[Event Recap] Fulbright Seminar on Women’s Economic Empowerment at American University, May 15 – 19, 2019

Attendees of the Fulbright Seminar on Women’s Economic Empowerment, May 18, 2019

On May 15 – 19, AU’s Program on Gender Analysis in Economics (PGAE), in collaboration with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and the Women & Politics Institute at AU’s School of Public Affairs, hosted the Fulbright Seminar on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE). For four-and-a half days, more than 60 international Fulbright Graduate Students heard from leading researchers, practitioners and advocates about key challenges and solutions in advancing women’s economic empowerment in the United States. Over 30 countries were represented by the  Fulbrighters attending, include Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Cameroon, Lesotho, Guinea, Mali, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, among others.


PPT slide from Dr. Hartmann’s Keynote Address

The Seminar kicked off with keynote address delivered by Dr. Heidi Hartmann, Founder and President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and Distinguished Economist-in-Residence at AU. Dr. Hartmann laid out the multifaceted concepts of Women’s Economic Empowerment, including what it means, its significance, and what it requires. The keynote address also provided insight into the future of work for women, drawing on IWPR’s research on the potential impact of automation, artificial intelligence and other technological changes on women and men’s employment. See Dr. Hartmann’s presentation on WEE and the Future of Work.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann delivers Seminar Keynote Address, May 16, 2019


The panels that followed focused on some of the key challenges in achieving WEE in the United States – including unpaid work and care work, lack of adequate apprenticeship opportunities, gender and racial segregation between and within occupations, and obstacles in women’s innovation and entrepreneurship.


Panelists shared insights about some of the puzzling trends in women’s economic participation, such as the persistent gaps in pay equity, employment and patenting despite the rise in women’s educational attainment. On the panel for Women’s Work, Sarah Gammage, Director of Gender, Economic Empowerment and Livelihood at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) argued that not only are care responsibilities a major contributing factor to gender gaps in employment, unpaid care work also prevents employers from effectively recruiting, retaining and promoting women employees. Potential solutions to WEE challenges were also presented – such as private sector opportunities to address care burdens, successful paid on-the-job training programs, and various strategies for promoting women’s participation and success in patenting, innovation and commercialization.



Roundtable discussions featured conversations among leading practitioners on current efforts to advance WEE. Public sector efforts, including those by the Women’s Bureau of U.S. Department of Labor and the Maryland Commission for Women were discussed to highlight the importance of adopting gender equality as a key objective in reforming public sector institutions and systems. Discussants from EMD, Serono, Inc., the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Washington DC Women’s Business Center (DC WBC) shared best practices in private sector investments in women and their resulting business benefits, such as risk reduction, supply chain stability, improved financial performance and innovation. Participants also learned about grassroots efforts that aim to empower women and advance women’s rights on multiple fronts, including the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the National Women’s Law Center’s Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which  provides legal and public relations assistance to survivors of workplace sexual misconduct.

AAUW’s Deborah Vagins and Sharyn Tejani of TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund during the Roundtable Discussion on Grassroots WEE Efforts, May 17, 2019

The Seminar featured several professional site visits to leading organizations in Washington, DC that are actively advancing WEE. At the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab, participants learned about innovative, evidence-based and scalable interventions that aim to close the gender gap in earnings, productivity, assets, and agency across Africa. Participants visiting the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) heard from IFPRI’s Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division on pro-WEAI –  a new tool for measuring women’s empowerment in agricultural development projects. Other organizations visited by Fulbrighters include the Washington Center for Equitable Growth (WCEG), EMD, Serono, Inc. and the Solidarity Center.

A group of students stands in front of the IFPRI logo
Fulbright Graduate Students visit the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on May 17, 2019


Two sets of workshops provided participants with the opportunity to take a deeper dive into promising practices and potential actions in advancing women’s economic empowerment. The Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI) workshop focused on the economic empowerment of student parents, specifically mothers – who are increasingly becoming the primary bread-earners for U.S. families. During the SPSI workshop, Lindsey Reichlin-Cruse, IWPR Study Director, described the barriers facing the 3.8 million U.S. college student parents (majority of them mothers) today, and the substantial economic returns associated with investing in student parents through support services such as childcare. Participants heard from IWPR’s Susana Contreras-Mendez and Tessa Holtzman about SPSI’s efforts to build momentum for student parents through rigorous research, tool-building, technical assistance, public education, and networking with key stakeholders.



Potential Actions Workshop challenged participants to propose original action ideas that advance WEE. Fulbrighters set forth a wide array of proposals, ranging from redistributing unpaid/care responsibilities through education reforms, to women-led coalitions that strengthen visibility and property rights, to helping survivors of sexual abuse using digital platforms, among others. The proposal voted best by participants – the “Jabeen” App, aims to combat adverse social norms through promoting positive women role models and amplifying women’s collective voice.

A student explains her display board to a professor
Professor Meurs with Fulbright Graduate Students during Potential Actions Poster Session, May 18, 2019

Professor Mieke Meurs concluded the Seminar with a reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all universal solution for women’s economic empowerment. To achieve women’s economic empowerment, researchers, experts, governments and organizations must focus on context with caution – in measuring, monitoring and working towards women’s economic empowerment.






Special thanks to the AU Gender Working Group, Faculty, Staff and Graduate Students who made the Fulbright Seminar possible:


AU Gender Working Group


Mieke Meurs, Professor and Chair, Department of Economics, American University

Jessica Leight, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, American University

Mahmud Yesuf, Assistant Department of Economics, American University

Natalia Radchenko, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, American University

Kelly Jones, Senior Research Economist, IWPR; Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, American University

Heidi Hartmann, Founder and President, Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR); Distinguished Economist In-Residence, American University

Barbara Gault, Vice President and Executive Director, IWPR; Scholar In-Residence, American University

Jeff Hayes, Program Director, Job Quality and Income Security, IWPR; Scholar In-Residence, American University

Jessica Milli, Study Director, IWPR; Scholar in Residence, American University

Ariane Hegewisch, Program Director, Employment and Earnings, IWPR

Cynthia Hess, Associate Director of Research, IWPR; Scholar in Residence, American University

Shirin Arslan, Program Manager – PGAE, Department of Economics, American University


AU Faculty, Staff and Graduate Students


Betsy Fisher-Martin, Executive Director, Women in Politics Institute (WPI), School of Public Affairs, American University

Caroline Bruckner, Professor, Kogod School of Business, American University

Haely Jardas, Administrative Assistant, Department of Economics, American University

Glen Arnold, Administrator, Department of Economics, American University

Tanima Ahmed, PhD Student and Adjunct Instructor, American University

Abdulai Husain, PhD Student, Department of Economics, American University

Minako Akaogi, MA Student, Department of Economics, American University

Yunhan Fang, MA Student, Department of Economics, American University

Kamila Bakieva, MA Student, Department of Economics, American University


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