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Gender-sensitive industrial development

By the Gender Mainstreaming Steering Committee of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)


UNIDO’s mandate focuses on promoting industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization, and environmental sustainability. This cannot be achieved without taking into account the full economic potential of women. We believe that expanding economic opportunities for women should be central to all development responses and policies, with a focus on gender-sensitive employment creation, the provision of productive resources, such as finance, market-information, technology, skills and sustainable energy, and simultaneous investment in care services that reduces the burden on women’s unpaid domestic and care work. UNIDO therefore pursues the goal of the economic empowerment of women through gender-sensitive industrial development policy advice, technical cooperation programmes, and organizational strategies, in conjunction with full gender mainstreaming at the institutional level.

Shea butter-producing women’s group receiving training, Mali | Photo: UNIDO

In our policy advice and technical cooperation programmes, we primarily focus on transferring skills and technologies to assist women in entering the labour market, both in formal and self-employment. UNIDO has accumulated over 30 years of expertise in women’s entrepreneurship development, using various tools and mechanisms such as capacity-building at policy, institutional and enterprise levels; creating an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs by strengthening business support services; and helping women entrepreneurs gain access to productive and financial resources. We also organize women entrepreneurs into clusters to facilitate their collective access to raw materials, information, technology, and markets.

For example, one of UNIDO’s ongoing projects in the southern part of Mali, one of the poorest regions in Africa, is building the capacity of women’s groups to produce shea products. Shea butter is a product that is very popular in cosmetic products due to its considerable health and beauty benefits. How are we helping these women’s groups to capitalize on this demand? By introducing them to appropriate technologies that increase their productivity; raising awareness and providing training on quality control systems, product certification and marketing; and linking them to international markets where they can sell their products.

In the northern region of Morocco, UNIDO has developed an entrepreneurship programme to improve the income opportunities of the rural population, while enhancing the competitiveness of small-scale olive oil producing, textiles, and fruit and vegetable-drying groups managed by women. The women participating in the programme have experienced a 40% increase in productivity and a 50% increase in earnings. In addition, a strong network of local support institutions in production technology, business management, and marketing has been established. As a result, the women entrepreneurs are better organized, make better use of local raw materials, and sell their products locally and internationally. Furthermore, and while respecting cultural values, the project has also helped to economically empower rural women: they now create wealth and employ others, and their standing within their families and communities has improved.

Education, both formal and non-formal, is necessary if we want women and girls to have access to decent work and be able to improve their standards of living. UNIDO assists developing countries in addressing the discriminatory attitudes and gender stereotypes in the education system, by promoting education and skills acquisition for industrial development through the Entrepreneurship Curriculum Programme. The programme delivers practical hands-on entrepreneurship courses to young boys and girls in secondary and vocational schools. Within these courses, girls are encouraged to take non-traditional entrepreneurial initiatives that challenge the stereotypes of society and develop a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship, business, and self-employment. The project was launched in 2001 in Uganda, and has expanded to several other countries. In the period 2006-2009, the courses were delivered in a total of 1,397 schools, reaching out to more than 416,000 students.

Women, particularly in rural areas, spend a significant proportion of their day engaged in fuel collecting activities, often having to travel long distances. In such endeavours they become exposed to potential risks of violence, rape and abuse. The availability of modern, off-grid energy sources would greatly ease this domestic burden and allow them to pursue education, economic and other opportunities. It would also reduce their exposure to harmful fumes, and provide them with the necessary energy to develop rural and cottage industries.  In addition to technical cooperation programmes delivering decentralized energy solutions in rural areas, UNIDO, together with our partners in UN-Energy and the Secretary General’s High-level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, is therefore working actively at the global level to raise awareness of the crucial role of energy access for sustainable development and women’s economic empowerment.

UNIDO is at the forefront of efforts to promote sustainable industrial development through its Green Industry Initiative. The aim is to achieve resource-efficient and low-carbon industrial production, by ensuring that industries around the world adopt cleaner production methods, techniques and policies. This also applies to micro-industries in rural areas, where women are heavily involved. UNIDO promotes the transfer of cleaner production methods and solutions that can substitute for traditional approaches, thereby reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, and improving the livelihoods of women and their communities.

These are only a few practical examples of how investing in gender-sensitive industrial development has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth, as well as strengthening women’s rights. Empowering women yields the highest returns of all development investment, and UNIDO will continue to invest in women and girls and ensure they are mainstreamed and benefit from industrial development activities.

2 responses to “Gender-sensitive industrial development”

  1. Dr John W Powell OBE

    I strongly support UNIDO’s programme of promoting women’s rural industries. This effort continues a programme that we pursued for 26 years in Ghana, West Africa, at the Technology consultancy Centre (TCC) of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi. The work involved upgrading the technology of existing women’s groups processing cassava and corn, extracting vegetable oils and spinning and weaving cotton. Just as in Mali, shea butter making featured in our programme and by upgrading the technology women’s groups in the Northern Region were helped to export directly to the Body Shop, a internationally known beauty products manufacturer. Perhaps the most widely adopted innovation was beekeeping using the Kenya top-bar hive, which was taken up by women throughout the country, to produce honey to nourish their children as well as to sell to support the family.
    To learn more about books describing the grassroots industrial revolution in the turbulent Ghana of the second half of the twentieth century, please refer to my website.

  2. Dr Kwesi Opoku-Debrah

    Yes, John is right. I worked with him for 7 years in Ghana.