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