How women’s economic empowerment benefits us all

An amazing project by the UN and Mary Kay transformed a poverty-stricken village in China. But what does it tell us about the importance of women entrepreneurs?

By Sharmadean Reid

8 April 2021

This article is one in a series covering the UN Commission on the Status of Women - a gathering of powerful female voices working together in the global fight for women’s equality.


omen’s economic empowerment is a huge part of our fight for equality. It lifts women up, giving them money and opportunities that could better their lives and those of the people in their community. But women taking senior roles have indisputable benefits well beyond that.

For example, it’s estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management score higher in all dimensions of organisational performance. In a world ravaged by a pandemic, women’s entrepreneurship is vital to building back the economy that’s suffered immensely. It can generate more jobs for other women, including those who’ve suffered the most during the pandemic. It’s the chance to build back not only better, but equal.

In 2017, Waipula Village in China was listed as the first SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) village in a project implemented by the UN and Mary Kay. The goal was to build a community based on a foundation of sustainable development, one that lifted up women and gave them a path to self-sufficiency. The partnership was designed specifically to facilitate women entrepreneurs in the village.

‘Women are the most important agents for change. And to empower that change in both the individual and the community, we need to implement models that are for the woman, of the woman, and by the woman.’

Women in Waipula Village are known for their incredible Yi embroidery skills. And so the project helped develop the Yi embroidery industry as well as the villagers’ business knowledge, accommodation, cultural tourism, and other important factors for turning this village around and taking it out of poverty. Through empowering these women to utilise their skills for business and growing their confidence, the village was completely transformed. In 2017, when the project started, the poverty rate was at 28%. In 2019, that percentage had fallen to 0.7% and as of 2020, that rate is at 0%.

One more specific example of how this project turned lives around is the case of a mother of three. Through the project, she found her confidence and now talks with visitors about her culture. Not only has she now become the deputy head of the village, but she's also a manager of a local guesthouse. Later she was even elected as a chairwoman of the tourism cooperative, which was founded during the project.

What does this tell us? Women are the most important agents for change. And to empower that change in both the individual and the community, we need to implement models that are for the woman, of the woman, and by the woman.

This project is proof it can work. That by lifting women up, we lift entire communities up. It’s about so much more than bringing women out of poverty. The initiative created a thriving tourism industry and led to significant improvements in the village’s water, electricity, and garbage disposal infrastructures. In a country such as the UK, where the poverty line is stark and obvious, think what we could do if we provided those same opportunities?

The Short Stack

Women face more challenges when starting businesses and are less likely to be entrepreneurs. But women have proven time and time again that they belong in business and that women in these roles are beneficial for their communities too. We didn’t need a st

By Sharmadean Reid

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