photos courtesy of Global Women’s Water Initiative
“Women are the major change-makers on the ground in the developing world, but they are not equipped with the necessary tools and resources to excel,” said Natika Washington, director of Global Programs in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, in an interview with the Washington Post. “We give small grants to grassroots organizations that will directly impact women and girls.”
Women’s empowerment and the movement toward gender equality is a modern phenomenon that continues to develop around the world. After World War II, international treaties put great focus on human rights; however, as time progressed, it became clear that special attention must be given to women’s rights. Therefore, beginning in the 1970s, advocates lobbied for women’s rights at greater lengths. Issues such as feminization of extreme poverty and disparities in politics, education, and wealth served as the justification for explicit support and recognition of women’s empowerment. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995 initiated a move to focus on women’s empowerment.
Women’s empowerment, a major goal of many development projects, formed a basis to foster growth, reduce poverty, and promote better governance (Malhotra et al. 2002). Numerous government and non-government agencies, including the United Nations, World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Pan-American Health Organization, Freedom House, World Health Organization, and Canadian International Development Agency are leaders in women’s empowerment projects. These agencies use indicators to assess the status of women, evaluate interventions, and assess policy options for development. As indicators are often not standardized across agencies, a survey of existing indicators and an analysis of their efficiency can help streamline efforts to assess women’s empowerment.
Women across the world represent about 40% of the world’s workforce. This is a huge figure, and exemplifies the need for allowing this 40% to gain proper education to increase human capital potential, besides the obvious rights to education that any young girl or boy should possess. A study found that each year of education of women correlated with a decrease of child mortality by 9.5%. That’s a heavy figure to consider; it should be criminal for a developing country not to invest in women. The International Monetary Fund estimates that if women were able to access the same resources for agriculture, food production could increase by 2.5 to 4%. If that wasn’t enough reason to begin to treat women as equals in developing nations, then consider the fact that women make up a disproportionate figure of 70% of the world’s poor.
Allowing women to have equal rights and treatment in developing countries has a variety of benefits. Less workplace discrimination means more women can work instead of being outsiders to the economy of a country. Increasing the career opportunities and general rights for women could also usher in more investment from developed countries who may find more cultural connection with the developing nation. Studies have also shown that women are better at spending money in ways that benefit children than men, but, currently, women are earning significantly less than men across the world.
By empowering women in developing nations, poverty rates could be slashed, businesses could be started, existing industries could be revitalized and greater human capital resources could be fully realized. “The question really just becomes: why waste half of the talent you have”?