Women Empowerment Essay
AMRITSAR: Women education and the resulting women empowerment was the major concern of the society at large. It was because educated women could play a significant role in the overall development and progress of the country , this was observed by Ritu Aggarwal, Chairperson, Hospital Welfare Section, District Red Cross Society while talking to media persons here on Wednesday.
District Red Cross Society provides free of cost sewing machines to help the widows to be self independent and training in beauty care, stitching and computer operations to girls from economically backward strata.
“Empowerment of women is the key device which enables them to resurrect their status multifariously in the society and reconcile to share virilities of the fast developing world” she said .
Detailing the activities of District . Red Cross Society during the year 2012-13, she informed that 76 widows were provided sewing machines for being self independent. Besides 30 girls have been imparted training in beauty courses.
She informed that the students undergoing training in beauty courses were provided professional tips from beauty experts of national repute. Similarly many girls had learnt stitching from the two stitching centers run by the society.
Pangoora Scheme, run by Society, which has proved to be a boon for the unwanted girl child and has earned national and international recognition has been successful in saving the lives of 64 infants. ” The society was also successfully running a shelter home for the homeless and has been successful in rehabilitating 780 inmates and sending 950 others back to their homes “said Ritu.
Women are increasingly seen as an important part of the international development agenda. Empowering women and promoting gender equality are enshrined as global development objectives within the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed to in 2000. Despite the empowerment of women widely being viewed as a “good thing”, the question of how development interventions can contribute to making progress along the long and winding road of female empowerment, and so enable women to make more choices about their own lives, is a contentious and debated area. The road to empowerment: practical versus strategic needs
On the one hand, for some, poverty and disempowerment go hand-in-hand. As income poverty goes down, so do women become more empowered. Development interventions which focus on “practical gender needs”, including women’s income and material assets, will therefore lead both to reduced poverty and to increased female empowerment. Microcredit and women’s savings groups are examples of interventions which, through a focus on practical gender needs, aim both to reduce income poverty and contribute to women’s empowerment. Critics of this view, on the other hand, argue that such an approach fails to address the root causes of disempowerment, notably women’s unequal position in society relative to men. It burdens women with additional responsibilities; they are already responsible for running the household, and this increasingly has to be combined with income generating activities. Rather than development working for women, women are working for development.
Instead, it is advocated that development agencies focus on “strategic gender needs”, including removing institutional discrimination and claiming rights from the state. These are normally achieved through collective action and bottom-up struggles. Development activities facilitate the achievement of strategic gender needs through uniting women, raising their awareness, and encouraging their mobilization so they receive what they are entitled to and begin to overturn the unequal structures within society. This article examines the processes resulting from the implementation of a programme which is primarily based on the achievement of women’s practical needs, but aims to combine this with a strategic component by raising women’s awareness and group-based livelihoods training. Integrating economic opportunities with an awareness of rights The goal of the Chars Livelihoods Programme (CLP) is to reduce extreme poverty.
The first phase of the programme, funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and operating between 2004–10, targeted around 55,000 extremely poor households living on the chars (islands) of the Jamuna River, in northwest Bangladesh. The programme gave women within targeted households GB£100s worth of investment capital to spend on a range of productive investment options (the majority purchased cattle). In addition, these women also attended training sessions on how to manage their investment. These components of the programme aimed to open up economic opportunities for the women.
Another major component of the programme was a social development curriculum, with female beneficiaries meeting in groups over a period of 18 months to discuss and be taught about a range of topics, including the illegality of “social evils” such as dowry, child marriage and domestic violence, and also their entitlements from the state. Over the period of a year from September 2008, I undertook focus group discussions, informal conversations and semi-structured interviews with 143 female beneficiaries in four villages. This fieldwork commenced 17 to 21 months after these beneficiaries had received the investment capital, meaning that by the end of the fieldwork period, everyone interviewed had finished their direct involvement in the programme. Did the CLP approach contribute to female empowerment?
The short answer to the question “Did the CLP approach contribute to female empowerment?” is “yes”, though this needs to be qualified. In particular, it should be emphasized that empowerment is not guaranteed. Most women are becoming more empowered, with programme activities contributing to this, but this is not the case for everyone. The transfer of investment capital specifically to women has reduced their economic dependence on their husbands. Female beneficiaries, with very few exceptions, have maintained control over their cattle. Through rearing livestock on their homestead — an activity which conforms to the traditional role of women in rural Bangladesh — women are directly contributing to gaining income from them. Female beneficiaries have not felt overburdened by this additional responsibility. Rather, they enjoy having cash-in-hand which they can choose to spend on small purchases, such as school books and cooking pots.
Limited employment opportunities for women on the chars, combined with the social unacceptability of women undertaking paid work outside the home, means that this is a first for many women who previously always had to ask their husbands for money. Using an economic entry point has not just resulted in economic changes in the lives of these women, but has also had spillover effects into other areas. For instance, due to their contributions to household income, women now have a greater say in small household decisions, such as how much money their husband should spend at the market. There are, however, very few examples of women influencing decisions about strategic life choices, including having children or purchasing a large piece of agricultural machinery. These decisions still tend to be made by the husband. Perhaps the most important change is the decline in domestic violence.
Here, the empowerment of individual women is starting to translate into wider changes in the social acceptability of domestic violence. Psychological empowerment, manifest through improved self-esteem, is widespread, stemming from a more secure livelihood and a greater sense of hope for what the future holds. This change has contributed to the election of 17 female beneficiaries, across the approximately 700 villages where the CLP operated, as Union Parishad (local government) members during the 2011 elections. However, on the chars the process of individual empowerment is only just beginning and, in some instances, is constrained by existing social norms. For example, through the social development curriculum all the women know that dowry payments (given by parents on their daughter’s marriage) are illegal.
The costs of not following this practice though, are so great that most households continue to follow it. Not paying dowry may mean that your daughter cannot get married, or has to marry an “unsuitable” man (maybe becoming a second or third wife). Female beneficiaries do not even realize that, to an outsider, their limited ability to move in public spaces (particularly the market) maintains them in a subordinate position to men, limiting their choices. They are not aware that there is an alternative. Where empowerment is occurring, how are CLP activities contributing to this process? There are three mechanisms at work, a combination of the processes resulting from the transfer of investment capital and the social development curriculum: 1.Group meetings and training have given women more self-confidence and a greater feeling of solidarity, for instance, to stand-up for another woman if she is a victim of domestic violence. 2.Women’s control over cattle and their direct contribution to household income, through helping rear them, have improved their position to make decisions over the purchase of small household items.
3.Overall improved household material wealth and food security have greatly contributed to reducing domestic violence, with husbands being less hungry, having a greater sense of purpose and seeing more hope for the future. In addition, women in single-person households no longer have to work as maids, hugely increasing their self-respect. Moving beyond the ideological dichotomy of practical and strategic needs Analysis of CLP interventions shows that, when reducing extreme poverty, it is not a case of “either” meeting practical gender needs “or” achieving strategic needs. Rather, short-term material gains and reduced insecurity can provide a platform for changing intra-household relationships and empowering women beyond the economic realm. The approach of the CLP ensures that practical gender needs are met while also providing a material base which can contribute to achieving strategic needs.
The balance which interventions give to practical and strategic needs, and the sequencing of these interventions, depends very much upon the operating context. For women living in extreme poverty an initial focus on practical needs, which acknowledges the daily imperatives of survival, is likely to be most appropriate. However, it is clear that using an economic entry point is insufficient for ensuring strategic needs. In particular, women need to expand their understanding of the choices which are available. Raising awareness of rights through social development interventions is one way of doing this. Knowledge, however, is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition of changing behaviours and social norms, especially over the short time period. Awareness-raising should be accompanied by other interventions which reduce the economic and social risks associated with individuals making particular choices.
This may mean involving men in social development activities, aiming to reduce the potential for recriminations as their wives become more empowered. It is naïve to think that women living in extreme poverty will not have to struggle to progress along the road of empowerment. Whether this is through engagement in economic activities, or through mobilizing against the powerful to claim their rights, women will have to work hard. Clearly, empowerment for some is likely to mean loss of power for others. It is not easy for women to renegotiate existing relationships or to negotiate new ones. Development activities should both build the capacity of women to do this and also ensure that they have the material support and social networks, not just to overcome any recriminations, but to be able to enjoy an increased ability to make choices about their own futures. In recent years, the rate of new business formed by women has significantly outpaced the rate of new business formed by men across all ethnic groups in the United States. Similar trends are found across the developing world.
Why, then, do women still own and manage significantly fewer businesses than men? To what extent does the behaviour of female entrepreneurs in terms of traits, motivations and success rates, and their gender-related distinctiveness, provide an answer? Despite a growing literature, more research on female entrepreneurship is needed, particularly in developing countries, where we are seeing a growing number of initiatives aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and empowering women in the process. The latter tendency reflects a growing interest in female entrepreneurship in developing countries (which, in turn, is due to greater interest in the role played by entrepreneurship in economic development).
Women have been assigned a special role not only because they stand to benefit from entrepreneurship, being the gender that is poorer and suffers from more discrimination, but also because they are seen as a critical driver of entrepreneurship in light of their unique role in the household and the rise in female-headed households across the developing world. The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) project on Promoting Entrepreneurial Capacity turned its focus towards a fresh look at female entrepreneurs in developing countries. The resulting research was published as a special section of the European Journal of Development Research. This article provides a brief overview of some of the key findings and recommendations contained in the special section of that journal. Some stylized facts from three decades of research
What stylized facts have we learned from the past 30 years of research on female self-employment and new business creation? For one thing, we know that significantly fewer women than men own and manage businesses worldwide. This could be because women fail more often than men, or because fewer women than men start businesses to begin with, or both. However, evidence suggests that, after correcting factors such as the size of the business and sectoral distribution, women’s failure rates are not that significantly different from those of men. Thus, at least a portion of the difference between genders must be due to the fact that fewer women than men start businesses.
Evidence to date suggests that a variety of factors contribute to explaining observed differences in entrepreneurial behaviour across genders and that such differences have significant implications at the macroeconomic level. Perhaps women and men have different socioeconomic characteristics and, if we were to correct factors such as education, wealth, family and work status, those differences would disappear. Indeed, quite a bit of empirical evidence shows that such differences do exist.
Also, women tend to possess less experience then men and to concentrate in different sectors. In addition, the propensity of women to start a business may differ from that of men for cultural reasons, such as discrimination. The businesses owned and managed by men and women are also different. We now know that women’s businesses tend to be smaller and to grow less than those owned by men. Also, women’s businesses tend to be less profitable than those of men and to generate lower sales turnover (even in same-industry comparisons). Maria Minniti (2009) provides a comprehensive and up-to-date review of the literature on women entrepreneurs and their businesses.
Female entrepreneurs in developing countries
What do we know about female entrepreneurship in developing countries? Do the “stylized facts” briefly noted above also apply in the context of a developing economy? The general question is whether the characteristics and role of female entrepreneurship vary across countries at different stages of development. Recent evidence shows that prevalence rates of female entrepreneurship tend to be relatively higher in developing countries than in developed countries. This traditionally has been explained by the fact that women in developing economies face higher barriers to entry in the formal labour market and must resort to entrepreneurship as a way out of unemployment (and, often, out of poverty). Research on female entrepreneurship in Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, found very high rates of female entrepreneurship in the poorest countries of the region (up to 35 percent in Peru).
Only 13 percent of women entrepreneurs in the region, however, indicated that they expected their firm to grow over the following five years. In many cases opportunities and incentives are unfavourable to women who wish to begin businesses, even when they have the abilities and knowledge. Asking what variables are systematically associated with female entrepreneurship, and whether there are differences when countries at various levels of economic development are considered, is another way to look at the issue. It was found that the variables associated with entrepreneurial decisions tend to be the same for men and women and across countries, regardless of level of development, and that gender differences in entrepreneurial behaviour tend to be remarkably stable across countries. The intensity with which each of these variables influences individuals, however, does vary significantly across gender and across countries depending on their level of development. As a result, on average, participation rates for men tend to be 50 percent higher than those of women, thus creating a “gender gap” in entrepreneurship.
Gender gaps in start-up activity are larger in middle-income countries, whereas they tend to be narrower in lower-income countries. This is probably because many women start businesses out of necessity. Surprisingly, women in poorer countries tend to be more self-confident about their abilities (skills and knowledge) to become entrepreneurs and are less afraid of failure compared with women in middle- and high-income countries, notwithstanding subjective and possibly biased perceptions about self-confidence, fear of failure, and existence of opportunities or significant and systematically associated determinants of the gender gap across all countries.
Women in developing countries, like their counterparts in more developed ones, rely more than men on extended families which, in many rural settings are often their major (or only) social network. This is often constraining, since women’s marriage status, and the assets and incomes brought to their marriages, emerge as important determinants of their entrepreneurial decisions. Married women with young children are more likely to enter entrepreneurship than waged labour, and are more likely to be entrepreneurs than non-married women. On the other hand, they are also more likely to quit a business voluntarily.
As far as the performance of female entrepreneurs’ firms is concerned, the evidence from developing and developed countries is somewhat similar. Women tend to have lower growth expectations, and their firms tend to grow slower in both sales and employment than those of men even if one controls for sectors. Some evidence suggests that women in many developing countries are primarily concerned not with growth but rather with survival. This may be a reason for the finding that habitual female entrepreneurs in developing countries tend to be portfolio rather than serial entrepreneurs, as they attempt to diversify income sources and survival chances.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 November 2016
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