By: Haniyat Bakare
Economically empowering the citizens of any nation is vital in enhancing their welfare and ensuring the nation’s economic growth. Therefore, both men and women should be actively involved in their country’s economic activities.
According to a research conducted by the United Nation’s Women (UN Women), women are mostly discriminated against and exploited. This results in them facing poverty in various world economies. Hence, the UN, alongside other institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Trade Organization (WTO) and numerous non-governmental organizations such as ours- Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights (CAJPHR), are working towards being gender-inclusive to create a global economy where both genders can contribute and thrive.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR WOMEN TO BE ECONOMICALLY EMPOWERED?
International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) posits that a woman is economically empowered when she can “succeed and advance” in the economic sphere while having the power to make economic decisions she can act on.
BENEFITS OF WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
According to the WTO, an environment becomes more competitive and productive when it presents both men and women with equal opportunities. More so, a 2017 World Bank report shows that when various forms of discrimination against women are eradicated, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will increase by 40 percent. Hence, women must be economically empowered. So, how can women become economically empowered? This is possible in various forms, which largely falls under two branches:
- Acquiring “skills and resources”,
- Possessing the “power and agency” to benefit from economic decisions.
Skills and resources can be acquired through “financial capital” such as savings; “human capital”, by attending different forms of trainings, “social capital”, such as networking or having mentors, and “physical capital”, through land ownership, etc.
Moreover, to ensure that women are fully economically empowered, they need to also be involved in making and executing important decisions, while controlling and maximising profit. Here, women’s voices have to be considered whenever an institution is taking decisions and the government is implementing policies.
WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT: PROGRAMS AND POLICIES
Organizations such as UNDP established programs to ensure gender equality in the work environment. This will also lead to them towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender equality) in the stipulated year, 2030.
These programs are: “Gender seal for public and private organizations and Gender seal for UNDP entities.” The former focuses on eliminating gender inequality in the work environment. To achieve this, they administer guidance, tools and certain assessment criteria to allow for successful implementation. The later, Gender Equality Seal Certification concentrates on 6 key areas: “eradicating gender-based pay gaps, enhancing women’s roles in decision-making, strengthening work-life balance, increasing women’s access to non-traditional jobs, eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace, and using inclusive, non-sexist communication.”
Considering policies, UNDP also creates economic policies and strategies regarding access to services and resources to address gender inequality. Awareness is then raised amongst policymakers on areas such as employment, taxation, and public budgets on gender.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands (CAJPHR is located in The Netherlands), the government has been working towards SDG 5 in four areas. They are: “enhancing female leadership and participation in political decision making; economic control and better economic conditions for women, curbing violence against women and girls and intensifying the role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.” The government also urges companies to partner with one another to boost the working conditions and opportunities for both female workers and entrepreneurs.
The Netherlands is also paying more attention towards enhancing women’s rights and gender equality in international conventions, agreements, and resolutions.” In 2018, the government partnered with the World Bank and WTO to coordinate a conference on trade and gender in Geneva. So far, they have assisted 28 organizations centred on improving the preconditions for women’s economic participation, between 2017 and 2018. They also trained above 39,500 women in skills acquisition. These policies strengthen gender equality, which forms part of the Dutch law. The 1994 General Equal Treatment Act (Algemene Wet op Gelijke Behandeling) emphasizes the illegality of employing people based on personal traits such as gender.
CHALLENGES OF WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
After examining the above, it is necessary to mention some of the challenges women face.
Lack of Financial Aid
According to a fieldwork done by CARE Nederland, women face challenges acquiring loans from the bank, especially in marginalized communities worldwide. Part of what poses the challenge is women not owning lands that they can present as collateral to banks. About 80% of women-owned businesses suffer financial issues and this is causing a gap of $1.7 trillion. Also, Bolanle Austen Peters, the founder of Terra Kulture, Nigerian art, education and cultural organization located in Lagos, mentioned how she encountered a challenge when she sourced for a loan to finance her cultural centre in Lagos in Bloomberg’s publication- “Here’s why Nigerian Banks are targeting Women”. She was denied the loan based on the claim of not having a business case. Fortunately, she found a banker who loved the arts that ended up funding her project. Austen-Peters also admits that banks supporting them makes their life very easy. Now, she has been able to produce successful theatrical shows such as “WakAA the Musical, SARO the Musical” and movies such as “93 Days”, which now shows on Netflix.
Norms, Work and Care Challenges
Norms and Work and Care are interrelated. Norms are entrenched in gender roles, which influence decision making and behaviour towards Work and Care. Vinkenburg, C. J, opines that the norms and structural factors that shape decisions surrounding work and care should be “uncovered, exposed and changed” if women are to be realistically economically empowered and be able to provide care in their family units as well. Therefore, when addressing “Freedom of choice”- one of the pillars of the Netherlands government’s “gender equality policy”, there should not be an option to choose between work “or” care, instead, women should have the freedom to choose both work “and” care, without negative sanctions. This should reflect in the flexibility of working hours and location.
Generally, it is key to acknowledge how much work has been done to enhance women’s economic empowerment. However, we should continue looking out for ways to address the challenges women still face, globally. Our organization, CAJPHR, through its projects; “Rights to Quality Education and Women Empowerment” continues to research and work towards empowering women.
What project are you currently working on to ensure that gender inequality is bridged, and women become more economically empowered?