Importance of Economic Empowerment of Women

  • by Mayuri Khanna

The Sustainable Developmental Goals (Five) has emphasized on Gender Equality and empowerment of all women and girls. Few of them are stated as:
a) End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere and violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
b) Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
c) Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.
d) Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
e) Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
Women’s empowerment is a precondition for this. Hereby, discussing the importance of Economic empowerment of Women in this article.

First there is need to understand the meaning of Economic importance. Economic empowerment increases women’s access to economic resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets, skills development and market information.

Significance in present scenario

Achieving sustainable economic growth requires the talents, creativity, and entrepreneurial vigour of an entire population. Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth.

As rightly stated at Clinton Global Initiative:

Women perform 66% of the world’s work, and produce 50% of the food, yet earn only 10% of the income and own 1% of the property. Whether the issue is improving education in the developing world, or fighting global climate change, or addressing nearly any other challenge we face, empowering women is a critical part of the equation.

Barriers in economic empowerment

Despite the important reasons to support women’s economic empowerment, and the progress toward gender equality in areas such as health and education, there continues to be significant barriers in women empowerment.

As the case of India, which is highly a patriarchal society where men dominate all spheres of life; women are left in a subordinate position particularly at community and household levels.  There exist multiple persistent barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Starting from birth, girls’ nutrition and health condition fare worse than boys, girls are less likely than boys to attend and finish school or acquire the skills needed to obtain higher paying jobs. Discriminatory social norms and a lack of access to quality sexual and reproductive health services leaves many adolescent girls and women unable to freely choose their partners and determine the number and spacing of their children. As a child, girls are often treated differently from male children in terms of nutrition and health care; where limited food or financial resources are available, the insufficient means are prone to be allocated unevenly in favour of the male offspring.

Girls’ and women’s disproportionate responsibilities for unpaid care and domestic work deprive them of their rights to an education, employment, political participation and time to rest and participate in social activities.  Women perform the majority of unpaid household and care work. They also work for pay or profit in a raft of ways and contexts—in the formal and informal economy—as waged or salaried workers, employers, own-account workers and contributing family workers. The gender differences both in unpaid work and in all types of paid work are large and persistent, reflecting constraints on women’s economic opportunities and outcomes.

Even when women do the same jobs as men or perform work of equal value, they are paid less on average than men, although the size of the pay gap varies considerably around the world. Further hundreds of millions of women work informally without social and labour protection in law or in practice. In India, for example, some 120 million women (around 95 percent of women in paid work) work informally as do around 12 million women in Mexico (around 60 percent).

These barriers that women face are not only hurting them and their families, they are holding back societies and putting the brakes on national economies.

Examples to depict importance of economic empowerment of women

The importance of economic empowerment of women can be understood by analyzing the role played by Self Help Groups in rural development.

It typically comprises a group of micro entrepreneurs having homogeneous social and economic backgrounds, all voluntarily coming together to save regular small sums of money, mutually agreeing to contribute to a common fund and to meet their emergency needs on the basis of mutual help.

SHG contributions to development are analysed as follows:
1. The formation of SHGs has benefited its members by increasing their assets, incomes and employment opportunities and there has been a significant shift in the use of the loans from personal consumption to their being used for income generating purposes.

2. SHG has enabled households to have access to it to spend more on education than non client households. Families participating in the programme have reported better school attendance and lower dropout rates. SHGs has led to reduced child mortality, improved maternal health and the ability of the poor to combat disease through better nutrition, housing and health – especially among women and children.

3. It has empowered women by enhancing their contribution to household income, increasing the value of their assets and generally by giving them better control over decisions that affect their lives.

4. It has also increased involvement in Decision-making, awareness about various programs and organizations, increased access to such organizations, increased expenditure on Health and Marriage events.

5. Within family the respect and status of women has increased. Children Education has improved significantly. Especially girl education was very low but now SHG members are sending their children including girls to school.

Framework for women’s economic empowerment

The framework proposed by United Nation includes:

  • Take action to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in their homes, in their communities, in the world of work and in public spaces. Enforcing legal and regulatory frameworks, protocols and disciplinary procedures are critical measures.
  • Take action to change discrimination and stereotypes that ascribe gender to abilities and roles, including care work, and they should remove discrimination in the workplace, through education with school-age children, advertising, media, business and civil society groups.
  • Governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society should take action to support and recognize informal workers’ organizations such as unions, cooperatives and voluntary associations.
  • Strengthen women’s agency by building women’s ability to identify and act on economic opportunities, define, influence, and make economic decisions; and challenge social and cultural norms.
  • Eliminate gender differentiation in legal systems that limit women’s ability to access public institutions, including the justice system; travel independently; sign contracts; or assume responsibilities within households and the economy.
  • Integrate a gender lens into government policies, budgeting, and resource allocation including taxation, program spending, and social protection, and support gender equality impact assessments or audits.
  • Promote gender equality in public sector employment by establishing gender targets or quotas for hiring and top-level positions within the public sector, and measure progress toward those targets or quotas.
  • Strengthen the institutional capacity of government agencies for economic development and women’s affairs to address women’s economic empowerment.
  • Increase women’s ability to operate a business, including managing administrative burdens and taxation. Improve women’s access to commercial dispute-resolution processes and improve the responsiveness of commercial justice to women-led businesses, including in the informal sector.
  • Improve the status, protection, and benefits associated with both regular and irregular work arrangements, such as casual, temporary, seasonal, contract, part-time, and migrant work, where women are concentrated.
  • Improve health and safety measures in sectors where women are concentrated, including agriculture, manufacturing sectors such as garments and textiles, the informal economy, home-based work, and migrant work.
  • Target women-led businesses and farms with development and extension services in areas such as agricultural practices and natural resource management, marketing, production standards, value-chain entry points, and links to markets and buyers
  • Make education and training delivery more responsive to women, adapt curriculums to avoid gender stereotyping, and provide young women and men with information on the jobs and earnings associated with various educational choices.
  • Support women’s representation in corporate boards; entrepreneur, farmer, and worker associations; and community and other organizations.

The barriers to women’s economic empowerment are deeply ingrained and universal. They require a multipronged approach by all four sets of actors (government, business, civil society and UN and multilateral organizations) working simultaneously and in partnership. Women will have to empower themselves from below in order to compel the government to empower them from above. Women should raise their voice for equal participation.

MAYURI KHANNA

Questions related to the topic:

1. Unless society accepts gender equality as a fundamental principle of human existence all efforts of Economic growth will only partially bear results. Do you agree with the statement?
2. Discuss the two-way linkage between Women Empowerment and Economic Development?