Above: Joanne Rowe, International Programs Manager at INA, shares her thoughts on 'women's empowerment'
Women’s Empowerment… It’s a term that we hear thrown around regularly, particularly in the development sector. But, what is it? What do we mean when we use this term? Is its meaning being lost, amidst the litany of development ‘buzz’ words and jargon?
We know that it is important. We don’t need to look far to see gaping inequalities; in our communities, work places, political systems and in the media. Every day I open my newsfeed to see the viral mushrooming of the #MeToo campaign calling out sexual harassment and sexual assault. We still have so far to go.
Globally, it’s the same ‘gaping inequalities’ story, it just looks a bit different depending on where you live.
We know that 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime – it’s insidious and no country is immune. In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday. According to UNESCO, 16 million girls will never set foot in a classroom. In 2015, 303,000 women died from pregnancy and childbirth related complications. Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented.
In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses and while women make up more than 40 percent of the agricultural labour force, less than 20 percent are landholders.
We know all this, yet what do we do about it?
Perhaps to state the obvious, Women’s Empowerment, at its very foundation is about power. It’s about how power is held, and how it is used. Challenging and transforming power relations is not a linear, ‘tidy’ process – it is multi-faceted, complex and often not without cost.
We need to understand how and why
power is held and used in the way it is, to successfully challenge it in the communities in which we work. This must be a process that engages both men and women and requires sustained commitment and action. At INA, I am privileged to be able to work with some amazing local community based organisations around the world that, together with their communities are doing exactly this.
We know that when girls have access to education and attend secondary school they are far less likely to marry as children. When women are involved in civil society leadership and decision making processes, the whole community benefits. Where men are actively engaged as drivers for education in their communities on eradicating gender-based violence and harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, there is greater uptake for behaviour change. We know that when women farmers are provided with access to agricultural extension services, technology and capital, they can increase crop yields to have a significant impact on food security within their households and communities.
Buzz word or not, Women's Empowerment matters. It matters to women, their families, their communities and their economies.
At INA, we simply call it Valuing Women.