Research on Women) to create a global research platform. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with regional offices in India and Uganda, ICRW provides research and analysis to inform programs and policies that promote gender equality and help alleviate poverty. 


About and

Dr. Sarah Gammage is an economist with more than 25 years of experience as researcher and feminist economist, providing policy advice and supporting strategic advocacy on gender equality in Latin America, Africa and Asia. She is the senior director, Gender, Economic Empowerment and Livelihoods at the International Center for Research on Women.
Dr. Suzanne Petroni is an expert in global health, youth development and public policy, with a 25-year career that has spanned the U.S. government, philanthropy and NGO sectors. She is the senior director, Global Health, Youth and Development at ICRW.