Gender Equality is an issue of large social importance across the globe. Depending on the country and region the issue of gender equality takes on slightly different in forms. In Africa poverty and gender inequality are interconnected, as women are much more likely to be poor and illiterate than men. Women’s opportunities for growth, education, and development are often hindered by discriminatory traditions or laws in some Sub-Saharan African countries. Everything from not being able to own property to not being able to attend school while menstruating takes away from potential opportunities for young women and increases the gender inequality gap.
To achieve gender equality initiatives and projects on education, entrepreneurship, and financial independence should have a focus on women. Empowering women benefits everyone. Helping half the workforce have access to opportunities, and overcome barriers put in their place simply because of their gender, helps stimulate the livelihood and opportunity of the community that empowers them.
In terms of policy and women’s rights there has been some success:
- the number of countries that do not grant women the right to vote is on the decline
- Women are gaining more positions in parliament throughout Africa. Many African countries have more women in parliament than some western ones (Rwanda’s government is run by a female majority).
- Women living in poverty are gaining greater access to credit and saving mechanisms internationally because of microcredit.
- There has been an almost universal ratification of the women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Despite some success in empowering women in the last decade or so, numerous problems still remain in terms of gender equality. Even when there are law that say that gender discrimination and lower pay for women are illegal these things still happen (Africare). Sub-Saharan women make up only 15% of the region’s landholders, despite the investment and work women put into their families and communities. These women are also more likely to face obstacles concerning sexual exploitation, disease, and illiteracy.
To create a more sustainable gender equality across the world micro-financing opportunities, leadership training, and the encouragement of female entrepreneurship are necessary to help women grow, develop, and reach their potential. Training is just the first step, women must also be able to access supervisory roles and business management.
The Initiative for the Economic Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurs Project (IEEWP) was founded by Africare in 2008. Funded by ExxonMobil this program provides training for better agricultural practices and agro-processing centers. The IEEWEP was able to increase women’s participation in local businesses (and their salaries) in Southern Chad.
Since 2011 more than 1,000 women have found work through a graduated business development project, which serves to diversify their income sources. These projects also helped increase their annual income by approximately 70% (Africare).
Despite some of these advancements there is still room to improve in terms of gender equality, here are some continuing concerns:
- In many places women are not allowed to own property or inherit land
- women work more than men, but are often paid less
- Religion or tradition can be used as an additional obstacle for equal rights in some societies deeply roots in patriarchal ideals.
- Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), trafficking, social exclusions, “honor” killings, early marriages, and restricted mobility deny women and girls their health, increase the chance of illness and death.
There are many ways that women can create positive economic change, Women, Work, and the Economy discusses a couple of these situations:
- When women are able to develop their full labor market potential, there can potentially be significant macroeconomic gains
- the employment of women on an equal basis would let companies make better use of the available talent pool, with potential growth implications.
- Equal access to inputs would raise the productivity levels of female-owned companies
- There are better opportunities for women to earn and control income, which could contribute to broader economic development in developing economies