Why should we empower disadvantaged women anyway?

Gender equality is not only a basic human right, but its achievement has enormous socio-economic ramifications and benefits for entire communities. Empowering women fuels thriving economies, spurring productivity and growth. Despite all the progress made to date, gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every single society, culture and country in the world today. Women lack access to decent work and face ongoing occupational segregation and gender wage gaps. Women and girls are far too often denied access to basic education and healthcare. Women in all parts of the world suffer violence and discrimination. They are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes. 

 

According to UN Women, Women’s economic empowerment is central to realising women’s rights and gender equality. Women’s economic empowerment includes women’s ability to participate equally in existing markets; their access to and control over productive resources, access to decent work, control over their own time, lives and bodies; and increased voice, agency and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels from the household to international institutions.

In India*, close to 70% of the country’s population lives in rural areas with limited to no access to basic sanitation, health services, or electricity. Lack of access to these basic services contributes to widespread poverty, unemployment, and increasing indebtedness of households. Women in India are often seen as second-class citizens compared to men, so their opportunities are even more limited. Women are often not in control of their finances, family situations or even their own earnings, and marginalised women even more so. Marginalised women are also highly susceptible to gender-based violence, as there is so much stigma surrounding women’s societal and cultural roles and expectations. For example, women who end up being trafficked, raped, or divorced tend to be outcast by society, and are valued even less than women who were not impacted by similar situations. There are countless stories of women being attacked or even killed simply because of things that are completely out of their control. A few examples include bride burnings due to inadequate dowries, acid attacks simply because a woman turned down an unwanted invitation or proposal, women being stigmatised simply because they were victimised, and the list goes on and on.

Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home. But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Gender discrimination means women often end up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and constitute a small minority of those in senior positions. It curtails access to economic assets such as land and loans. It limits participation in shaping economic and social policies. And, because women perform the bulk of household work, they often have little time left to pursue economic opportunities.

Wage disparity is widespread, but offering women opportunities to earn income and have a say in their households is empowering and can be life changing for women and their families. Studies show that correcting this gender imbalance can increase the prosperity of the country as a whole. Simply giving money to a woman is a short-term solution, but empowering her with skills and self-confidence is a long-term approach and the benefits are endless. Enabling a woman to have a sustainable livelihood also lifts her role and position within her family, and even within her extended household (for example, gaining respect from her in-laws because she brings in a decent income). Facilitating a woman to be economically empowered can bring her the respect and equality that she deserves in her own home.

The gross national income per capita in India is just $2,020 per year, or roughly $168 per month. According to the UN, When women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. A woman who earns a steady income is much more likely to vaccinate and educate her children. Empowering women to earn their own steady incomes means that they will be able to provide food, clothing, and other basic necessities and education for their children and other family members. By focusing on girls and women, innovative businesses and organisations can spur economic progress, expand markets, and improve health and education outcomes for everyone. Entire communities benefit when we empower and lift women.

By providing an opportunity for marginalised women to obtain transferable skills like sewing and tailoring, which is what we are doing at Shakti.ism, we can help them to gain dignified employment, achieve financial independence, self-confidence and the respect they so badly deserve.

*I am writing specifically about disadvantaged women in India because this is where Shakti.ism primarily focused on empowering women, however the premise applies to women and girls in every country in the world.

photo of three women behind individual sewing tables, each working on a vintage black sewing machine

If you’re interested in sponsoring a woman’s empowerment, consider making a one-time or ongoing monthly donation to Shakti.ism. A contribution of as little as $25 can cover a trainee’s stipend and training (including materials + equipment) for more than a week. A donation of $75 would actually cover training costs for an entire month. Make a difference or find out more at https://shaktiism.com/donate/.

Featured image by Sewing the Seeds