Defining the problem
Women comprise half of the world’s population, perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food and constitute between 60 and 80% of the manufacturing workforce in developing countries. Despite their major contribution to socio-economic development, women continue to be marginalised in many countries around the world. (Centre for International Private Enterprise) – www.cipe.org
Gender equity is a basic human right and despite considerable progress in awareness raising and improving conditions for women, gender inequalities are still pervasive in the world today. (International Fund for Agricultural Development) – www.ifad.org.
2010 saw the appointment of Michelle Bachelet as Executive Director of UN Women, the new UN entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of women, a merger of four former UN agencies and offices (including UNIFEM). One of UN Women’s key focus areas is economic empowerment, in particular in countries where the status of women is low and this includes countries in a post-conflict situation. (www.unwomen.org ). According to Bachelet, ‘Gender Equality Must Become a Lived Reality’.
Studies have shown that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. Families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. (The Hunger Project) - www.thehungerproject.co.uk
Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment include:
Cultural – Traditional society, especially in developing countries, does not encourage the empowerment of women and the concept of gender equity is neither uniformly known nor accepted. This barrier, although informal, has a strong effect on the determination of women to undertake entrepreneurial activities.
- Economical – Women continue to be over represented in occupations with low pay and poor working conditions. They have little job security and still get paid less for doing the same job as men. (UNWomen) Even those with skills may not have the economical stability to improve their income. Family funds are usually controlled by men and women’s choices are mostly rejected.
- Educational – Although, in some countries, women are generally better represented than men in the Higher Educational System, there is still a huge need for greater opportunities for adults to return to school and for younger women to enter colleges. Specific educational programmes preferred by women are not always linked to the existing demands of the labour market and so disadvantage women.
- Financial – There is still limited access to credit, adequate training and helping them to understand the importance of saving (The Hunger Project). Women are also held back by unequal property rights and limited control over resources (IFAD).
What can Soroptimists do to help?
- Encourage discussion and awareness of the issues within clubs
- Contact Friendship Links to see if they can help with existing projects
- Use their skills to assist in helping to improve the business development and financial skills of members in developing countries
- Assist women who are starting up in small businesses – act as mentors
- Develop and encourage the development of micro-credit schemes
- Fund existing projects
- Check Programme Focus Report Forms Database for examples of good practice
- Report your work!