Unleashing the Economic Leadership Power of Young Women: Strengthening the Evidence Base

Woman serving food from multiple bowls
2020 – 2021




Curriculum Development
Strategic Consulting
Mission Support


Efforts by the international development community to improve women’s and girls’ access to quality education and training have yielded improvements over the years. Yet, despite significant strides in advancing women’s economic empowerment globally, main challenges to women’s and girls’ access to education, skills development, jobs, and economic opportunities remain.


The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative is a first of its kind, whole-of-government effort that will transform the lives of women around the world. W-GDP seeks to reach 50 million women in the developing world by 2025 through U.S. government activities and private-public partnerships. To support W-GDP’s first pillar, advancing workforce development and vocational education to ensure women have the skills and training necessary to secure jobs, USAID will continue to improve women’s and girls’ access to quality education and training — with a specific focus on market-driven skills closely linked with employer needs.

The objective of this activity, funded by USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenDev) under the YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation contract, is to build the evidence base for improving young women’s (aged 18–30) economic empowerment and employment. The activity complements and builds upon other USAID research and activities, including the What Works in Entrepreneurship Education and Training Programs for Youth Evidence Report, as well as research from the World Bank and other partners.

Making Cents International conducted a literature review and key informant interviews to investigate the most important barriers and remaining knowledge gaps related to young women’s economic empowerment, including those in education, training/vocational education, employment, and the promotion of young women’s leadership opportunities. Key questions for the study included:

  • In what areas has there been progress over time in advancing women’s employment and economic empowerment in USAID programming and other select donor programming?
  • What are the promising practices in economic empowerment/employment programming, especially regarding cross-sectoral linkages, for young women aged 18–30?
  • What are the most significant remaining barriers for women’s economic empowerment not currently addressed in USAID and other donor programming?
  • What does the evidence suggest for how to address these barriers, and where is more evidence needed?

In the resulting report, Making Cents identified topic areas which merit more attention and recommended a range of pilot programs, implementation research, and development of tools to address knowledge gaps in these areas.

One immediate gap identified by the report is the need for better guidance and tools to ensure gender analyses capture the constraints and opportunities for young women in particular. USAID implementing partners routinely carry out gender analyses at the beginning of an activity or project but do not always fully explore how opportunities and constraints for young women and men differ from the older cohort. Accordingly, Making Cents will review existing USAID and implementing partner gender analysis guidance and templates to see how information is being captured about young women aged 18–30. Based on this review, we will create a toolkit with guidance for carrying out gender analyses that include a youth lens. This toolkit will help economic growth programs to design more targeted and responsive activities to increase young women’s economic empowerment.