CPPR’s studies and efforts to roll back restrictions on female employment in Kerala’s service and hospitality industries were highlighted in Brad Lips’ article published in Real CLear Policy.

Kristalina Georgieva, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, recently described our global economy as being stuck in “the Tepid Twenties — a sluggish and disappointing decade.”

In prior periods, expanded trade could boost emerging economies, but many of those gains have been realized and are at risk of setback given increasing protectionist sentiment across the globe. One important reason for the relative strength of the American economy is the incredible contribution of American women, and this points to a lesson – and an opportunity – for other countries.

In the U.S. the female unemployment rate is down to 3.5%, and entrepreneurship among women is increasing as they dive into start-ups and small businesses. For more than a decade, women have outpaced men in acquiring undergraduate and graduate degrees.

As the knowledge economy evolves, American women are positioned to play an ever-greater leadership role. This is not true about women globally, and it was not true in America’s past.

The United States inherited a British common law tradition that forbid women from entering into contracts without their husband’s permission. They had limited ability to conduct business and hold property. Professor Jayme Lemke has studied how the legal status of American women was transformed for the better during the 19th century via a series of state-level legal reforms. 

Today, we see the huge benefits – not just in economic terms, but in terms of freedom and choice – that come from welcoming women as full participants in the global economy.

Women in other countries deserve the same rights as men, and countries stand to benefit when women bring their talents to the marketplace. Local think tanks and civil society organizations are proving to be cost-effective catalysts to change in this direction.

The Centre for Public Policy Research in Kerala, India, rolled back restrictions on female employment that had been imposed by the province’s governing Communist Party.  Women previously could not work in the evening; today, they can, and the CPPR is advocating now to lift other antiquated restrictions that prevent women from working in hospitality industries.

The Students’ Organization for Liberty and Entrepreneurship in South Sudan has run workshops training thousands of women about their legal rights to inherit and own property, despite persistent cultural norms that keep women in an inferior role. 

Many women in the central African nation of Burundi make their living through cross-border trade, but until recently they were required to interact with officials at 19 different checkpoints. Each checkpoint could bring fees, demands for brides, even sexual assault by border agents acting with impunity. The Center for Development and Enterprise Great Lakes campaigned to overhaul the administrative processes that created this hostile environment – making trade more efficient and saving lives from avoidable trauma. 

We need more hearts and minds appreciating the importance of this important frontier: protecting the rights of women and removing barriers that make it difficult to earn a living.

A remarkable new documentary, She Rises Up, helps make this case. It follows female entrepreneurs building businesses in Peru, Senegal, and Sri Lanka. One can’t help but be inspired by the resilience, wisdom, and compassion displayed by gritty women who are determined to overcome obstacles to achieve their dreams. The benefits are not just measured in money, but rather in dignity and social uplift. Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade comments in the film, “When a woman is making money, she doesn’t have to put up with situations that are not right. That’s the power of a job.”  

She Rises Up opens a window on what entrepreneurial capitalism actually looks like in the Global South.

It is time for broader audiences to recognize that this is the road out of extreme poverty. After so many billions of dollars in foreign aid that mostly fed corruption, it is time to recognize that countries must improve their environments for business. This is the only scalable strategy for achieving economic lift-off – and it’s a strategy that works best when it is designed to be inclusive of the talents of women.

Brad Lips is the CEO of Atlas Network, which supports a global community of more 500 independent think tanks that are committed to identifying and removing barriers to human flourishing.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

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