Women make up the majority of the world’s poor. They are often held back by gender-specific constraints to economic empowerment, such as lack of access to financial services and credit. In many corners of the world, these barriers make it difficult for women to start businesses, build savings and make meaningful economic contributions to their communities.
I am coordinating a bipartisan effort in the Senate to change this dynamic. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and I have introduced legislation that aims to eliminate global gender-related barriers and empower female entrepreneurs around the world.
The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment (WEEE) Act is a strong bill that aims to help over one billion women who are left out of the formal financial system and to close the nearly $300 billion credit gap that exists for women-owned small and medium-sized businesses. A companion to the Boozman-Cardin bill has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote.
The key to our bill is that it taps into the proven abilities of existing United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programs. The WEEE Act would require USAID to ensure that all strategies and projects of the agency are shaped by a gender analysis and that gender equality and female empowerment are integrated throughout its programs.
Additionally, it expands USAID’s microenterprise development assistance authority to include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with an emphasis on supporting SMEs owned, managed and controlled by women. The Boozman-Cardin bill also modernizes USAID’s development assistance toolkit to include innovative credit scoring models, financial technology, financial literacy, insurance and actions to improve property and inheritance rights.
USAID, especially under the leadership of Administrator Mark Green, does an exceptional job of stretching a finite amount of resources into meaningful results in some of the world’s most impoverished nations. I have complete confidence that should our bill become law, Administrator Green and his team would turn our ideas into successful programs that will help advance economies around the globe.
Everyone benefits from this approach. As Senator Cardin—a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—noted when we introduced the bill, “investment in women creates a positive cycle of change that can lift women, families, communities and entire countries out of poverty, and this legislation will help us make inroads toward that important goal.”
Our colleagues who joined Senator Cardin and I in this effort agree. WEEE Act cosponsors touted the larger impact that eliminating gender-related barriers will have on developing economies. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called a reduction of the impediments women face “critical for economic growth” and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said “empowering women around the globe is the key to unlocking the economic and social potential that so many nations strive to reach.”
I couldn’t agree more. The goal of this bill reflects U.S. values and promotes real economic opportunities around the globe. It will change lives, as well as communities on the larger scale.
In some parts of the world, women are pushed so far to the sidelines that they are denied access to even the most basic of financial services, much less business loans. Leveling the playing field is the right thing to do and the world economy stands to grow substantially if we can achieve that goal.