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The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women (HERO)

A Foreign Policy series about women creating change through economic empowerment, hosted by Reena Ninan. This season, you’ll hear from people reforming marital laws in South Africa and property rights in Kenya—and how victories in both places could unlock women’s financial potential. Also, what microfinance strategies work best, and why better lending practices could be huge for small and medium-sized enterprises—accounting for a shocking 90% of businesses globally. HER♀ is a Foreign Policy production made possible through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Celebrate remarkable women wherever you go. Ten lucky listeners will receive a digital download poster of our beautifully illustrated logo. Enter into this giveaway by writing a review on Apple Podcasts and clicking here.

Reena-Ninan-podcast-HERO-women-economic-recovery
Reena-Ninan-podcast-HERO-women-economic-recovery

Reena Ninan is the founder of Good Trouble Productions. She is a television journalist who has worked as a White House correspondent, foreign reporter, and news anchor for CBS, ABC, and Fox News.

Lead Producer: Laura Rosbrow-Telem | Managing Editor: Rob Sachs

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Episode 1

What Melinda French Gates and Esther Duflo Think Women Need Right Now

HERO-podcast-S2-Ep1-Melinda-Gates-3-2-site
HERO-podcast-S2-Ep1-Melinda-Gates-3-2-site

Philanthropist Melinda French Gates and Nobel Prize economist Esther Duflo talk with host Reena Ninan about the best ways to empower women economically post-COVID-19 on the premiere episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women’s (HERO) second season. French Gates is the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports this podcast. French Gates is also the founder of Pivotal Ventures and author of The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World about her work on gender equality. Duflo is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and won the Nobel Prize for economic sciences in 2019 for her experimental approach to alleviating global poverty. Duflo is the author of Good Economics for Hard Times and Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty.

This season on HERO, we will delve deeper into all the obstacles blocking women from their full financial potential and interview women breaking these barriers down. Listeners will hear from people reforming marital laws in South Africa and property rights in Kenya—and what victories in both places would mean for unlocking women’s financial potential. We will also look at which micro-finance strategies work best and why better lending practices could be huge for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is a Foreign Policy podcast made possible through funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 2

How a South African Woman’s Fight for Marital Rights Changed Her Country

Agnes Sithole and Sharita Samuel standing at the Legal Resources Centre's office in Durban, South Africa. Photo credit: Elna Schutz
Agnes Sithole and Sharita Samuel standing at the Legal Resources Centre's office in Durban, South Africa. Photo credit: Elna Schutz

On this week’s episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we look at how reforming marital rights could be the biggest first step toward gender equality. We found the idea for this show from the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law (WBL) project, which ranks 190 economies every year for how well their policies are for gender equality. According to the WBL, South Africa has made the third-most progress regarding gender equality of any country in the world over the last 50 years, largely due to the women’s movement being interconnected with the fight to end apartheid. During the late 1980s and early ’90s, many reforms passed in South Africa propelled women’s rights, particularly in expanding married women’s ability to sign legally binding contracts, register businesses, and open bank accounts without their husband’s consent.

But decades after apartheid ended, one law remained on the books that continued to plague Black women, particularly ones seeking a divorce. We talk to Agnes Sithole, whose divorce case shook her country’s legal system. We also speak to Sharita Samuel, the lawyer who brought Sithole’s case before the Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest court.

Special thanks this week to Nisha Arekapudi and Natalia Mazoni Silva Martins from the WBL, who wrote the case study about South Africa’s gender equality gains and spotlighted Sithole’s legal fight. And big thanks to producer Elna Schutz, who flew out from Johannesburg to Durban just to record the interview with Sithole and Samuel.

Episode 3

The Battle for Women’s Property Rights in Kenya

Rachel Korir's fight against her brothers over their father's property went up to a high court in Kenya, challenging recent constitutional reforms.
Rachel Korir's fight against her brothers over their father's property went up to a high court in Kenya, challenging recent constitutional reforms.

Access to property is arguably one of the most important paths for women’s income security. But for many, there are not only economic barriers to owning property but also legal obstacles. For example, there are approximately 75 countries where women still do not have the same rights as men to inherit property.

On today’s episode of The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we follow the story of Rachel Korir. Her legal battle to get her fair share of her father’s property in Kenya revealed gaps in the country’s recent constitutional reforms, which aimed to make property rights equal among men and women. We also speak to Cardiff University professor Ambreena Manji, who specializes in East African land, law, and development. Two years ago, Manji also wrote a book titled The Struggle for Land and Justice in Kenya.

Special thanks this week to Dominic Kirui, who first reported about Korir and helped us produce our interview; Olivia Bitanihirwe, who provided Korir’s voice-over; and Mary Ellen Iskenderian, the president and CEO of Women’s World Banking. An early conversation with Iskenderian got us thinking more about property rights.

Episode 4

What Works in Microfinance

In its simplest definition, microfinance refers to small loans usually worth less than $1,000 for people with low incomes. Microfinance is a widely discussed idea in development circles, particularly surrounding women’s empowerment. But how effective is it?

On this episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we look at why microfinance has had mixed results and learn about the best ways to distribute these kinds of loans. First, we talk to a Turkish Grameen Foundation/Kiva microcredit recipient named Kudret about the impact microfinance has had on her personally. Then, Roshaneh Zafar speaks with host Reena Ninan about her experiences launching the Kashf Foundation, the first microfinance institution in Pakistan and the largest loan provider to women in the country.

Special thanks this week to Stephen Rasmussen from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, who recommended FP talk to Zafar. Also, thanks to Aslıhan Köksal and Brit Heiring from Kiva, Andrée Simon from FINCA, and a number of others who spoke to us for this episode. The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is a Foreign Policy podcast made possible through funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 5

Why Small Business Owners Have Such a Hard Time Getting Loans

According to the World Bank, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) comprise about 90 percent of the global economy. But these kinds of businesses—too big for microfinance and too small for commercial bank loans with favorable rates—face many hurdles to borrowing money. On today’s episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we delve deeper into the “missing middle” credit gap and what can be done to improve SMEs’ access to financing. Also, we look at specific barriers to women business owners, such as how low property ownership rates hinder their ability to qualify for small business loans.

Host Reena Ninan talks to Ada Osakwe, founder of Nuli Juice, about the various obstacles she overcame to expand her business, including her first store almost getting destroyed in Lagos, Nigeria. Then, World Bank financial inclusion expert Mahesh Uttamchandani shares the financial solutions he is most excited about for SMEs.

Special thanks this week to the International Finance Corporation’s Jessica Schnabel, who recommended we talk to Osakwe, and Mary Ellen Iskenderian from Women’s World Banking. The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is a Foreign Policy podcast made possible through funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 6

How Better Data Helped End Child Marriage in Indonesia

Indonesia has the eighth highest number of child marriages in the world. Beyond being a human rights issue, child marriage significantly increases the chance of domestic violence, dropping out of school, and poverty. Misiyah Misiyah, founder and director of feminist organization Institut KAPAL Perempuan, wanted to convince Indonesian President Joko Widodo to increase the legal marriage age from 16 to 19, which could dramatically decrease the rate of child marriage. To do that, she and her colleagues came equipped with reams of data.

On the season finale of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we hear how Misiyah collected grassroots data and used it to build a powerful case to ban child marriage in Indonesia. Later in the episode, host Reena Ninan speaks with Mabel van Oranje, founder of Girls Not Brides and VOW for Girls, about the most effective ways to decrease child marriage globally.

Special thanks this week to Alison Holder from Equal Measures 2030, who recommended we talk to Misiyah. You should check out their latest report on countries’ progress toward gender equality and sustainable development goals; it’s pretty sobering. Also, thank you to In-Depth Creative, a lovely podcast company based in Jakarta, Indonesia. They helped produce our interview with Misiyah. The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is a Foreign Policy podcast made possible through funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 1

Creating Affordable, High-Quality Child Care—Lessons from Kenya

HERO-podcast-Foreign-Policy-Sabrina-Habib-site
HERO-podcast-Foreign-Policy-Sabrina-Habib-site

As FP Analytics highlights in its new report, “Elevating Gender Equality in COVID-19 Economic Recovery,” there’s a dire global child care shortage, which the pandemic only worsened. But increasing COVID-19 recovery plan investments in care work—especially the child care sector—would deliver greater and more sustainable stimulus than other measures, such as construction-oriented funding. Still, even if more governments better support the care sector, how does one launch high-quality, affordable child care centers in the near future?

On the premiere episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women (or HER♀ for short), host Reena Ninan speaks with Kidogo co-founder Sabrina Habib about how she created a new approach to franchising affordable child care centers that has changed the lives of low-income mothers and female day care owners in Kenya. Habib describes how almost stepping on a baby in a day care center was a “moment of obligation” for her to make a difference. Then, Ninan hears about the state of early childhood development in Kenya from African Population and Health Research Center associate research scientist Patricia Wekulo.

The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is a Foreign Policy podcast supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 2

Saving More by Changing Gender Roles in Uganda

A photo of Namara Eve with her husband and children.
A photo of Namara Eve with her husband and children.

On today’s episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we’re headed to Uganda, where a group of women are saving money—and participating in a pilot program called “Household Dialogues” from the nonprofit CARE, where they’re attending a form of couples counseling. Host Reena Ninan speaks with Namara Eve, who participated in the Household Dialogues, and Julia Arnold, senior research director at Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion.

But before we get into the Household Dialogues project, let us first explain a bit about women’s savings groups. Informal savings groups operating outside of a bank, where around a dozen individuals from a local community band together to save their money collectively, are a common practice in Uganda. One estimate showed that around two-thirds of all adults in Uganda save money that way, including a large number of women’s only groups. And during the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, FP Analytics notes that households with a member in an informal savings group have been more likely to have savings and less likely to experience food insecurity.

Women’s informal savings groups, however, can only do so much. To access larger sums of capital, the women need to join a bank, and oftentimes own a smartphone. And for many of these women, their husbands have the only smartphone in the household—which can be a barrier to the women’s economic advancement. So, in the Household Dialogues project, CARE financial counselors met seven times with women and their spouses to help the husbands be more actively supportive.

To hear more about the Household Dialogues project, listen to our latest episode on this page or subscribe on your favorite podcast app. The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is a Foreign Policy podcast supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 3

Why Are There so Many Women Informal Workers in India?

Deepa, an Indian domestic worker
Deepa, an Indian domestic worker

According to the International Labor Organization, 81.8 percent of women’s employment in India is concentrated in the informal economy—that is, work that is not taxed or is under the table. On today’s episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we examine why India has one of the highest rates of women in the informal sector and what can be done to get them more rights, income, and support. Host Reena Ninan first speaks with Deepa, a domestic worker and union member of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which has more than 1.5 million women informal worker members. Then Ninan speaks with SEWA’s Punjab state coordinator Harsharan Kaur, who describes how SEWA advances the rights and economic empowerment of women informal workers. After that, Ninan talks to Institute of Social Studies Trust research fellow Monika Banerjee, who specializes in women informal workers in India, and, finally, the chief economist for South Asia at the World Bank, Hans Timmer.

To hear more about women informal workers in India, listen to our latest episode on this page or subscribe on your favorite podcast app—and thank you to Apple Podcasts, which just listed HERO as a New & Noteworthy Podcast! The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is a Foreign Policy podcast supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 4

How Better Gender Data Is Uncovering Hidden Truths in Ethiopia

Letty Chiwara
Letty Chiwara

When we use the phrase “remarkable women” for this podcast, Letty Chiwara definitely fits the bill. She is the current U.N. Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission, and the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa. Although these are broad titles, one major part of her work is helping others get better data on the lives of Ethiopian women, including their full financial contributions to society.

On today’s episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we explore how getting better data on gender disparities is uncovering hidden truths in Ethiopia and elsewhere. Host Reena Ninan first speaks with Chiwara, who spearheaded a major gender data effort in Ethiopia. Then, Ninan talks to Emily Courey Pryor, executive director of the nonprofit Data2X. Her organization partners with entities like U.N. Women, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and individual countries to improve their collection and analysis of gender data.

To hear more about the movement to improve gender data, listen to our latest episode on this page or subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Also, for the real nerds out there, you can sign up to get a policy brief on gender equality. This is content thats normally behind a paywall at Foreign Policy, but were offering special access to our podcast listeners. Its a great resource for understanding the big picture on whats happening globally to try and tackle gender inequality.

The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is an FP podcast supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Episode 5

Boosting Dairy Could Empower Women, Decrease Violence in Nigeria

Rakiya Dalhatu is a participant in the Advancing Local Dairy Development in Nigeria program, which supports smallholder women dairy farmers.
Rakiya Dalhatu is a participant in the Advancing Local Dairy Development in Nigeria program, which supports smallholder women dairy farmers.

Violence between cow herders and farmers has killed more people in recent years in northeastern Nigeria than the Boko Haram insurgency, according to the International Crisis Group. One solution to this conflict is creating a better environment for dairy producers so cattle herders do not need to travel as far to get feed for their cows. This would impact not only the country’s security but also the livelihoods of many rural Nigerian women.

On this episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women, we look at the Advancing Local Dairy Development in Nigeria (ALDDN) program. It is focused on smallholder female dairy producers, who make the majority of milk products in the country. ALDDN is primarily supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also supports this podcast.

First, we hear from Rakiya Dalhatu, a dairy producer who participated in ALDDN. Then, we talk to Ndidi Nwuneli, the co-founder of Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Ltd., which leads the ALDDN program. And finally, we speak with Cornell University’s Ed Mabaya, who focuses on global development, agriculture, and food security issues in sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria.

To learn more about how the ALDDN program is trying to empower women, mitigate the effects of climate change, and decrease conflict in Nigeria, listen to our latest episode on this page, or subscribe on your favorite podcast app. The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is an FP podcast supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Finally, we are still offering a new policy brief on gender equality to our listeners! This is content that’s normally behind a paywall at Foreign Policy, but we’re offering special access right now. It’s a great resource for understanding the big picture on what’s happening globally to try to tackle gender inequality.

Episode 6

The Women Setting the Gender Equality Agenda

6-Melanne-Verveer-Clinton-HERO-podcast-Foreign-Policy-site
6-Melanne-Verveer-Clinton-HERO-podcast-Foreign-Policy-site

When we considered what to do for this last episode of the Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women’s first season, it was hard to think of the right people to interview. Who could really comment on what women are facing in the entire world? Thankfully, we were able to connect with two of the most influential women in the world fighting for global gender equality. They reflect on some of the themes we covered on the podcast and what they’re doing to move these issues forward.

Host Reena Ninan first talks to Melanne Verveer, currently the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Verveer to serve as the first-ever ambassador for global women’s issues in 2009. Before that, Verveer was chief of staff to Hillary Clinton when Clinton was the first lady.

Then, Ninan hears from UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia. UN Women is a part of the United Nations that is dedicated to gender equality and female empowerment. It works with governments, the private sector, and civil society around the world to create better programs and laws for women and girls. Bhatia largely focuses on improving women’s financial reality, so she shares some of her ideas for the best ways to advance women economically.

If you would like to keep in touch with us in the meantime—including sharing ideas of remarkable women we should talk to—feel free to email podcasts@foreignpolicy.com. We hope to be back in your feeds some time soon. The Hidden Economics of Remarkable Women is an FP podcast supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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