Woman Em­pow­er­ment

The ma­jor­ity of coun­tries with a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence of women in par­lia­ments have more eq­ui­table laws and so­cial pro­grams that ben­e­fit women.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Mughal The writer ap­pears reg­u­larly on TV talk shows. She writes on pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics in leading pub­li­ca­tions.

Woman em­pow­er­ment can be the most ef­fec­tive means for so­cial change. From a broader per­spec­tive, it is also a pre­req­ui­site for the fight against global poverty. To­day, there is greater aware­ness of the need for em­pow­er­ing women, who rep­re­sent 51 per­cent of the to­tal global pop­u­la­tion. There is a grow­ing re­al­iza­tion that a per­son's rights, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, op­por­tu­ni­ties and dig­nity should not be de­ter­mined on the ba­sis of their gen­der.

How­ever, in most un­der­de­vel­oped coun­tries, women are de­nied their

due rights. They are of­fered limited ed­u­ca­tion and work op­por­tu­ni­ties and if they dare to protest against the in­jus­tice, their voices are silenced. Women are treated like an­i­mals - in some cases even worse than an­i­mals. Just as cat­tle, they can be bought and sold and are con­sid­ered a re­pro­duc­tion ma­chine. The con­sti­tu­tion treats women as mi­nors, in­ca­pable of mak­ing de­ci­sions.

To­day, ap­prox­i­mately two bil­lion people live in ab­ject poverty around the globe. Of them, 70 per­cent are women. Ed­u­ca­tion is the most im­por­tant driver of hu­man de­vel­op­ment. Women make up two-thirds of the es­ti­mated 876 mil­lion adults world­wide who can­not read or write. In their var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties, women play an im­por­tant role in sup­port­ing the economies of their re­spec­tive coun­tries. But un­for­tu­nately, they own less than one per­cent of the world's property. Laws and cus­toms pre­vent women from own­ing land or other pro­duc­tive as­sets. In many coun­tries, women do not have the right to in­her­i­tance. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Mil­len­nium Cam­paign, women work two-thirds of the world’s work­ing hours but are paid lower wages than men and are forced to work on lower po­si­tions.

The num­ber of women who are a vic­tim of phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse is in­creas­ing by the day. Hu­man traf­fick­ing of women and their sex­ual ex­ploita­tion is also ram­pant. Those who fall prey to traf­fick­ing are mostly forced into sex­ual slav­ery and pros­ti­tu­tion. They are also sold as do­mes­tic la­bor and are held hostage in homes where they cook, clean and take care of chil­dren for many hours a day, re­ceiv­ing lit­tle or no pay for their work. In some cases, they are not even al­lowed any con­tact with the out­side world. To curb hu­man traf­fick­ing, there is a need for all stake­hold­ers to come to­gether and take the nec­es­sary steps to put an end to this in­hu­man prac­tice.

On the po­lit­i­cal front, women do not have the op­por­tu­ni­ties that men do. Around the world, less than 10 per­cent women are a part of par­lia­ments while in many coun­tries there is no con­cept of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in leg­is­la­tures. Par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in pol­i­tics is fun­da­men­tal to democ­racy and es­sen­tial for the achieve­ment of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. It has been ob­served that coun­tries with a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence of women in the leg­isla­tive bod­ies have more eq­ui­table laws and so­cial pro­grams that ben­e­fit women, chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

Ac­cord­ing to the Gen­der Em­pow­er­ment Mea­sure In­dex, which takes into ac­count fac­tors such as the role of women in pol­i­tics, econ­omy and de­ci­sion-mak­ing, women in the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are liv­ing in worst cir­cum­stances. Nor­way tops the list of coun­tries where con­di­tions are most fa­vor­able to women, while Ye­men is re­garded as the least fa­vor­able coun­try for women where they do not have any de­ci­sion-mak­ing author­ity in po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic mat­ters. Ac­cord­ing to the Gen­der Rel­a­tive De­vel­op­ment In­dex, which is based on women's health, ed­u­ca­tion and in­come sta­tus, Ice­land tops the list of 157 coun­tries where women en­joy max­i­mum health, ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, whereas Sierra Leone is at the bot­tom of the list.

If we take a look at the Hu­man Poverty In­dex, which takes into ac­count women's health, ed­u­ca­tion and liv­ing stan­dards, Bar­ba­dos is ranked first among 108 coun­tries where women are pro­vided ad­e­quate health and ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties and their stan­dard of liv­ing is also sat­is­fac­tory. Chad is ranked last on this in­dex.

In ev­ery coun­try and re­gion, women want their voices to be heard in times of peace, con­flicts and tran­si­tions. To­day, a large num­ber of women in the Is­lamic world lag far be­hind their western coun­ter­parts. Some of the prob­lems faced by Mus­lim women are limited or no ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, re­stric­tion on free­dom of move­ment and a pa­tri­ar­chal setup that is hos­tile to women. Men are re­garded as the cus­to­dian of fam­i­lies and women can­not do any­thing with­out their per­mis­sion.

Tak­ing all the afore­men­tioned fac­tors into con­sid­er­a­tion, it is im­per­a­tive that women are given their due rights and em­pow­ered in their re­spec­tive fields. At work­places, they should be given the same salaries and sta­tus as their male col­leagues. As the is­sue of women em­pow­er­ment is re­ceiv­ing more at­ten­tion around the world, global in­sti­tu­tions such as the United Na­tions En­tity for Gen­der Equal­ity are work­ing to­wards achiev­ing the goal of a high-level cor­po­rate lead­er­ship for gen­der equal­ity. They have also un­der­taken steps to pro­mote equal­ity through com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives and ad­vo­cacy and have even set out ba­sic prin­ci­ples such as the im­ple­men­ta­tion of en­ter­prise de­vel­op­ment and sup­ply chain and mar­ket­ing prac­tices.

It is time to pri­or­i­tize gen­der equal­ity in na­tional plans to make sure that women play a cen­tral role in the de­vel­op­ment of a coun­try.

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