When women started working outside their homes more than a hundred years ago, they were limited to occupations like domestic and personal services, teachers, stenographers, typists, clerks, farm laborers, launderers, bookkeepers, cashiers, cooks, and so on.
Today, 7.4% of the Fortune 500 companies have a woman as their Chief Executive Officer. Not a very impressive number, but still worth mentioning as it will only get better from here.
The percentage of women in the workforce is nearing 50% in the developed countries and they are in every occupation and at every level in the hierarchy.
Developing countries are also seeing a positive shift in the workforce gender ratio with more and more women qualifying to enter the workforce.
More and more women in developing countries are starting their own small and medium level business ventures, and are in turn giving employment to others in their community.
Economic empowerment for women did not come easy. Many women and men have fought hand in hand to achieve this.
It is shocking to know that even today there are nations where women are legally not allowed to work.
There are nations where a woman’s husband can legally stop her from working. Hence the fight still continues in many societies and countries and it will go on until every woman has the right to do any job of her choice. The fight will go on until every woman is empowered economically.
Today we talk about economic empowerment of women as a sum total of the following:
- Women have access to all the jobs available in the market.
- Women can access and have control over productive resources.
- Women can participate in existing markets and own a share of it.
- Women can invest their time in productive and meaningful activities.
- Women are part of economic decision-making at various levels.
- Women do not face any gender-based legal barriers.
These factors are also crucial in ensuring gender equality in the economic sector. Economic empowerment for women is hence closely related to ensuring gender equality.
The resources available, the market, the opportunities, and the technology should be in the open for grabs by whoever is competent and capable. The more competent and capable person will always get the bigger share and that is fair.
The share, however, cannot be, and should not be the entitlement of someone because of their gender, race, ethnicity, or any other special privilege.
The foundation for economic empowerment of women is laid by good education, and support and belief from family members at home. Education will armor her with the skills required and the support and belief of family will empower her with the confidence required to work towards her goals in life.
Employment and economic independence have to be as much a woman’s goal in life as it is a man’s. Today, a double income household has become a norm and it is beneficial for the family to have two skilled and employed people earning, for a better future for the family.
Women And Economy
A healthy economy needs people from all age groups and genders to earn money and to spend money. In other terms, the production and consumption of goods for, and by every person in the region lead to a healthy and well-functioning economy.
When more women work, their buying ability increases. They spend more money on products and services that they like. This in turn leads to the production of more of those products. This also leads to more people investing in the services that these women avail themselves.
For example, when a group of young mothers from a community started working in offices nearby, another set of older women started a daycare facility to take care of the children of the working mothers.
Another set of women started community kitchen services to help the working mothers.
All these women started earning money in the process. The purchasing ability of all these women increased manifold, leading to a lot of new grocery stores, salons, toy shops, etc., opening up in that community.
This is a small example of how the economy of a small region grows when women in that region start becoming economically empowered.
When the purchasing ability of women increases, they are able to demand better products and services. We see more and more advertisements trying to lure women customers.
Earlier, women’s purchasing power was limited to jewelry, fashion, home appliances, toys and the like.
Today, we have a range of automobiles, gadgets, homes, that are specifically made for women customers. This has been possible only because women today are financially empowered and are in a position to buy everything that a man can buy.
Women have been breaking the stereotypes and doing everything that men have been doing for so long. They have come a long way. However, they had to first shatter the perceptions of society. It is a fact that women have to work harder than men to be perceived as good as men.
Today, thanks to the internet and the closely connected web world, more women are getting empowered and inspired by their predecessors from different parts of the world and are striving towards more economic empowerment.
Women Empowerment Programmes
In olden times, women had limited opportunities and they had to compete against each other to grab those opportunities. This led to a lack of support and sisterhood amongst women.
Today, when the opportunities have grown beyond boundaries, we see a lot of women coming forward to empower other women and to support each other.
Women today are forming strong bonds of sisterhood and camaraderie. They are running various women empowerment programmes to mentor and handhold each other.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has established that trade can play an important role in the economic empowerment of women.
It has hence designed programs to build more inclusive trading systems that can encourage more women to partake in the trading system and avail the benefits of global trading.
These programs are working towards providing women the same opportunities as men. The aim is to remove barriers and to provide a level playing field for men and women.
WTO is making all efforts to make trade more inclusive.
The United Nations’ agenda for 2030 also includes gender empowerment as part of its sustainable development goals. It includes the agenda of empowering all girls and women.
Since economic empowerment is the backbone for achieving gender empowerment, it is on the agenda of the United Nations too.
According to data collected, the current gender gap shows that we will take a very, very long time in years to reach economic gender parity at the pace it is at present in 2020. This calls for some immediate measures to be taken to fast-track the process of economic empowerment for women. This calls for a lot of awareness and training for women and girls.
Women-led businesses are smaller and are more prone to the shocks of economic disturbances. They have to be trained to sail through these tough times.
Government has to make policies to reduce this gap in the economic status of men and women.
Policies that ensure equal pay for equal work, trade policies to help women who are novices, support groups to help them understand the nuances, and to make an environment that enables women to trade and do businesses at larger scales.
Women empowerment programs have to also work on the digital inclusion of women who run small and medium-scale businesses. They have to include modern technologies in production to help them boost up their production.
Women entrepreneurs also need access to finance. Unfortunately, women-led businesses are considered more risky ventures.
Women empowerment programs should come up with innovative models that can bring the required capital into women-led enterprises.
Women’s Contribution In Economy
Women’s contribution to the economy has clearly changed a lot over time. They have literally jumped from the backseat to the driver’s seat.
A lot of spending decisions of the family today are made by women. The neighborhood in which the family buys a home, the type of food that the family eats, the vacation spots, the brand of clothes the family wears, are mostly decided by the women in the family.
Even as part of the workforce and as entrepreneurs, women are doing beautifully well in their careers. Her spending power has increased and so has her value in society.
However, it is important that in order to stay on top of the game, women in all sectors receive continuous training on modern technologies and innovations. Women have to keep honing their skills in order to remain relevant and up to date.
Women’s economic participation is an important part of the growth and stability of an economy.
It has an immediate impact on the next generation of boys and girls too.
The gender preferences of families (boys over girls) can be reduced to a large extent by reducing the economic disparity between men and women in the workforce.
Hence women’s contribution to the economy has a huge role to play in the culture of the society as well.
Women who have defied limitations have inspired others. For all women out there, it is important to surround yourself with people who can appreciate how hard you have worked to get where you are.
According to many experts, the next couple of decades will see a tremendous increase in opportunities for women in the job market and trade sectors.
It is up to the women to be prepared and ready to grab the opportunities and make use of every possibility that comes their way.
Contributors: Kazim Abasali and Deepa Kadavakat