WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Boozman (R-AR), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation that aims to eliminate global gender-related barriers and empower female entrepreneurs around the world.
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. The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act aims to address these disparities and help achieve global gender parity in economic activity.
“I believe in the power of women to change the world, and empowering women entrepreneurs is an instrument that we should sharpen in our diplomatic and development tool box in order to better fight global poverty and injustice,” said Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Decades of research and experience prove that when women are able to be fully engaged in society and hold financial and decision-making power, they are more likely to invest their income in food, clean water, education, and health care for their children. 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.”
“This is a strong, bipartisan effort 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. 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,” Boozman said.
“Women play an integral role in any healthy economy and society, yet in many parts of the world they are denied access to basic financial services and credit,” Rubio said. “Helping to reduce impediments for women to fully participate in local economies is critical for economic growth, and I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill.”
“Empowering women around the globe is the key to unlocking the economic and social potential that so many nations strive to reach,” said Shaheen. “When women have the resources they need, they not only support themselves and their families, but also their communities. This spurs economic, political and social progress throughout the world. I’m honored to stand with Senators Boozman, Cardin and Rubio on this bipartisan effort, and will continue to work across the aisle to move this important legislation through Congress.”
Specifically, the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act seeks to:
- Establish a development cooperation policy of the United States to reduce gender disparities related to economic participation and opportunity, strive to eliminate gender-based violence, support women’s property rights and increase the capability of women and girls to determine life outcomes.
- Require the United States Agency for International Development (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 USAID’s programs;
- Expand 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; and
- Modernize USAID’s development assistance toolkit to include innovative credit scoring models, financial technology, financial literacy, insurance and actions to improve property and inheritance rights.
A companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives—introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Co-Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues—was approved by voice vote on Tuesday after receiving unanimous support from the committee.