TO break free from dependence and abuse, women’s best option is economic empowerment.
Rep. Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo (Camarines Sur) stressed this when she addressed more than 500 women participating in the 15th Cebu Women’s Congress last Mar. 21.
According to Oscar C. Pineda’s report in Sun.Star Cebu, Robredo, the keynote speaker, pointed out that earning their own money may help a woman leave an abusive husband or partner and break the cycle of violence that traps women and their children in victimhood.
Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale also reported that the Provincial Women’s Commission extended many forms of assistance, including livelihood assistance, to 1,424 victims of sexual abuse and other women in the communities.
Defined as the capacity of women to “bring about economic change for themselves,” economic empowerment is “increasingly viewed as the most important contributing factor to achieving equality between women and men,” noted the International Center for Research on Women.
Strengthening women, who represent half of the world’s workforce, directly results in the improvement of the economy and the reduction of poverty rates. Yet, these economic gains must be attained while ensuring that the other human rights of women are not adversely affected.
This delicate balance must be maintained between, on one hand, “providing women access to economic resources” (capital, technology,
information, marketing and training) and, on the other, “addressing the negative impact of globalization” on women.
Quality of life
The global expansion of capitalism has freed women from the traditional settings of homes and farms and opened the portals to their participation in the formal workforce. With their earnings, women have acquired an unprecedented power for independence and decision-making in their families and communities.
However, the feminization of the workforce has come with costs for women, too. Goretti Horgan argues in a paper published in the Autumn 2001 issue of the “International Socialism Journal” that globalization’s “race to the bottom” exacts long work hours, low wages and other demands from women, imposing the “double burden” of reconciling the demands of home and work.
The cost of employment or livelihood outside of the home is most piercingly felt by mothers who are forced to “neglect the children they are working to feed,” observes Horgan. “For some women, joining the global workforce threatens their right ever to have children.”
Despite these challenges, few women will opt to stay at home or give up an opportunity to earn and supplement the family’s resources.
Lessening the double burden of women involves other stakeholders.
Employers must respect the quality of women’s contributions to the workplace by giving them the same wages as their male counterparts who perform the same tasks or have the same qualifications. Horgan points out how gender inequality results in women earning less than men, even when both genders are doing the same work.
Proponents of livelihood projects to uplift communities must be conscious of gender issues. Husbands and male partners are usually active during project consultation; implementation, though, involves wives or female partners. The planning of development projects must consider balancing women’s multiple roles in child-raising, farm work, household duties (such as fetching water), and project participation.
Women’s economic empowerment should be aimed then for holistic upliftment. The Nobel Prize-winning Grameen Bank introduced microfinance and community development among the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. With women composing 97 percent of its
members/borrowers, Grameen achieved an impressive 98-percent payback rate.
The Grameen target is not just to teach members how to pay off loans and save; the goal is to teach the poor how to rise above the mindset of poverty.
Members recite and apply the “Sixteen Decisions”. This is a code that includes vowing to plant vegetables the whole year round, eating plenty and selling the surplus; not accepting or giving dowry at their children’s weddings; and keeping families small.
Grameen members enroll all children of school age, eat three-meals-a-day, use a sanitary toilet, keep a leak-proof house, drink clean water, and pay their Grameen loan weekly.
Using other approaches, stakeholders should aim to empower women to harmonize the opportunities and challenges brought on by economic empowerment, specially in the age of globalization.