Bain News Service/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

Bain News Service/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration of women’s achievements and an opportunity to highlight the status of women around the world. International Women’s Day is not just about women, but it’s about the role men can and have played in championing gender equality. The role of men can be an important lever for change, particularly in patriarchal societies.

While the status for women has improved overall, women in all corners of the world still suffer from gross injustices. In many developing countries that have laws to “protect” women, there is little enforcement. The lack of rule of law and good governance is often most acute in the developing world. Even if a law criminalizes largely gender-specific issues such as discrimination or rape, weak institutions and undemocratic governance leave women unable to control their own lives.

A key agent for change and women’s empowerment in much of the developing world is linked to a country’s relative level of economic freedom. Countries that implement free market policies essentially enable women to make their own decisions and guarantee their financial independence. Along with the Wall Street Journal, The Heritage Foundation has been measuring economic freedom for the past 20 years and has found a striking correlation between economic freedom and gender equality. Heritage’s Director of the Center for International Trade and Economics (CITE) Ambassador Terry Miller said at the United Nations Commission on the Status of the Women that the “strong relationships between economic freedom, economic growth, and gender equality show clearly that we need to embrace an ideology of economic liberation for women, one that frees them from economic domination and economic repression.”

Heritage has also highlighted “Women’s empowerment—defined as a composite measure of gender inequality in economic participation, and decision-making, political participation and decision-making, and power over economic resources—is twice as large in free economies as in unfree economies.”

Here are some specific reforms that would change women’s lives for the better:

-Make starting businesses easier and promote entrepreneurship by eliminating burdensome regulations

-Open economies to trade and investment and allow women to have more opportunities to work.

-Create banking systems that are open and transparent—banks should be able to provide financial services to women at all income levels.

-Strong independent judicial systems able to fairly implement justice for all citizens

This International Women’s Day affords the United States and the international community an opportunity to reinvigorate our focus on the needs of the individual woman and look for policies and reforms that will liberate her, empower her, and increase her economic opportunities and economic choices.