Produced by the Infrastructure and Cities for Economic Development Facility (ICED), this background paper lays out the case for infrastructure as a key tool for women’s economic empowerment (WEE). With over half of Africa’s economic growth between 1990 and 2005 attributed to improved infrastructure, the return on investment is clear. Yet millions across the developing world still lack access to clean water, energy, transport links, and energy, representing an opportunity for economic empowerment so long as marginalised groups are prioritised and included in infrastructure design and development.
Six key infrastructure areas are identified as enablers for WEE in both rural and urban settings: time savings; mobility; expanded market and employment opportunities; increased and more stable incomes; reduced exposure to risks, such as gender-based violence; and inclusion in planning, policy, and decision-making. To maximise effectiveness, it is vital that programmes challenge social norms, include and amplify women’s voices and digital inclusion, and invest in social services.
The paper takes these priorities, and uses them to highlight examples of good practice across three key entry points for WEE: addressing the care economy, particularly the importance of energy access, transport, and social infrastructure; expanding opportunities for women in informal work; and fostering female entrepreneurship and enhancing the productivity of women-owned enterprises. Finally, the paper closes with a list of specific recommendations of practical actions for donors, the private sector, national government, municipal government, and NGOs and civil society.