Women empowerment: Issues, barriers and prospects
Women empowerment has been widely discussed issue for the whole mankind. It encompasses the realm of human rights and can be defined as a gender based equality-where women have the full power to exercise their own rights in decision making in every aspect of their life whether it is related to marriage, education, policy making, economic freedom and leadership. This idea includes women who are on the outside of decision-making process.
Sangeeta Chowdhury, Senior Program Director of Economic Justice, Global Fund for Women perfectly quote 'when I look at the word empowerment, I see the word power and so when we speak of women empowerment, to me it is about changing the systems, institutions and mindsets that perpetuate patriarchal hierarchies of power and social order.' Meanwhile, the main goal of women empowerment is to achieve gender based equality and empower all women to have their full freedom of choice.
Many people think that the days of women fighting for right are over but the bitter truth is that they are still fighting against male dominated mindset and stigma of the social norms. Each day one out of three women is being sexually harassed or victimized by the society. The journey of women empowerment is far away to go. May be, this is why, Lily Tomlin mentioned 'the road to success is always under construction.'
Feeling entitled to make your own decisions creates a sense of empowerment. There are several principles which may give us better understanding on this particular subject matter. Women must come from a position of disempowerment. For example, a prostitute no longer has to take off her clothes to get money if the environment enables her to utilize the full freedom to earn money in a dignified way. This empowerment will increase her self-respect. Women have to acquire empowerment themselves rather than have to given them by an external party- it is a process which is achieved by her. The main mantra of women empowerment 'power is not given to you, you have to take it.' They have to raise their voice to get equal right. A quote from Shirley Chisholm is quite relevant here, 'if they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.'
Whole humanity, nations all over the world, economy, community politics can be benefitted by women empowerment. It is the core of inclusive development. Without empowering women, the development is half empty and means loosing half of the world's 'potentiality and resources'.
There are many folded ways of women empowerment. Among them, economic empowerment is the most important when women have considerable economic power, they tend to be at the lower risk of violence. Economic independence makes a woman stronger, more confident and increases her status in the family, society and community as financial contributor. Property inheritance and land rights, apart from it, give women a sort of approval and power. As it has been discussed nowadays, household chores should be paid in terms of money.
The significant point is political empowerment that includes right to vote, voice opinion, the ability to run the offices, being involved in the process of decision formulation. Through political empowerment, women can even run the whole nation with their inbuilt capacity of management skill. As per the available global statistics and researches, almost all the women leaders of the world have been performing brilliantly, excellently, for example, Sheikh Hasina, Jacinda Ardern, Angela Markel.
Moreover, women should get access to 4th industrial revolution, i.e digitization, innovation and social media platforms. They can connect the whole world through online networking and activism, can raise their voice against oppressions and even can extend their business.
At this point, let me focus on the barriers that hinder the women empowerment. One of them is mental barrier; our cultural norms prohibit them to raise their voice and claim their rights. They are pressurized and become accustomed to male dominated society. They cannot even think that they also deserve the same rights as the opposite gender exercise. It is like the metaphor of enchaining a child elephant from the beginning so that when it becomes bigger it still feels that he is enchained.
According to ILO, sexual harassment is a clear form of gender discrimination based on sex-a manifestation of unequal power between men and women. As per UN Statistics, 72 percent victims are women while 21 percent are men in their workplace. Meanwhile, it is highly important to improvise a safe, secure, neutral, friendly work environment for women that will henceforth accelerate the productivity.
Domestic violence, most commonly used weapon against women, is a violation of women's right and freedoms and negatively impact on economic growth, implementation of equal rights. Domestic violence is more of a cycle that needs to be broken for the sake of our humanity, our mother earth. It increases when a woman has no voice and she economically depends on her family members.
In addition, almost everywhere women are not being treated as they deserve to be. Honour killing is another horrific aspect of the suppression of women rights. An honour killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members due to the belief that victim has brought dishonour upon the family or community. For thousands of year, despite recent legal reforms, it remains a common practice in some part of the world, particularly in Pakistan. Amnesty International showed that 1100 women were murdered in 2015-just for their strong desire to take their own decisions.
In a nutshell, women empowerment is a huge discourse to cover up in just few words. In the above, I intended to discuss few common issues, barriers, and way-out that would benefit not only women but also the whole world for a better shared mankind and humanity. Malala Yousafzai, in one her speech told ' we can not all succeed when half of us are holdback'. Let the wind of humanity and equal right flow to free our women; let them raise their voice, claim their right and stand for heir own decision. I hope these small initiatives will implement considerable progress in realizing women empowerment.
The writer has been serving as Chief Coordinator, Media and Communications with Better Bangladesh Foundation