Rowman and Littlefield International

The Business of Women's Empowerment

Corporate Gender Politics in the Global South

By Sofie Tornhill

2 Reviews

This book critically examines how ideals of female entrepreneurial conduct are transmitted, ideologically anchored and negotiated as well as the kind of societal transformations the initiative opens up in two national contexts.

Hardback ISBN: 9781786601582 Release date: Sep 2019
£92.00 €112.00 $120.00
Paperback ISBN: 9781786601599 Release date: Aug 2019
£31.00 €34.95 $39.95
Ebook ISBN: 9781786601605 Release date: Aug 2019
£24.95 €34.95 $37.95

With catchphrases like “smart economics” and “the business case for gender equality,” global corporations are increasingly involved in gender and development politics in the Global South. This book focuses on an emblematic example of this tendency to interrogate the proposed win-win relationship between corporate profit opportunities and the economic advancement of women in marginalized economic positions. The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 program has won broad recognition for its global reach and ambitious goal: to economically empower five million female micro-entrepreneurs across its supply chain before the end of 2020. Based on situated engagements with program implementers and participants in Mexico and South Africa, the study moves beyond the unequivocally positive effects conveyed by the program’s rhetoric. It examines the appropriation of social values to strengthen the brand; the use of self-help psychology to enhance entrepreneurial conduct and exempt weak economic results; and the recasting of women’s precarious labor in terms of entrepreneurship – which conceals structural causes of poverty and impediments of sustainable business development. Providing unique insights into the premises and effects of corporate solutions to gender inequality in the Global South, the book contributes to debates on the relations between neoliberal capitalist expansion and feminist emancipatory endeavors.

Introduction: Win-Win Capitalism

1. Approaches to Corporate-Led Empowerment in The Global South

2. Feminist Research in the Wake of Corporate Power

3. Branding Poverty: The Values of Women’s Empowerment

4. “Open Happiness”: Empowering Emotions

5. The Entrepreneurialization of Feminized Labor

Conclusion: The Contradictions of Corporate Gender Politics


Sofie Tornhill is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Studies at Linnaeus University, Sweden.

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2 Reviews

Tornhill (Linnaeus Univ., Sweden) discusses the case for women’s empowerment in business through a detailed look at Coca-Cola’s global 5by20 program, which aims to economically empower millions of women. Through the program, approximately five million women small-business owners across many countries receive business skills training, loan access, financial services, and mentoring to help produce agricultural ingredients, distribute the bottler’s beverages to retailers, or sell Coca-Cola products by 2020. Tornhill focuses specifically on 5by20’s efforts in Mexico and South Africa through interviews with participants and ethnographic, corporate social responsibility, and feminist research. However, the unique social, political, and economic obstacles women face in the two countries make it difficult to directly compare their experiences, so each discussion is quite different. Chapters detail the diverse outcomes of the program and how it primarily serves Coca-Cola’s business interests and branding, while relying on self-help psychology to help female entrepreneurs overcome the ravages of poverty. . . Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals.


The Business of Women’s Empowerment fills a huge gap in the literature by beginning to empirically investigate the impacts of corporate initiatives to empower women through entrepreneurship. Moving beyond glossy brochures and filtered messages, the book unravels the complexities of such projects from a bottom-up perspective that shows how corporate projects become a part of women’s survival strategies. A page-turner and highly recommended!

Elisabeth Prügl, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute in Geneva

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