Breaking Down the Socio-Economic Barriers for Women’s Empowerment
Photo Credit: UNICEF/Salam Al-Janabi | Women and children wait to be seen by members of a UNICEF-supported mobile health and nutrition team in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
By Abdul Saboor Sitez
At present, gender equity is understood to be a crucial issue for many societies and cultures worldwide, those which are mostly referred to as “underdeveloped societies”. In such discriminatory contexts, due to the strong impact of patriarchy, there is a lack of socio-political representation for women and the denial of their fundamental rights leads to varying forms of violence, including Sexual and Gender Based Violence (GBV/SGBV). These have been defined by the international community as drastic and severe crimes against humanity. The United Nations and its agencies have frequently pressed upon member states importance of women rights in many contexts.
The UN has stressed that “Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development”. Furthermore, gender equality integrated within international human rights law through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1984. However, this principle has not been upheld in letter and spirit.
Which countries have the highest rate of discrimination against women?
There has always been an acute difference in the treatment of women between the West and the East. While many nations have shown considerable openness towards gender equality over the years, there exist certain cultural norms that restrict women from fully enjoying their fundamental rights (including their political, social and economic rights). On the stage of repression, some nations are worth recalling, namely Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq, followed by Pakistan, Syria and other sub-Saharan countries where women’s rights are still undermined.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021, three key factors must be taken into consideration in order to clearly understand how gender equality is still lagging many countries: inclusion, security and justice. The consequences of gender inequality are clearly dramatic, and result in a negative impact on women’s well-being from, in both social and economic aspects.
Women suffer from isolation and acute stigmatization from their community because of their gender; this factor leads to a high rate of illiteracy among girls and women along with a high prevalence of school dropout. This can then lead to rejection from jobs due to a lack of the necessary skills required for these roles. It is important to remember that women’s rights should be based on provisions laid out by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), specifically Article 10, which mandates that education on part the respective state without any form of discrimination must be offered to women and not only men. However, the educational and financial gap between men and women is significant in certain parts of the world, particularly in the Middle-East and sub-Saharan Africa.
What about women’s jobs opportunities?
It is necessary to emphasize the discrepancy that many women experience at work compared to men. As a result of CEDAW, all women must have the freedom and right to be a key actor at work place, according to Article 11. Despite the constant efforts shown by the international community to stress the importance of gender equality, this topic is still a matter of debate in many parts of the world. Recent complaints have been made towards Iran, India, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Women’s ability to work on par with men rarely translates into equal wages, thus leading to an underrepresentation in the labour market. Participating in labour markets has been an important channel for economic empowerment for women and has contributed towards building diverse, inclusive and innovative organizations. Beyond inequality of access to labour opportunities, which result in financial disparities, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that employment opportunities for women declined drastically.
According to the latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) data, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on both women’s and men’s employment, but at different stages of the crisis due to the gender-induced stratification of economic activities in many countries. The UNCTAD analysis shows that early measures to curb the spread of the virus first hit jobs predominantly held by women, within the personal service sector.
At the outset of the pandemic, a higher prevalence of the virus correlated with a higher rate of female unemployment. Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. This, among other factors, means that women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even if we account for the fact that women and men generally work in different sectors. Therefore, addressing normative and legal barriers in employment should be a priority area for policymakers and businesses in all countries.
What steps should be taken to fundamentally change this situation?
Many relevant initiatives have been launched by various local and international NGOs to ensure women’s representation in employment. Recently, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) launched the Generation Equality Forum, which is a global movement for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France. The forum brings together governments, corporations, NGOs, youth-led groups and foundations to secure concrete, ambitious, and transformative commitments for gender equality.
For many activists and politicians, the key to real change lies in educating society in order to understand the powerful role women have and need to play in their wider communities; to empower themselves and to contribute actively to the development of societies. Promoting education and open-mindedness takes time, especially in patriarchal societies. Dialogue also plays a crucial role in breaking down social barriers. Constructive dialogue would promote understanding within communities through acknowledging the greater roles for women within society and thus equality in the long run.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embodies a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind. Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of its 17 goals. Only by ensuring the rights of women and girls through these goals can we create an inclusive and just society.
Abdul Saboor Sitez, is a writer and expert on International Relations. His articles have appeared in publications, such as: Hasht -e- Subh, Etilaat Roz, Subh -e- Kabul, Afghan Women's Voices, Zan -e- Rooz.
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The article does not reflect the official opinion of the AISS.