“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.”
Former President Bill Clinton
Gender equality has been a key issue since the beginning of 21st century, when the world acknowledged the goals for Millennium Development Goals. Peeping into history, roman women were secluded to homes and barred from social activities. Pre-history, women had no contribution into economy. Women were confined to household activities and took care of their children, and continued to do even after they grew older. Women employment came into existence in the post-World War I. As men left to war, factories and heavy industries struggled to find workforce, leaving only a handful of men for preparingnecessary war productions such as weapons and artillery. To fulfil necessary needs for war, women later joined industries and factories which fuelled the war. After the war was over, a large workforce of men who weren’t interested to continue their military service, pose a grave threat to women who were already working.Moreover, the economy of the battle weary nations was still stabilizing, providing no or very less economic opportunity to a large workforce returning from war. Women were consistent in keeping their jobs as they no longer wanted to go home. This instigated a new fight of economic empowerment for women.
As centuries passed, women continued to fight economic battles as many nations failed to provide adequate economic empowerment for women. Even today, women are continued to stay at home, look after their family. Unfortunately, the gap of gender equality continues to hinder as a major economic challenges, especially in developing and underdeveloped economies. Although developed economies such as Iceland and Sweden continues to encourage women participation and diminish the gap through concrete economic policies and public private cooperation.On the contrary, many developing economies such asSaudi Arabia and Qatar continues to confine women to household work.
As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,women should be treated equally, and there should be no form of discrimination between men and women. However, the topic of women empowerment continues to be controversial, as many international aid agencies such as the UN and other development organizations continues to diminish it through cooperation and coordination within nations.
The World towards “Women Empowerment”
In the world today, attitudes towards women entrepreneurship vary differently. It depends upon culture, tradition and history. The basic understanding is, women have very few opportunities, limited available resources, and almost no influence in decision making processeswhich results in drastic change of behaviour towards them, in the society. In many nations, women experience discrimination in wage, with a majority of women experiencing it in Asia and Latin American countries. On many cases we have seen that, women get inadequate leaves during pregnancy along with heavy discrepancies in financial aid. It is also important for us to understand that, women additional to work, contribute to over 1 to 2 hour in household care followed by 4 to 5 hours in marketing additional to an equivalent hour in households. Considering the example of inadequate opportunities of women in European Union, more than 25% of the women state “household activities and other personal and family responsibilities” as primary reasons for not being able to contribute in the workforce. This drastically effects women participation in the global workforce.
Many underdeveloped and developing economies in Africa continues to face this challenge, inspite of government’s and other development agencies’ initiatives to bridge the gap. This is because of rapid increase in poverty. Most of the women work in less paid jobs, odd conditions, and very few growth opportunities. In recent years, there have been a phenomenal increase in democratic elections, which saw a large participation of women. However, we also cannot deny the growing rates of electoral violence. Still today, African nations as a whole, continues to combat inequality as many girls continue to quit education in the middle due to violence and regional stability. Girls at an early age, are forced to drop out from school because of vast political, economic and social reasons, leaving them uneducated throughout their lives. It is also important for us to understand that, many opportunities are lost because of inadequate infrastructure, even though governments continue to provide economic opportunities through vivid programs, it continues to remain ineffective because of inadequate infrastructure.
The countries in Middle East continues to face a variety of issues (from Arab Spring to ISIS). These brought industrial engines to a sudden halt, hampering economic growth and development of a nation, however experts state that, inspite of the conflict, nations continue to show improvement in the field of health and education. Some link it to the growing, media attention to incidents in the Middle East, while some consider this an output of joint East-West development initiatives.In most of the Arab countries women have no access to work, marginalised and are considered to be lower than men. They continue to witness violence with less or no access to the justice system. The gap of economic access to development is increasing between men and women.
These cases discussed, are not only limited to the developing or the underdeveloped economies. In developed economies women get only 77% of the hike as compared to the salary received my men. This is especially for women working in the executive management, those working in the mid or low level management experience greater economic discrimination.In United States, men and women, working in the same profile, experience greater economic diaspora. Women continues to hold higher management profiles, but the discrimination against women continues to be stagnant. On many occasions, women are tasked to complete their work even during the maternity leaves, allowing them to “work from home”. Whereas, in many countries of Europe, women studying in universities constitutes larger than women, getting the same access to education as men, but when getting a job, they experience discrimination in wage distribution and growth opportunities.
In countries in and around Asia and Pacific,workforce comprises mainly of men. Women in developing economies such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines are likely to be picked fromoutside the labour force. This “greater economic gap” results due to failures ofgovernance, inadequate institutional infrastructure poor policies on entrepreneurship. With few opportunities than men, women are less likely to get picked for a job even after attaining the same level of education as of men or run their own organization or business.
In most of the countries in South America, women with high skills and level of education are unemployed. In Mexico, women earn almost 15% to 20% less than men. In Latin America and Caribbean nations, discrimination against women vary largely onrace and creed, their age, their habitation along with their citizenship.
In order to effectively address and solve this issue, policy makers should address the social and political factors affecting this issue, as they contribute greatly to women’s participation in governance and society. Educating women is the first step in achieving women entrepreneurship. Government should provide economic opportunities to children attending primary schoolwhile waving off their fees and equipping key skills in their curriculum. Policy makers should focus on strengthening the infrastructure, (building schools in remote communities)equipping the school with adequate male and female teachersalong with proper sanitary facilities, and ensure that the surrounding in and outside the schools are safe for girls. Policy makers should, moreover, focus on the development and enhancement of health for women, as it increases their participation in education and recreational activities. Discrimination against women in all forms and gender gap needs to be effectively reduced through concrete policies. In many countries, women are found hanging between organizational responsibilities as well as family priorities. It is important for developed economies, international aid organization and UN agencies to collectively voice against economic discrimination against women while reinforcing concrete development policiesand strengthening and supporting women’s participation in development.It is also important for policy makers to address the steep fall in agri-business opportunities and rural entrepreneurship.
Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations. He has served extensively in United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council along with the Economic and Social Council. He is also a visiting faculty for numerous universities and delivers lectures on political economics and foreign policies.