When we talk about “economic empowerment of women” we must understand that the biggest problem that women face today is that their work is not recognized at all. Women have always contributed to the society and the economy in the form of a helping hand in agriculture and food production in the developing countries and in the form of part time and temporary workers in developed countries. This is apart from their role as a homemaker which is not even valued economically. In fact the recent statistics of the UN tell us that 53% of work in developing countries is carried out by women and out of $ 16 trillion global output which is invisible, $ 11 trillion is contributed by women. Even after so much contribution there is a lack of acknowledgement regarding the role of women in every sphere of life. The problem is actually much larger than what we perceive and therefore the issue is not just about economic empowerment of women. It is in fact about the deep rooted bias and discrimination against women that is prevalent in the society.
Economic empowerment of women: Discrimination against women
It is ironical and sad to note that that there is a wide scale discrimination against women in virtually all aspects of life. She is in a disadvantageous and deprived position even as regards to basic rights like the right to education and health. Further she does not have access to capital or other resources to make an informed choice in her life. Women are kept out of the decision making power structure in every sphere of life including the political, economic, social and religious structures of the society. Coming back to the question of active contribution made by women in economic terms or otherwise we find that the society happily laps up the labour efforts of women in every part of the world but when it comes to sharing the spoils of that labour she is kept out. This is not only happening in the developing countries but it is also true for the developed countries where majority of women who are working in the informal economies as part time workers have less access to basic health care services, education, financial resources, employee rights and land ownerships. If we look at the “decision making structure” in any field whether it be economic, social, political or religious arena then we will find that it becomes virtually impossible for women to climb up the ladder and reach the positions that matter because of open discrimination and bias. But we cannot sit with all these problems and loathe about it. Somewhere we have to make a beginning and making a beginning at the economic front is the best step forward.
Economic empowerment of women: Income generation and increased flow of capital in the hands of women
A major initiative that is needed for changing the situation for women is to increase the flow of capital in the hands of women. More the women get financially empowered and generate income the more is the chance of her overall development and progress. This is because of the fact that women use a major chunk of their income for providing themselves and their family better healthcare, education and nutrition. Moreover steady income in hand makes women more confident to take economic and other decisions related to her family. It has been seen that when women start earning they also adopt more of environmental friendly lifestyle as well as they tend to have lower fertility rates leading to fewer children. Overall we can see that more the women are economically and financially sound more they become capable of taking informed choices about their life. Stable income and financial independence leads to improvement and progress of women through various efforts like contraception, age of marriage, fertility, child mortality and modern sector employment. Economic empowerment of women leading to steady income generation and financial independence will therefore definitely help women take decisions and select the best among choices in their personal and professional life.
Economic empowerment of women: Resistance to economic empowerment of women
We must acknowledge the fact that when we talk about economic empowerment of women and enhancing the financial independence of women we face great resistance from the current structures of the society at every level. The resistance comes in various forms and it is entrenched in the society as gender bias and gender discrimination. There are many ugly facets of it around the world and many of them are in the form of open physical and psychological abuse. One of the most common forms of abuse is violence against women. Violence against women is virtually seen in every part of the world. Major types of violence against women are in the form of domestic violence and rape. Apart from violence there is great gender discrimination and bias in the form of substandard and pathetic living conditions that is forced upon women. There are millions of women around the world who don’t have even their basic needs met in terms of food and nutrition, healthcare and education.
Further in many countries there are horrendous practices that are taking place and which can be equated to genocide amounting to crime against humanity. Female feticide falls in this category. Other evils like trafficking of young women and girl child, early marriage and dowry system play a major role in pulling down women to a life of infinite misery and suffering. In these conditions how can we think about economic empowerment of women? To top it all we can find a clear bias against women in the decision making power structures of the society which is insensitive to the cause of 50% of human population and which is in fact poorly represented by women in the first place. Fighting all these odds, even if women think about generating income on their own with the help of a economic enterprise then they face the hurdle of capital and other resources. In total women are in a highly disadvantageous and marginalized position. The tragedy is that this situation prevails even when studies show that once women are economically empowered they become the biggest assets of their family, the society, the nation and the world in terms of their savings and their efforts towards the overall development of the family, the society as well as the nation. This is true because when women starts earning, she channels back a major chunk of her earning into the family for better health, education and nutrition. This has a tremendous impact on the growth and development of the next generation who are the future seed of human evolution.
Economic empowerment of women: Statistics show the alarming situation
Statistics show how bad the situation is for women. As per recent UN figures, 60 % of the world’s 135 million children who are not getting education are girls. These girls end up living a life of drudgery, misery and open exploitation. Out of the number of girls going to primary school only 1 in 4 remain in school after four years and the rest who drop out are sucked back into the vortex of living hell with open marginalization, discrimination and abuse. It is shocking to note that out of the 880 million illiterate adults of the world two-third are women. What more proof we need to understand the circumstances of women in our society and the world.
Economic empowerment of women: Biased patriarchal structure and the need for fundamental change
We must recognize the fact that until we drastically change the structure of the society which is patriarchal and highly biased against one half of human population we can never think of eradicating the evils of gender bias and gender discrimination that exist in our society. Without the fall of the patriarchal structure based on power and control and replacement of it by an all inclusive structure based on unification of forces we cannot think of moving forward to achieve true economic progress and development. To change the existing structures women need to take initiative. They need to come forward for creating new structures which will positively empower them as well as act as a catalyst for massive change in the society. We have to make a beginning somewhere and the beginning can be through the economic empowerment of women. Only when women get empowered economically we can think about a movement which will work towards further change whereby better healthcare, education, housing and nutrition will be available for the next generation. The seed for change are the next generation and their future lies in the hands of women who are economically empowered today and who can make informed choice about their life and their family. So if we have to start somewhere it would be to work in the direction of economic empowerment of women. Only through this route we can think about tackling the many other aspects related to women’s empowerment. Every problem in the society today hits the women hard whether it is war, health issues like AIDS, poverty, violence, unemployment or population growth. The solution to all these problems is definitely complex but the initiative can begin with the economic empowerment of women.
Economic empowerment of women: Bringing women into the mainstream economy
When we talk of economic empowerment of women we need to understand one more point very clearly. It is a fact that despite efforts to bring women into the mainstream of economic activity, the majority of the active female population continues to be confined in the micro small-scale enterprises and the informal sector. This is represented by agriculture and daily wage jobs in the rural sector and part time jobs in the urban sectors. The big question is how to bring these women working in the informal sector into a broader loop where their rights are protected and where they are not exploited in any form. Formation of functional associations for the protection of the rights of women in these sectors needs to be a top priority. More than protection these associations should work towards finding means for overall development of their women members with a great focus on economic empowerment.
On the other hand there are also some indications that women are increasingly seeking self-employment in the formal private sector and that’s a good trend that needs to be encouraged further as it is a creative and generative form of economic empowerment. Moreover women are now organizing themselves into associations of entrepreneurs or bankers in order to enhance their economic status and have an impact on economic policies. However, their integration into the formal sector is still constrained by limited access to credit, property, technology and technical skills. Keeping all these developments in mind, creation of multilateral financial institutions exclusively catering to women at the international, national and regional levels would help cater specific financial needs of women at all levels and help faster integration of women in the informal, formal and organized sector.
Economic empowerment of women: Initiation steps for economic empowerment of women
Economic empowerment of women can be initiated by working on some very fundamental issues like training and education of women for gainful income generation, bringing about gender sensitisation in all spheres of human life as well as initiating awareness programs which can help women make informed choice regarding the various aspects of their life. The following are some major initiatives which can be taken towards economic empowerment of women
1. Recognizing that education and training are important for economic empowerment of women in the short term as well as long term periods.
2. To acknowledge and accept the glaring gender based bias that is so much prevalent in all parts of the world and taking concrete steps towards gender analysis and gender sensitization in every sphere of human life.
3. Empowering women who are part of the labour force by increasing awareness regarding the rights of an employee.
4. Work on the communication skills of women so that they become self-confident and master the technique of advocacy and negotiation.
5. Encouraging and supporting women entrepreneurs to develop marketable models of enterprise through expert guidance and “skills development” support.
6. Planning educational and training modules for women based on their professional as well as home commitments and helping women to balance between the two.
7. Using communication technology to galvanize women for a radical shift in their thinking through shared experiences of success and skills. These communication activities can be taken across the rural and urban landscape for motivating women to take up self empowerment programmes.
8. Educating and training women to gainfully engage in markets and institutions where they primarily go for generating income.
9. Publicizing the central role of women in the national economies and celebrating the success stories of women entrepreneurship and women professionalism in every field.
10. Gender training and sensitization of the current structures of the society represented by the government, social bodies and private enterprises.
11. Proving opportunities to women for interlinking and interacting across border for economic empowerment. Networking, export development and joint venture promotion among female entrepreneurs and relevant associations can be taken under the interlinking and interacting activities.
12. Improving the flow and access of credit and finance for women through financial institutions for female entrepreneurs at the governmental and social levels.
13. The access of credit to be financed through collateral for loans. Such loans should be made available to those women who do not have any individual resources, property and land rights. Further micro-finance schemes to be made available to women.
14. Building and strengthening networks where women come together from different nations and regions for common goals of economic empowerment of women. Such networks can influence the international and national policy formulation including international and national economic agreements. Further these networks among women from different nations can help in increased participation of women in the governmental structures like chambers of commerce, can help them access latest technologies, can help them access management and marketing skills and can help them in nurturing female entrepreneurs in the incubator centres for training and skills development.