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Women’s economic empowerment has gained increasing attention within the global development agenda in recent years, bolstered by the adoption of a range of relevant targets within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Yet the specific experiences of older women often remain underexplored and unrecognised, leaving them invisible to policy-makers. This research aims to redress this critical gap.

The paper explores current opportunities and challenges to the economic empowerment of older women in the global South, based on a firm understanding of the interrelationship between empowerment, women’s rights and gender equality across the life course. It brings together an extensive literature review, analysis of quantitative data and primary qualitative research in Ethiopia to shed light on older women’s experiences in the labour market and of unpaid care and domestic work, and identifies priorities for future policy, programming and research.

Our authors conclude that there is an urgent need to refocus policy and programmes to be fully responsive to the rights, priorities and needs of older women. In particular, a holistic approach to supporting women’s economic empowerment means recognising intersecting inequalities and developing focused responses aimed at achieving transformative change in women’s lives across their entire life course. This includes those most at risk of being left behind, notably widows, migrant/trafficked women, those fleeing from or left behind in humanitarian or environmental crisis, and those living in conflict.

(*Please note: This version was amended on 13 November 2018 to correct a typographical error (p. 25) and to amend ‘paid work’ to ‘in the paid economy’ throughout the paper, and to ‘in the labour force’ (p. 21).)

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