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Making it on your own

  • Published at 12:28 pm March 7th, 2015
Making it on your own

What accounts for the difference in earnings between men and women? According to Claudia Goldin, author of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, although over the years the gender gap has narrowed in employment while that of earning has only stagnated.

While some of it is to do with the kind of jobs most women do, and their roles and responsibilities at home, a lot of it is to do with differences within the occupation which basically means that on an average, women get paid less than men for the same job.

Of course, there is going to be a whole bunch of people who will argue that women get several benefits from their workplace that men don’t, one of them being maternity leave, but the fact that it is specifically women who keep the baby in their wombs, give birth and nurse, remains unchanged.

In a separate study conducted in 2012, an estimated one-third or more of working women in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia were engaged in unpaid family work, which typically places women in a subordinate and more vulnerable position – IZA (Institute for the Study of Labor), 2014.

According to the World Bank, 6.4% of the female force remains unemployed as opposed to 5.7% of men worldwide. So, what are we going to do about it? Empowerment of women is a social system that starts with education and ends with entrepreneurship and requires partnership of the private and public sector.

Amongst private organisations, BRAC, which is a development success story, born in Bangladesh and bringing poverty solutions to nine other developing countries in Asia and Africa, is working towards empowerment of women through its different programs such as education, microfinance and agriculture.

In Tanzania, BRAC launched a project in 2014, titled GEC (Girls’ Education Challenge) project, to bring education to out of school girls within their communities. These girls are unable to attend school, some of the reasons being sexual harassment on the way to school and their household chores and nurturing their babies.

As such, the only possible solution was to bring the schools to them. 150 study clubs have been setup as safe spaces within the communities where girls can study as well as have discussions with their facilitator, who is also within their communities. In Pakistan, BRAC has reached 1,683 girls through its pre-primary schools and trained 200 teachers.

The Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents program (ELA) targets adolescent girls in Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Liberia and provides them with safe spaces where girls can come and take some time off their responsibilities at home.

These spaces are also used to provide life skills training, combined with microfinance opportunities so that the members can become self confident and self-reliant individuals within their families and communities.

A research shows that 44% of girls in participant villages (which had ELA clubs), as compared to 14% of the girls in the control villages (without ELA clubs), reported increased engagement in income generating activities.

Through its agriculture program, in Africa alone (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania and Uganda), on average, BRAC is providing 60-70% women with agricultural training, input supplies and agro-finance loans.

The results are tremendous. But it’s only a start. More and more organisations need to come together and work cohesively to design programs specifically suited for women in entrepreneurship so that they have control of their lives and their finances which helps them become independent.

Equality is a term that remains unaddressed if we are unable to work towards common goals and set our agenda. This year, the UN’s theme for international women’s day is “Empowering Women-Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”

Let’s start by picturing a perfect world in which women are empowered not because they are women alone, but because humanity cannot do otherwise. Approximately 3.6 billion people in the world today are women. Let’s empower humanity by empowering women. 

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