For centuries women were not treated equal to men in many ways. They were not allowed to own property, they did not have a Share in the property of their parents, they had no voting rights, they had no freedom to choose their work or job and so on. Now that we have come out of those dark days of oppression of women there is a need for strong movement to fight for the rights of women and to ensure that they get all the rights which men have or in other words a movement for the Empowerment of Women. The present seminar has been planned with a view to discuss the various issues related to the Empowerment of Women and to suggest measures for achieving this end.The body of research on women‘s empowerment has conceptualized and defined this construct in many ways and used different terms, often interchangeably, including ―autonomy,‖―status,‖ and ―agency‖ (Lee-Rife and Edmeades 2011; Malhotra et al. 2002; Upadhyay and Hindin 2005).
A review of the literature also shows different measures for the same conceptualization. For example, studies often measure women‘s autonomy with an index that assesses their participation in decision-making in various household issues. This index represents women‘s degree of control over their environment. Some researchers include both major and minordecisions, while others include only major decisions, excluding day-to-day household decisions and those that are traditionally within the woman‘s domain. Women‘s empowerment encompasses many dimensions, including economic, socio-cultural, familial/interpersonal, legal, political, and psychological (Malhotra et al. 2002), which contributes to the wide variation in conceptualizations of women‘s empowerment. Given this variation in conceptualization, it is difficult to measure women‘s empowerment consistently. Kabeer (2001), whose definition is widely accepted, defines empowerment as ―the expansion of people‘s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them.
Two central components of empowerment are agency and resources needed to exercise life choices (Kabeer 2001; Malhotra et al. 2002). Even with a clear definition, these constructs are difficult to quantify in a standardized way.Additionally, to measure empowerment at an individual level, researchers must translate the amorphous constructs into a set of specific questions that population-based surveys can ask of individual respondents (Kishor and Subaiya 2008). Another challenge is the variation in cultural contexts that affect the measurement of women‘s empowerment. It is desirable to use standardized questions that enable cross-cultural comparisons of empowerment.
Yet a measure that captures empowerment in one context may have limited relevance in another, as is the case with measures that assess mobility in a community where women‘s free movement is the norm. While many existing measures of empowerment were originally conceptualized and developed for the context of Asia, and for South Asian countries in particular (Dyson and Moore 1983; Mason 1987), measures that are universally applicable regardless of the gender equity environment, such as those used in Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), are most useful for cross-national comparisons.
Using the available standardized measures of women‘s empowerment among several population-based samples from sub-Saharan Africa will allow us to make comparisons and better understand whether the available measures adequately capture empowerment in these settings. It is still unknown whether the same dimensions of empowerment that were developed elsewhere are relevant in sub-Saharan Africa, where the gender environment is completely different than in other regions. In Africa, empowerment is likely to look different than elsewhere because of such differences as more working women who have control over their earnings, more polygamy, more nuclear families (as opposed to extended families), and larger ideal family size, and because women‘s status is often tied to their fertility.
EMPOWERMENT AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
A broad body of research exists on women‘s empowerment and reproductive outcomes. Substantial research, primarily focused on Asia, demonstrates
that women‘s empowerment is associated with contraceptive use (Gwako 1997; Morgan and Niraula 1995; Schuler et al. 1997; Woldemicael 2009), lower fertility (Balk 1994; Dyson and Moore 1983; Hindin 2000), and longer birth intervals (Upadhyay and Hindin 2005). Some researchers have suggested that women‘s empowerment is a key pathway through which education influences fertility (Jejeebhoy 1995; Mason 1987). To operationalize women‘s empowerment, much of the research literature uses the previously mentioned index of participation in house holddecision-making.
The standard DHS questionnaire includes a set of questions about household decision-making. Other approaches include assessing women‘s acceptance of reasons that a husband is justified for beating his wife, and also reasons that a wife is justified in refusing sex with her husband (Ethiopian Society of Population Studies 2008). The DHS includes questions about these issues. Such gender-role attitudes measure the extent of women‘s acceptance of norms that justify men‘s control over women. As expected, they are associated with lower levels of power over household decision-making among women (Dhaher et al. 2010; Hindin 2003; Linos et al. 2010).
MAJOR OBSTACLES TO THE PROMOTION OF GENDER EQUALITY AND EMPOWERMENT
Notwithstanding the widespread commitment shown through the ratification of international and regional gender equality frameworks, normative gains are not yet fully reflected in substantial changes in women’s lives, as shown in the preceding section. Large gaps remain between policy and practice and it is the aim of this section to discuss some of the major challenges that have been experienced. Continued presence of strong cultural and traditional practices constraining progress in achieving gender parity The continued presence of long standing cultural and traditional practices that discriminate against women and girls’ have constrained the progress towards achieving gender equality. Discriminatory practices and public attitudes towards the advancement of women and gender equality have not changed at the same pace as policy, legal and institutional frameworks.
Lack of ratification of the instruments that promote gender equality Previous sections have identified the status with respect to a number of regional instruments, particularly the African Women’s Protocol. Some countries are yet to sign this instrument, while a considerable number are yet to ratify it. Ineffective institutional and policy implementation mechanisms Thirteen years after the adoption of the BPFA by the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the greatest challenge facing countries and regional institutions is the effective implementation of the adopted commitments. Good policies that do not have well formulated implementation plans and resources render the policies ineffective. In some countries, the capacity of gender machineries has also contributed to the slow pace.
Some policies are not effectively implemented because they were not developed in a participatory way inclusive of both men and women. Lack of targets with well defined time-frames are also some of the factors that have hampered effective implementation of policies. Lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms also plays a significant role in the lack of implementation. Moreover, some policies tend to focus on the symptoms rather than addressing the persistent underlying causes of gender inequality. African women, especially those living in rural communities and those with disabilities, still face exclusion from participating in development processes that can empower them and improve gender equality. It is crucial to undertake inclusive participatory approaches in policy development that involve women as equal partners.
Lack of adequate resources
Lack of human and financial resources severely limits gender mainstreaming to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. Even in situations where a comprehensive plan of action for gender mainstreaming has been developed, countries may not have adequate resources to implement the plan. In particular National Gender Machineries (NGMs) experience limited financial and other material resource base to enhance the implementation of gender equality mandates, roles and responsibilities. In addition, there are gaps in human capacity, there is generally a challenge with respect to gender competence skills of officers in the NGMs to influence the engendering of macro-economic and sector policy frameworks. There is high staff turn over of experts, and low staff retention, most countries are facing difficulties of retaining and sustaining staff with the necessary expertise.
Continued presence of strong cultural and traditional practices constraining progress in achieving gender parity in education In taking decisions with respect to the education of their children, some families continue to have preference for educating boys rather than girls. As noted female-to-male school enrolment, retention and completion favor boys in a majority of countries. Very few countries have female to male enrolment rates that favor girls over boys and these countries have been making progress to redress the situation. Continued presence of strong cultural and traditional practices constraining progress in achieving gender parity in health Some cultural and traditional practices continue to inhibit progress in the area of sexual and reproductive rights. Women and girls continue to risk death from maternal mortality.
There is need to provide accessible sexual and reproductive healthcare services and education to reduce maternal mortality. Such interventions need to address the roles of both men and women. The rate of HIV infection is much higher among women than men and in this regard, governments must establish and monitor strict legal frameworks to address the vulnerability of women and girls. Furthermore, access to anti-retroviral treatment should be ensured. Lack of enforcement of laws that promote gender equality and lack of knowledge of laws In some countries laws that promote gender equality are in place, however lack of enforcement of such laws leads to the perpetuation of gender inequalities and violence against women. In some countries, laws are in place, but interpretation of these laws is lacking and as such, they are not enforced.
Lack of full involvement of men and boys
Changing cultural and traditional beliefs including patriarchy requires the involvement of men, and boys in the promotion of gender equality through innovative rights-based, culturally sensitive programmes and continued education and sensitization.
Continued lack of recognition of women’s unpaid work
The continued lack of recognition of unpaid work (domestic, reproductive, care and support) performed by women hampers the development of policies that can effectively promote gender equality. There is therefore need for such work to be given due recognition in the computation of national income.
Limited role of the media
The media can play a major role in promoting gender equality beyond what it is currently doing. In particular in creating awareness, sensitization and education campaigns to change patriarchal attitudes. As noted before establishing new laws alone is not enough; existing gendered social relations and cultural norms may quickly shape these laws. There is need for measures to counter preexisting social forces through education and training of both men and women. The media can make a major contribution towards promoting these gender equality messages.
Lack of sex disaggregated and gender responsive data
Sex-disaggregated data and information from gender-sensitive indicators are often not collected, lost in aggregation of published data, or not used. Gender responsive data would help in tracking the progress made towards achievement of gender equality.
Translation of commitments and policies promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment into action on the ground remains a major challenge in Africa. Based on the findings of this study, this section highlights some recommendations that can help countries successfully implement the commitments and policies aimed at promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. Improved research and collection of gender responsive statistical data It is important to systematically collect accurate sex and gender disaggregated data and conduct research that is essential for monitoring and evaluating progress towards achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
More efforts are needed to build capacity of national experts to collect gender disaggregated data in order to enhance integration of gender perspectives in the development process. Strengthen documentation and dissemination of information on promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment Sharing of information is important within countries, between countries and internationally and is critical to the success of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. There is need to intensify documentation of experiences with successful and unsuccessful practices and widely disseminate this information. It is important for member States, development partners and international and regional bodies to identify information exchange systems that can facilitate wide exchange of this information in the region.
The Empowerment of women has become one of the most important Concerns of 21st century not only at national level but also at the international level. Efforts by the Govt. are on to ensure Gender equality but Government initiatives alone would not be sufficient to achieve this goal. Society must take initiative to create a climate in which there is no gender discrimination and Women have full opportunities of Self decision making and participating in the Social, Political and Economic life of the Country with a sense of equality.
As countries around the world work to promote gender equality and empower women as part of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it can be expected that demand for smaller families will follow. Additionally, family planning programs can address women‘s empowerment as part of their mission to help women and couples have only the number of children they want. Such programs are likely to generate interest in family planning services, create demand for smaller families, and also reduce unwanted fertility.
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