Technology Empowers Women in Emerging Markets

For women with access to it, education helps reduce gender inequality in emerging markets. Yet those without access are increasingly using the Internet and social media to empower themselves—while also contributing to a long-term growth trend.

In emerging markets, education is seen as critical to closing the gender gap in economic opportunities available to women and men, and to enabling women to gain a measure of financial and personal autonomy. As recent research by the International Monetary Fund shows, the ratio of female to male tertiary enrollments outside the US has grown, fueling this trend.

But most of the women we’ve interviewed during our grassroots research trips to emerging-market countries are unable to access further education, either because they are too old to attend school or college or because they have family and financial obligations that prevent them from doing so.

Technology offers them another avenue. Many of these women are becoming empowered, financially and socially, by the opportunities they are creating for themselves through the internet and social media.

In Peru, for example, we met Judith, who sells Victoria’s Secret and Disney products through her Facebook page. In Guanghan, China, we met Yan, a young woman who has subscribed to online accounting classes to earn an accounting certificate that will help her find a better job and build a more secure future. And in Lucknow, India, we met Soumya, a 15-year old girl who has used the Internet to learn about the world and opportunities for women. She now aspires to study overseas, get an MBA and become CEO of a company—even though her father did not permit her mother to work.

During a recent trip to the Philippines, we found this trend can empower women to earn more money and become more independent in different ways.

Finding Their Voices…

Peejay, for example, is 32 and has three children—two boys, 12 and eight, and a three-year-old girl. She didn’t go to work after she married, because her husband didn’t want her to; but then, a few years ago, he took a job in Saudi Arabia.

Now Peejay has her own business in Quezon City, sourcing gadgets, clothes and shoes and selling them online for a profit; she even makes more money than her husband. She prefers being self-employed to working in an office, as she is in charge of her own schedule and can combine running the business with looking after her children. She is saving to provide a good education for them.

The internet can also reduce the isolation of being confined at home, and increase women’s knowledge and awareness of opportunities in the wider world.

This is how Jona, 41, from Makati, described how the internet has changed her life: “Nowadays women can no longer be boxed in. You can’t allow yourself to stay home. You have to get involved with social life and community. Technology is empowering women to find their own voice, to know what is going on in the world.”

Jona has three children, aged two to eight, one of whom has a disability. She copes alone, her husband having been incapacitated by a stroke. Jona started her online business—selling pets and furniture made by a relative—to make ends meet. She posts something to sell every month and meets potential buyers in public. It’s a way of working that gives her a sense of control over her life and a sense of engagement with life outside the home.

…and Contributing to Growth

Women’s empowerment is not just a social justice issue: it can have a broad impact on economies and on consumption. The McKinsey Global Institute issued a report in September 2015 stating that, if women participated in the global economy as much as men did, they would add $28 trillion to annual global GDP in 2025—equivalent to the combined size of the US and Chinese economies as they are today.

Although women in emerging markets face many challenges in achieving gender equality, technology and connectivity—together with microfinance, which they can use to grow their businesses—are helping them find new ways to generate income, live fuller lives and increase their self-confidence. Investors in emerging markets should take note of how these trends could influence spending patterns, as women often have different priorities than men when it comes to family needs such as food, education and general discretionary spending.

While this may not translate into an additional $28 trillion of global GDP any time soon, we believe it’s an important development from an investment perspective, as it supports what we consider to be one of the most attractive secular growth trends in the world: the increasing disposable income among lower-income emerging-market consumers.

For more ways to pursue good returns and good values in your portfolio, explore Inspired Investing, a new podcast series where senior leaders at Bernstein share their thoughts on investing with purpose, first-hand and check out related blogs here.

Liliana Castillo Dearth
Portfolio Manager—Emerging Consumer and International Discovery Equity
Denise Boynton
Senior Research Analyst—Equities

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

Related Insights