My aim in this paper is to highlight what is economic empowerment and what are the obstacles against women economic empowerment. First of all, it is important to sort out the different biased and gender stereotypes which lead to gender-based discrimination and economic inequality. There are various reasons for this, which one of them would be careful work which discussed in this paper in details.The last part of the paper would highlight the recommendation to overcome the gender gap in the job market or the economic status of women in general.
Women Economic Empowerment
Empowerment itself can be defined as multi-dimensional connotations which range from “development of personal instrumental competencies and skills, to the process of challenging existing power relations, to household decision-making, to gaining access and control over resources like credit, income, land, knowledge, etc. as well as to subjective variables like the sense of personal power of self-efficacy.” It is related to accessibility to modern development facilities and extends women participation in the social, economic and political process and decision making. It is not sufficient to define women economic empowerment as women employment and access to the paid job, but it is much more complex than that. Women empowerment has defined the improvement of women status in their family, community and society. Generating job market may change few women’s lives while the mass of them remain subjugated and subordinated even with their increased economic participation As Esplen and Brody (2007) rightly pointed out economic growth is not the panacea of development. Development is also fundamentally about well-being, rights and justice. As such, it is imperative that initiatives empower women to aim not only at bringing about financial gain but also, critically, at ensuring women’s rights, equality and dignity. So, Economic empowerment is a critical means of righting the imbalances between men and women that have so far marginalized. CESCO’s has a comprehensive definition of economic empowerment “It is a process that has two core dimensions: resources and opportunity. Productive resources can be all the assets which women need to achieve economic advancement and usually tangible assets such as financial resources which includes income, savings, credit and physical resources can be land, housing, and technology. Sometimes even women are equipped with productive and physical resources; this does not automatically mean that they are economically empowered. So there is a need to have the opportunity to use those assets. Opportunity facilitates to obtain valuable outcomes from economic activity. When a woman has greater productive resources and agency, there are the chances that she can have better education, health, housing, social and political participation, and physical security. Empowered women are better able to break out of the cycle of poverty and exercise a greater voice in political, economic and cultural spheres. Women’s economic empowerment needs to be a top priority in the work to reduce poverty in the world. They must be viewed, just as men are, as economic actors as well as obvious and necessary agents of change. Economic empowerment is not just limited to the women employment or getting job, but it relates to the enhancement of women’s capacity for strategic choice and agency in the economic spheres and the changes in others spheres of women’s lives. The economic empowerment of women is thus a matter of human rights and social justice. So I can conclude that women’s empowerment is about more than financial gain; it is about enabling women to live lives of well-being and dignity, based on equality, rights and justice.
According to the Beijing Declaration,
“Empowerment of women and gender equality are the prerequisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural, and environmental security among all peoples.”
UNDP 2008 report highlights empowered women to contribute to the health, education, and productivity of whole families and communities. Thus, ensuring the economic empowerment of women is an integral step in advancing international development goals. It is not as income earning or work participation while neglecting other aspects of women’s lives. As Esplen with Brody (2007) rightly says there are the assumptions that men are more skilled or educated than women also served to legitimize and perpetuate inequities in pay. Pay differentials result not from differences in education or training, but from gender-based stereotype and discrimination. Without financial independence, it is difficult for women to defend their rights. They cannot be independent. According to the World Bank 2001 reports of the over 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty on less than $1 a day, the majority of them are women. Even more worrying: The gap between men and women caught in poverty’s cycle is widening, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “feminization of poverty.” An extensive 2001 World Bank report found that countries with smaller gender gaps in areas such as education, employment, and property rights have lower poverty rates. Women’s economic empowerment can itself contribute to the changing discriminatory social practices. As women engage more substantially in economic activity gathering greater productive resources and economic opportunities there will be the chances they challenge and reconfigure unfair gender roles and create new social norms. Nonetheless, the gendered division of work results in men receiving the majority of income and recognition for their economic contribution. Women in spite of bearing double burdens of work remaining unpaid or less paid, unrecognized and undervalued due to the following obstacles:
The role-based stereotyping and gender division of labour that is prevalent in all categories of employment, irrespective of educational and skill development have remained the main obstacles for women economic empowerment. The factors contribute to these inequalities are discriminatory inheritance practices, unequal access to land markets and gender-biased land reform and discriminatory social and traditional practices and believes. As PreetRustagi (2005) rightly says gender-based discrimination is found in every culture and society in varying degrees and it is manifested in various domains of life and activities. As a result of gender discrimination, the status of women is subordinate to men and they have little access to education, food, nutrition, health care, employment and wages. The gender ideology defines women in lower position especially in certain domains, for instance, marriage, inheritance, divorce, control over women resource, body and sexuality. The domination and pervasive prevalence of gender ideologies subjugate women within families and assign the lower social status to them. It is a result of restricted social values, customs and norms and women are subjugated to the power of the male heads of households. The most dominant understanding of gender considers male as breadwinner (provider) and female as a caregiver even under changing situation. It is ironical that at times even the opposition to changing gender roles comes from women themselves who have internalized its social construction. In most countries, the interaction between religious, cultural beliefs and economic forces reinforce patriarchal cultures.
Research had shown the trade-off that many women have to make between economic and social costs between the need to earn a livelihood and the importance honour and social status in a context where social norms prescribe female seclusion.The ILO’s first Global Report on discrimination in 2003, described gender inequalities in pay as being among the most resilient features of labour markets across the world. The gender pay gap is underpinned by gendered norms and stereotype which assume that men are primary breadwinners and women are secondary or supplementary earners, women’s work has less recognition and value than the work done by men. There are three areas which highlighted by PreetRustagi(2005) as causes of women vulnerability and lower status assigned to their works. Firstly, there is the issue of invisibility, the non-recognition of women’s entire contribution to the economy, since it is a contribution toward the household or family and hence remains unaccounted. Secondly, is women’s excessive concentration in traditional or conventional tasks and occupations, many of which tend to be considered non-economic or extended economic activities which cannot be considered in GDP and most of them are unpaid. Thirdly, the role played by women in the care sector, predominantly their reproductive work bearing, rearing, nurturing children and household maintenance, falls outside the national accounting systems. Care works are crucial for household members’ well-being and effective participation in different spheres, economic, social and political, but they continue to remain non-economic activities and unpaid. By virtue of women performing these roles which are statistically not counted as economic and hence not monetarily valued, women’s roles and their contribution are assigned a lower status while women invest a higher proportion of her resources in her family’s welfare than her male counterpart. The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development highlights if unpaid domestic work were assigned a monetary value, it would constitute between 10 percent and 39 percent of GDP. The gendered division of work results in men receiving the majority of income and recognition for their economic contribution, and women’s work remaining unpaid, unrecognized and undervalued. According to The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Two-thirds of women’s total work time is already spent on carrying out unpaid work. These obligations pose a serious obstacle to increasing women’s labour force participation and have a major impact on their well-being. There are some recommendations which help to some extent to cover this gap.
As Dr Prachi Singh, Mrs Shilpi Gupta suggests the struggle of gender equality should be carried at every level and it should overcome the barriers of caste, class, race and religion. We have to accept the fact that things are not going to change overnight, but because of this, we cannot stop taking action either. At this juncture, the most important step is to initiate ground level actions however small it might seem. The ground level actions should be focused towards changing the social attitude and practices prevalent in the society which are highly biased against women. There are many effective types of machinery and policies on women and gender mainstreaming, but none of them brought any change at the ground level. In many countries of the world, it has been proved that top-down approach did not work very well so instead the focus should be more on bottom-up approach and the voice from the ground should be heard. Women’s economic empowerment requires action at all levels of society (locally, nationally, and globally). No single initiative alone can independently fulfil the conditions for empowerment and not all strategies will yield results in all contexts. The most effective programs will be those that listen to the needs of potentially impacted women and carefully evaluate their resources, strengths, and vulnerabilities or in another word the ground level approach would be the best to overcome gender gap.Recognizing poverty’s gender dimension and protecting the economic rights of women must be at the heart of any poverty reduction initiative.
So in concluding remarks, I would say that women economic empowerment is the key to gender equality and it is not only about the question of gender equality, but it is the question of human right and human dignity. In addition to the gender stereotype, traditional and cultural barriers the unpaid care work would be the main challenge against women empowerment, women invest a large portion of their time in unpaid and less paid works and they formed the majority of the world poor population. The ground level action is required to reflect the voice of the most affected women so here all stakeholders should work together for removing the gender gap.
She has completed Masters degree in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi, India.