By Ashrita Saran, Evidence Synthesis Specialist, Campbell Collaboration
This year International Women’s day is being celebrated with the vision to undertake groundbreaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women, #BeBoldForChange. The global focus on gender equality and equity is imperative to this theme.
The terms ‘Women’s empowerment’ and ‘Gender equality’ are often used interchangeably, but are they literally the same thing? ‘Gender equality’ is an ongoing process towards women’s empowerment, providing women with increased ability and freedom to make choices, and the opportunity to rise to their full potential. ‘Women’s empowerment’ emphasizes the importance of women being active members in bringing about change themselves rather than being silent recipients.
To empower women is to allow them access and control over resources such as wealth, technology, education, information and training. Developing capacity and leadership among women is essential to put policy into practice.
Women’s participation in economic Self Help Groups (SHGs) can be one strategy to stimulate empowerment through group support, training, and increased financial stability, which might in turn result in improvements in women’s bargaining power, autonomy, and self-confidence. Findings of a recent mixed-methods systematic review by Campbell[i] on the impact of women’s SHGs on empowerment suggests that the SHGs have positive effects on various dimensions of women’s empowerment, including economic, social, and political empowerment. Various factors that were found to be positive contributors includes familiarity with handling money and independence in financial decision making; solidarity; improved social networks; and respect from the household and other community members.
The overarching vision of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for sustainable development goal[ii] propagates inclusive and sustainable development around the world. Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are central to the realization of this vision, yet gender gaps around the world remain large. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2016, World economic forum[iii], based on the current trends it will take approximately 83 years to entirely close the economic and political gender gap across 107 countries covered in the report. As per the statistics of the World economic forum, globally only 50% of women aged 15 and above are in paid employment, compared with about 75% of men. At the same time, women do about three times more unpaid work than men.
Microfinance services such as microcredits help in achieving smooth cash flows in the poor households, and impact women’s empowerment by increasing their household financial security within. However, the findings of Campbell Systematic review[iv] on the effect of microcredits on women empowerment in developing country lead to the conclusion “Given the overall lack of evidence for an effect of microcredit on women’s control over household resources it is therefore very unlikely that, overall, microcredit has a meaningful and substantial impact on empowerment processes in a broader sense.”
Microfinance alone cannot overcome strict gender norms. According to a report by DFID in 2010, GDP in India could rise by 8% if the female/male ratio of workers went up by 10%. Promoting women’s entrepreneurship helps to create employment as well as to empower women in the family and wider community[v].
Successful legislation for promoting programmes that are women-centric has been passed by many governments in developing countries. For example, in India the 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill (also called Women’s Reservation Bill)[vi] was passed to reserve one-third of the seats for women only in the Lok Sabha to increase the participation of women in political decisions. National Mission for the Empowerment of Women (NMEW)[vii], launched by the Indian Government, aims at convergence of schemes and programmes of central and state ministries to work towards the development of occupation/vocation/technical skills by women to strengthen their economic empowerment. In India, resources and groups promoting the development of women’s entrepreneurship include SHG’s (self-help groups), CWEI (the consortium of women entrepreneurs of India, income-generating schemes by the Department of Women and Child Development, WIT ( Women India Trust), Mahila Nidhi, Mahila Vikas Nidhi, Priyadarshini Yojna, Women Cell, Khadi Village Industry Commission, Federation of Women Entrepreneurs and SWEA (Self-Employed Women Association) .
Although many governmental reforms and successful strategies have been developed to achieve women’s empowerment and to fill the gender gap, much still needs to be done in the effort to alleviate economic and social disparity between men and women in developing countries. Issues that warrant attention are women’s access to and ownership of resources, and control over decision making. Large businesses should also be required to contribute towards women’s empowerment under their corporate social responsibility programs.
What we need is larger intersectoral collaboration to work on generating evidence across the world on what does and doesn’t work. Adapting what we learn from different contexts may help in guiding policy decisions.
[v] ILO Women’s Entrepreneurship Development