Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

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Too often, women are not able to reach their potential in critical careers such as engineers, doctors, innovators, scientists, and entrepreneurs. According to USAID, around the world, nearly 98 million girls are not in school (1). Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime (“Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment” 1). In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday, with some child brides as young as 8 or 9 (“Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment” 2). Each year more than 287,000 women, 99 percent of them in developing countries, die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications (“Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment” 2). Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development. Girls and women have made major strides since 1990, but they have not yet gained gender equity. The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality.

All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labour market, etc.—with negative consequences for development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice. So, what are the reasons why so many women are experiencing extreme poverty? There are many factors. When women are poor, their rights are not protected. They constantly face obstacles that may be extraordinarily difficult to overcome. Women tend to be paid less than men for the same amount of work (although they may be equally qualified and work the same amount of hours), women are segregated into low paying occupations, a woman’s pregnancy can affect her work availability and thus her educational opportunities are limited, women have many household obligations to tend to (need to care for their children, elderly parents), many women lack access to household income and less control over the distribution of resources, women suffer from gender based violence, have little to no political voice, some are forced into early (including child) marriages, and in some cultures, are labeled as 'second-class citizens.’

Moreover, these obstacles which are unique to women are compounded by extreme poverty and fuel the perpetual cycle. While some level of gender inequality persists in all regions of the world, these inequalities are particularly present in developing countries. In different regions of the world, women face specific economic obstacles which stunt their economic power. Some of these obstacles which are specific to women include gender- based job restrictions which remain common, local laws that inhibit women’s economic participation “on the books,” and in eighteen countries a woman’s husband or male guardian can legally prevent them from working (Vogelstein 1, 2). These obstacles have a multidimensional effect of women’s opportunities: lower levels of gender equality in national laws are associated with fewer girls attending secondary school, fewer women in the formal workforce or running businesses, and a wider gender wage gap (Vogelstein 2).

According to British Professor Sylvia Chant, an extensive review “identifies three main reasons which are likely to make women poorer than men.  First, women’s disadvantage in respect of poverty-inducing entitlements and capabilities; second, their heavier work burdens and lower earnings, and third, constraints on socio-economic mobility due to cultural, legal and labor market barriers (Chant 6). Research shows that women experience a different cycle of impoverishment than men, which, unfortunately is becoming a more persistent trend. It is a fact that both men and women suffer enormously when faced with poverty. However, this particular type of gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources available to them than do men. The disadvantages faced by women feeds a never-ending cycle of inter-generational poverty, population growth, and environmental degradation.

It is in everyone’s best interest to stop this problem in its tracks before its too late. One major problem that is faced in bridging the gap of the feminization of poverty is the enormous deficiency in how we measure poverty (i.e., leisure time is not computed as a household resource), which suggests that the poverty levels of female-headed households is often underreported (Buvinic 45). The UN has recently employed a new model of measuring poverty, which evaluates multiple indicators of impoverishment (Green 1). The global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) considers health, education, and living standards to categorize people into poverty levels (Green 1). When these other factors are considered, women fare even worse than in indexes using only the “dollars per day” model (Green 2, 3). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reaffirmed the importance of multi-dimensional approaches to poverty eradication that go beyond economic deprivation.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals address some of the global challenges we face regarding women’s persistent levels of inequality. For example, sustainable development Goal One aims to end poverty, Goal Two hopes to end hunger, Goal Three aims at promoting good health and well-being, Goal Four targets quality education, Goal Five strives for gender equality, Goal Eight encourages decent work and economic growth, and Goal Ten hopes to reduce inequalities. Similarly, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals similarly promote universal primary education, gender equality and women’s empowerment, the reduction of child mortality, the improvement of maternal health, and prevention of HIV/AIDS. The UN and its related bodies (such as UN Women), has recognized the need to invest in increasing women’s empowerment and the need to set a direct path towards gender equality.

Many international resolutions that support women’s empowerment have been adopted, including the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and a series of International Labour Organization conventions on gender equality. The General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) regularly adopt resolutions dedicated to tackling gender equality issues. Similarly, The World Food Programme recently launched the “Women’s Empowerment Fund,” in which they establish four pillars that they deem essential to help women lift themselves out of poverty along with their families and communities. Donors have the option to support 1) women become business leaders, 2) to help women grow more/better food, 3) help them rebuild post-conflict, and 4) help women and girls receive an education. Why Women Are Worth The Investment According to The World Bank, there is a large body of evidence which has established that gender inequality has costs for individuals and societies and these costs can multiply across generations.

Statistics show that approximately 900 million people in developing countries are “income poor,” or living below the poverty line defined by The World Bank (Buvinic 40). Most of the “extra” 700 million poor are women (Buvinic 40). Furthermore, women lagging behind men in terms of well-being support the idea that they bear more than their fair share of capability-based poverty (Buvinic 40). Talent is one of the most essential factors for growth and competitiveness. To build future economies that are both dynamic and inclusive, we must ensure that everyone has equal opportunity. When women and girls are not integrated—as both beneficiary and shaper — the global community loses out on skills, ideas and perspectives that are critical for addressing global challenges and harnessing new opportunities. Women are critical to economic development, active civil society, and good governance, especially in developing countries (Coleman 80).

Focusing on women is often the best way to reduce birth rates and child mortality, improving maternal health, nutrition and education…and is key to building robust communal organizations, as well as encouraging grassroots democracy (Coleman 80). The feminization of poverty is a gender development issue that needs to be addressed. Because there is a persistent gender inequality gap that continues to grow, especially in three particular regions: southern Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, the international community needs to continue experimenting with alternate ways of empowering women. Importantly, international momentum in favor of reforms to promote women’s economic participation is growing (Vogelstein 2, 3). Recent studies show why women are worth investing in. Studies indicate that women’s priority in developing countries are different than men’s, especially when they are part of a culture that perpetually marginalizes and neglects them.

The differences in the way that men and women prefer to spend scarce resources in poor households suggests that the income that poor women earn can yield higher health and social benefits than than earned by men (Buvinic 47). Therefore, giving women a chance to make household decisions may help redress this imbalance (Coleman 85). Indeed, studies conducted in developing countries such as in Bangladesh, Brazil, and Ethiopia suggest that women generally devote more of the total household budget to education, health and nutrition than men (Coleman 84). Therefore, these differences in household spending help explain why extending micro-finance on a small-scale has become such a powerful force in the world of development (Coleman 85). Feasible Solutions, Recommendations Understanding how gender discrimination and inequality nurtures and sustains women’s experience and risk of poverty helps us to outline a strategy to eliminate it.

Such a strategy must embrace a number of things, including empowering women to take advantage of new employment and income opportunities in the global economy, ensuring their right to own land and property, improving their access to markets and credit, providing gender-specific social services, and broadening social protection. Above all, it means recognizing and valuing the work that women do, so that development strategies will include investing in women’s entrepreneurial and labour market skills rather than depending on women to pick up the social costs of market- driven growth. There are various organizations which specialize in the empowerment and advancement of women. For example ASPIRE, founded in 2001, seeks to empower women and girls the world over to be leaders for business, economic and social change (“Empowering Women Leaders To Make A Difference In Life, Work And World” 1).

Through executive coaching, online and in- person leadership development programs, ASPIRE provides inspiration, challenge and connections for women leaders who want to make change happen in their life, work and world (“Empowering Women Leaders To Make A Difference In Life, Work And World” 1, 2). It’s goal is to make a difference to 1 billion women worldwide by 2020 and it has already reached over 17 million women in 80 countries (“Empowering Women Leaders To Make A Difference In Life, Work And World” 1, 2). They are also many community-based organizations working towards the empowerment of women (through the use of digital/online platforms). One for example, is known as “The Cause: Helping Women Out of Poverty.” It is made up of several grassroots organizations that are helping open the doors that women desperately need in developing countries. They teach women basic business skills, grant them micro-loans, and provide guidance and support for women to become successful entrepreneurs.

They are currently working with women in different parts of the world, including Ghana, Mexico, Nepal, Afghanistan and South Sudan. At the grassroots level, many initiatives are being carried out by local advocates. For example, in Malawi, Africa, gender rights activists work with the “Girls Empowerment Network” to eradicate the prevalence of child marriage and a custom known as “kusasa fumbi.” This custom is considered to be sexual initiation by older men on girls to initiate young girls into “womanhood.” Activists educate the local community, respected members, tribal and religious leaders about the detrimental effects of this practice and the many risks it poses for young girls (contracting HIV/AIDS, becoming pregnant, being forced to drop out of school, and developing health complications associated with early pregnancy).

Another example of local initiatives for women’s empowerment is in the bee farming sector in Ethiopia. In some regions of Ethiopia, bee farming is still largely traditional, however, it is become a modernizing sector that is begging to have a positive influence in attracting women to the bee farming areas. Ethiopian women’s main source of income has come from selling products like honey at local markets which accounts for approximately 90% of their net sales. Likewise, in Kenya, the bee farming sector has attracted approximately 50% of local women. These success stories can be attributed to a high demand of bee products from East African nations and affordable access into this particular business sector. Although these initiatives may seem small-scale, they have made a sustainable differences in the lives of rural communities in Ethiopia and Kenya. Many small businesses have grown as a result of these grassroots efforts, and they have helped empower many local women in increasing their access to resources and household wealth. Social media, is another emerging platform that has become a virtual space for advocacy and inclusion.

In Nigeria, for example, there is a popular Facebook group called “Female in Nigeria,” or (FIN). It is a safe, non-judgmental space for women and girls to freely comment about topics such as marriage, gender discrimination and inequality, domestic abuse and personal experiences. The founder started this Facebook group after the kidnapping of more than 200 girls from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2015. FIN provides an outlet and a voice to women who have been silenced by cultural customs and societal expectations. Nike Foundation founded ‘Girl Effect’ in 2004 with the goal of ending poverty globally. It’s work is based on its belief that when given the opportunity, girls are able to lift their countries out of poverty (“The Girl Effect” 1, 2). It’s social media messaging includes: “Invest in a girl and she will do the rest” (The Girl Effect” 1). It’s mobile platform enables girls around the world to get information, connect with others, share their experience and find their voice (“The Girl Effect” 1, 2).

Girl Effect’s mission is to create a ‘New Normal’ for girls…in doing this, we want to actively contribute to girls’ empowerment, a new reality in which girls are more educated, healthy, safe and economically empowered (“The Girl Effect” 1, 2). A ‘New Normal’ for girls occurs when behavior and social change take place at a significant scale, creating conditions that help girls to have agency and consequently become empowered (“The Girl Effect” 2). Micro-Finance According to FINCA International, a micro-finance institution (MFI), a billion women, or 40% of the global female population, don’t have access to a bank account (“FINCA: Fighting Poverty With Microfinance And Social Enterprise” 1, 2). MFI’s such as FINCA provide financial services provided to low-income people, traditionally to support self-employment.

Micro-finance lending has been lauded for alleviating poverty in a financially sustainable way (Coleman 85). Micro-finance lending to women paves a more accessible path in allowing women access to credit. But its greatest benefit is long-term, which could ultimately impact the women’s social status (Coleman 85). Although MFI’s offer small loans (usually secured by peer pressure rather than property), they are rapidly emerging and serve as an alternate way to help women break the cycle of poverty. Micro-finance can be divided into three broad categories: microcredit, micro-savings and micro-insurance. Micro-financing is based on the philosophy that even small amounts of credit can help end the cycle of poverty.

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Gender Equality And Women's Empowerment. (2022, Feb 01). Retrieved April 16, 2024 , from

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