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A Transformative Economic Agenda: Building Women’s Collective Assets & Power

A Transformative Economic Agenda: Building Women’s Collective Assets & Power

What does it take for urban women, wherever they are, to live free of fear, with access to safe and adequate shelter, schooling, health care, transit, and green space?

Economic security.

It’s the essential ingredient in every woman’s sense of wellbeing and in her capacity to realize her fullest potential: when a woman can earn and is free to control her own savings, she has the independence to make vital decisions regarding her and her children’s lives, safety, health, education, and future prospects.

WomenStrong is doubling down on strategies designed to build women’s assets and influence along with their sense of community and solidarity.

At WomenStrong International, we know that women’s and girls’ essential needs are inextricably interrelated. For four years, three of our founding grantee partners, located in the informal settlements of Madurai, India; Kisumu, Kenya; and Kumasi, Ghana; ran savings groups that engaged many thousands of low-income women who, in a matter of months, acquired financial literacy and were able to pay their daughters’ school fees, open bank accounts, and increase their personal autonomy over decisions regarding their lives, their families, and their work.

The ‘sharing out’ process of a Savings & Loan group in Kisumu, Kenya, organized by
WomenStrong founding partner Alice Visionary Foundation Project.

Lilian Akoth, in Kisumu, Kenya, was one of these women. By saving money that enabled her to gain access to cheap loans, this savvy 27-year-old businesswoman was able not only to grow her tailoring shop in the Kibuye Municipal Market, but also to diversify her small business by opening a barber shop and a mobile money transfer service. As her monthly income increased, she was able to hire two young people to help run her new enterprises. After her savings group “shared out”  the savings at year’s end, Lillian opened an account to provide for her children’s education and gave her husband a portion of her savings so he could start his own small business.

Lillian’s savings, vision, and strategic acumen made it possible for her to invest in her children’s future and support her husband’s business venture. And like Lillian, in WomenStrong partners’ savings groups across three farflung countries, the lives of the participating women have improved, one by one by one.

Yet, the structures of economic power in those three countries and across most of the globe have remained the same: however life-changing these women’s savings have proven to be for them and their families, the fact is, most businesses, finance ministries, and whole economies remain overwhelmingly in the hands of men.

We now have the chance to change that equation. As the world emerges from a global pandemic, with the accompanying economic distress and uncertainty, and as we witness the successive constriction of women’s rights in rich countries and poor ones, WomenStrong is doubling down on strategies designed to build women’s assets and influence along with their sense of community and solidarity. We are investing in broader, bolder, truly transformative approaches to economic empowerment that have proven to be key to ensuring women’s independence, autonomy, and freedom from violence and fear.

Mujeres Transformando offers training sessions, like the one pictured above, to provide skill-development and to educate women about their rights in the workplace. Copyright 2023 by Mujeres Transformando.

We have offered grants and capacity strengthening to four women-led non-profits with deep experience in building women’s collective assets — through worker associations, training, and legal support that will elevate women’s ability to fight for their rights, protections, and negotiating power. And we’re honored to welcome to our WomenStrong community four new grantee partners committed to furthering women’s economic security:

  • Action for Development (ACFODE) Uganda, a 38-year-old women’s rights organization helping cooperatives become more gender-responsive, supporting survivors of gender-based violence, and building capacity among women, youth, and public officials for policy advocacy, leadership, and economic empowerment in urban, rural, and refugee settings.
  • Mujeres Transformando, a 19-year-old women-led organization in El Salvador that promotes and defends the rights of women workers in garment factories, organizes in communities, trains local government, assists survivors of workplace violence, and works in coalition across Central America on women’s and labor rights.
  • Society for Labor and Development, a 17-year-old labor rights organization in India, conducts research, organizes in support of workers’ rights, provides legal representation, including in cases of sexual violence, and advances gender justice and leadership skills among garment, leather, seafood, and domestic workers across seven Indian states.

Our new partners will receive technical and organizational capacity strengthening in areas they identify, share their strategies with their peers in our Learning Lab, and have the opportunity to present their work more broadly, to new audiences.

We’re excited for the opportunity for our longtime WomenStrong partners, whose communities consist overwhelmingly of informal sector workers in 17 countries, to share with those communities the insights they gain from our new partners, regarding their rights as laborers and the strategies and mechanics of collective asset-building.

We look forward to the fruits of this rich exchange , which we expect will lead to significant economic benefits and to a deeper sense of safety, belonging, and agency — not only for the thousands upon thousands of women and girls participating in WomenStrong-supported programs, but also for their families and communities, and for increasing numbers of women, families, and communities worldwide.

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