WAGE’s New We-GAIN Initiative: Improving Women Entrepreneurs’ Access to a Range of Critical Services for Business Growth and Resilience via Digitally Enabled Female Agents
The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium, funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women's Issues, is pleased to announce its new initiative ‘Women Entrepreneurs in Northern Ghana Gain Access to Integrated Services via Agent Networks’ (WE GAIN) program. The 24- month WAGE WE GAIN initiative is led by the Grameen Foundation in close partnership with ABA ROLI and local civil society organizations (CSOs) RISE Ghana, Ghana Developing Communities Association (GDCA), and the HealthKeepers Network (HKN). The initiative’s resource partners include Mobile Telecommunications Networks (MTN) Ghana.
Despite Ghana’s rise to lower middle-income status, rural households, especially those in Northern and upper Eastern districts (collectively, ‘northern Ghana’), experience high poverty rates and economic exclusion. While micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in northern Ghana have the potential to increase employment opportunities for northern women and youth, they remain vulnerable due to multiple intersecting shocks and stressors including:
Female heads of households, women in polygynous households, child brides, widows, ‘head porters’ (migrant young women and girls that are hired to carry goods in the markets), and landless women are particularly vulnerable to the combined effects of poverty, health insecurity, and GBV. Even though many experienced organizations across Northern Ghana are working to address these issues, the services they provide are often gender-blind, siloed, underfunded, and/or unsustainable.
To address these challenges, the WAGE WE GAIN initiative will build the capacity of RISE Ghana, GDCA, and HKN existing community agents to start micro mobile money businesses to deliver an integrated, market-based, high-impact package of financial and non-financial information, products, services, and referrals (Digital Financial Services plus - DFS+). These services will be delivered through MTN’s DFS platform and a complementary digital learning platform thereby increasing the sustainable access of women entrepreneurs in northern Ghana to a range of financial, health, GBV and other critical services they need to achieve personal and business growth and resilience.
The WAGE WE GAIN initiative is currently conducting a barriers and opportunities assessment to identify the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs in starting and growing successful businesses. The assessment will also identify opportunities to address said barriers through DFS+ products and services, GBV prevention and referrals, and business information services to be offered by the project. The assessment findings will be shared with key public, private and CSO stakeholders in Northern Ghana to introduce a set of new services that effectively leverage DFS and GBV prevention/referrals for women’s empowerment.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government.
 Ghana Statistical Service et al, 2017 Ghana Living Standards Survey 7, June 2019, p. 216. https://open.africa/dataset/ghana-living-standards-survey-glss-7-2017
 World Bank, Global Findex Database, 2017, available at: https://datacatalog.worldbank.org/dataset/ghana-global-financial-inclusion-global-findex-database-2017
 Paul Alhassan Issahaku, Correlates of Intimate Partner Violence in Ghana. Sage Open 1-14 (2017).
 WAGE, Ghana Gender and Inclusion Analysis, p. 31-33 (2020)
The ABA ROLI-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium, funded by the Secretary’s Office of Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State, is implementing the “Business and Social Support for Female Entrepreneurs in Timor-Leste (BEST)” program to address the intertwined social, economic, and regulatory challenges faced by women microentrepreneurs in starting, maintaining, and expanding businesses. While the Constitution and statutory laws guarantee equal rights, women continue to experience bias and discrimination in practice, driven by historically patriarchal social norms and customary laws.
In 2002, Timor-Leste gained its independence after centuries under Portuguese rule followed by 24 years of Indonesian occupation. In this young nation, the patriarchal system continues to define gender roles and power dynamics within households, communities, and in the market economy. Men are generally viewed as the head of the household, taking the role of economic provider, while women are in charge of child-rearing and household chores, which limit their capacity to engage in their own economic activities. Additionally, women entrepreneurs are expected to be the primary caregivers while managing micro and small businesses. Timorese women also face a high risk of gender-based violence (GBV), rooted in unequal gender norms and poverty, including physical, sexual, emotional, and economic violence. Even though women entrepreneurs make up 43% of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) owners in Timor-Leste and are identified as engines of growth in the national economy, they face greater challenges starting and scaling their businesses than men. Key barriers to women entrepreneurs’ ability to participate in and benefit from economic activities include entrenched gender norms and expectations, time constraints, limited access to financial resources and GBV services.
The WAGE BEST program aims to address barriers faced by women entrepreneurs by working with microfinance institutions (MFIs) and local women’s empowerment civil society organizations (WE CSOs) to provide them with access to financial, entrepreneurial, and social support. WAGE BEST has three central objectives: 1) strengthen the organizational and technical capacities of MFIs in Timor-Leste to provide gender-responsive services to women entrepreneurs; 2) work with leading WE CSOs to improve the quality of business and livelihoods (e.g., food production, weaving, among others) trainings, GBV services, and microfinance services to benefit vulnerable women entrepreneurs; and 3) formalize mutually beneficial linkages between MFIs and WE CSOs to expand women entrepreneurs’ access to financial, business, and GBV services.
MFIs are the primary source of credit for women in Timor-Leste with the two largest MFIs extending the majority of their loan portfolio to women microentrepreneurs. While MFIs provide access to finance to women entrepreneurs, their services are not attuned to gender norms or linked to business and social support services. The WAGE BEST initiative provides support for MFIs to take action to build the resilience of women entrepreneurs who are vulnerable to GBV and other shocks and stresses (e.g., health crises, conflict and crime in the external environment) through trainings and linkages to GBV support services, among others. WE CSOs offer business skills and GBV trainings that reduce Timorese women and girls’ vulnerability to poverty and violence, but these services do not always reach microfinance clients. Given the lack of institutional linkages, women entrepreneurs are not able to access financial and social support services in an optimal fashion, reducing the resilience, growth potential and local economic impact of their businesses. By linking the MFI clients with WE CSOs, women entrepreneurs can gain access to much needed business and social services to strengthen their skills and to launch, manage, and grow their businesses. The WAGE BEST initiative enables women entrepreneurs in Timor-Leste to gain access to a more holistic package of financial and social support, leading to enterprise growth and resilience.
 East Timor country profile - BBC News
The ABA ROLI-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium, funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women's Issues, is pleased to announce its new initiative “Reducing Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Moldova”. Through the initiative, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and ABA ROLI will aim to build and support an alliance of women’s organizations to increase women’s participation in economic activity in Moldova.
Moldovan women’s employment rate is the lowest among other European countries, with only 44.6 percent of women engaged in the labor force. Additionally, Moldova has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in Europe, around 63 percent of Moldovan women above the age of 15 may have experienced psychological, physical, or sexual violence in their lifetime.
The Moldovan government has signed and ratified numerous international conventions promoting gender equality; however, patriarchal norms, lack of political will, and lack of funding for existing government policies still inhibit Moldovan women from fully and freely participating in the economy and society. Widespread gender-based violence, as well as social expectations around women’s roles and care responsibilities, create barriers to women’s professional development. A recent study showed that 90.5 percent of men and 81.5 percent of women consider women's most important priority to be domestic work. Women account for only 27.5 percent of entrepreneurs in Moldova and are mostly segregated into lower-paying occupations where they are less likely to assume business leadership positions. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified these challenges by threatening the existence of small and medium enterprises that tend to employ the most women, further limiting opportunities for women and keeping them out of the workforce at a time when domestic violence has dramatically surged.
While there have been numerous initiatives in Moldova focused on gender-based violence or supporting women’s entrepreneurship, this new WAGE initiative is the first program to take an integrated approach to improve the enabling environment for women in the economy. The program will bring together a broad and diverse coalition of women’s civil society associations and private sector organizations to examine and address social, policy, and other barriers to women’s equal participation, including gender-based violence. Alongside local partners like the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Policy (CAPE) and the Women’s Law Center CIPE and ABA ROLI will seek to create an inclusive economic environment enabling Moldovan women to lead more resilient, independent, and economically sustainable lives.
 Global Gender Gap Report 2020 - Reports - World Economic Forum (weforum.org)
 07_machet-FEMEILE_victime_2016_eng.indd (unwomen.org)
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 MD.pdf (genderindex.org)
 The impact of the pandemic on domestic abuse around the world (cnn.com)
By Susan Marx and Paula Rudnicka
On the occasion of Human Rights Day, which concludes 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (GBV), ABA ROLI-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium is pleased to announce its new initiative “Integrating the Response to GBV, HIV, and Economic Marginalization of Swati Women.”
Across sub-Saharan Africa, widespread prevalence of GBV is compounded by legal and operating environments that are not fully equipped to prevent violence and support survivors. Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) faces some of these challenges as well. Studies demonstrate that approximately 1 in 3 Swati women will experience some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18. This and other forms of GBV are deeply interconnected with a devastating epidemic of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which affects Swati women at a much higher rate (38%) than men (23%). At the same time, Swati women have a significantly lower labor participation rate and earn considerably less money than men for work of equal value, which leads to their economic marginalization. Further, Swati women experience significant barriers in access to justice under the dual legal system. The government of Eswatini has taken important steps to prevent and respond to GBV, for example by adopting the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act of 2018. However, while the SODV Act provides for protection orders and key victim support services, much remains to be done to implement it in practice. All these dynamics occur in a society that favors traditional gender roles and male dominance in decision-making and the economy.
These interconnected challenges faced by Swati women and girls must be addressed in a meaningful and integrated manner. To this end, WAGE’s two core partners, ABA ROLI and Grameen Foundation, will work in close partnership with local lawyers and several outstanding civil society organizations (CSOs) to improve legal protections and access to justice for women affected by or at risk of GBV and HIV; to support prevention initiatives, including those aimed at mitigating the risks of GBV associated with economic strengthening programming; and to provide holistic services and referrals to GBV survivors, including increased access to gender-sensitive livelihood support.
WAGE’s program in Eswatini has several interlinked components. First, WAGE will work with stakeholders across the Eswatini government, civil society, and the legal profession to advocate for better laws protecting women through legal analysis, roundtable dialogues, and the development and implementation of a legal advocacy strategy. Second, WAGE will strengthen the capacity of local CSOs to prevent GBV through civic education and gender awareness raising campaigns by supporting an existing paralegal program as well as Girls Clubs and Boys Clubs. These clubs work in over 45 schools to break down restrictive gender norms, prevent violence, and build self-esteem among adolescent girls and boys. Third, WAGE will work with a local partner to engage men and boys between the ages of 15-29 to reduce discriminatory beliefs that men hold toward women and their role in society. Fourth, WAGE will seek to mitigate GBV risks associated with women’s engagement in economic activities by facilitating linkages between GBV-focused CSOs and CSOs focused on economic strengthening, training them on gender and power dynamics, and building their capacity to conduct GBV risk analyses and implement GBV-informed economic empowerment programming. Finally, WAGE plans to support the establishment of one-stop-shop support centers for GBV survivors and to create a directory of CSOs offering legal, medical, psychosocial, and livelihood support to victims.
If lawyers, CSOs, and government in Eswatini have enhanced collective capacity to advocate for better laws protecting women affected by GBV, HIV, and economic marginalization, and if state and non-state service providers have increased capacity to promote prevention of GBV while also providing more holistic and gender-sensitive services to women at risk of discrimination and violence, then we hope and expect that Swati women will have greater power to lead more resilient, independent, economically sustainable, and violence-free lives. Our program builds on the momentum currently in Eswatini to advance women’s rights and voices to collectively advocate for changes needed across the board.
WAGE is a global consortium to advance the status of women and girls, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Grameen Foundation, and Search for Common Ground (Search). WAGE works to strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations in target countries to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence; advance the women, peace, and security agenda; and support women’s economic empowerment. WAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) and works in close collaboration with local U.S. Embassies, including the U.S. Embassy in Eswatini.
Rudnicka is a Legal Advisor at the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and Technical Advisor to ABA ROLI-led Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium.
Marx is the Program Coordinator of the WAGE "Integrating the Response to GBV, HIV, and Economic Marginalization of Swati Women" Initiative
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABA ROLI.