Women’s Economic Empowerment
By Dr S. Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
UNDP Report released on the Women’s Day 2020 has come out with a startling finding that almost 90% of men and women globally are biased against women. No country, rich or poor, has achieved gender equality. Based on current trends, the Report concludes that it would take 257 years to close gender gap in economic opportunities.
The situation must be far worse in India, which is in need of special schemes for survival, protection and welfare of girl children. It needs even constant prodding by Prime Minister himself for “Beti Bacho, Beti Padhao” (Save the daughter, educate the daughter). Still, we talk about women’s empowerment while fighting against female foeticide and infanticide and have presented the National Policy for Women 2016 as “Articulating a Vision for Empowerment of Women”. It shows the unbridgeable status gap among women – another dimension of the problem.
The WHO’s first estimate of the global dimension of violence against women in particular in intimate partner relationship fixes the blame partly on the assumption that women cannot come out of violence because of economic dependence. Economic independence and fighting gender-based violence were the two key priorities in European Union’s 2016-19 ‘Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality’. For 2020-25, the goal set is gender-equal Europe and key objectives are to end gender violence and close gender gaps in labour market.
In such an atmosphere, the adequacy of women’s economic empowerment in combating violence against women continues as a topic for research and discussions in the week of International Women’s Day. As we enter the decade of action on Sustainable Development Goals, we have to be more active in shattering long-standing social prejudices against women going on in the name of social norms or traditional beliefs and practices, if we are serious about achieving the Goal.
Goal No.5 in the SDG to be achieved by 2030 speaks of Gender Equality, which focuses on financial inclusion of women, poverty reduction, creation of sustainable women’s institutions, and financing gender programmes. The targets are to undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources in accordance with national laws, to enhance the use of enabling technology in particular information and communication technology to promote empowerment of women, adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislations for promotion of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
Few people may be aware that the targets in this goal include ending all discriminations, eliminating all forms of violence against women, recognising the value of unpaid care and domestic work through provision of public services, infrastructure, and social protection policies, and promotion of shared responsibility within the household and family as nationally appropriate. Another specific aim is to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political and economic life.
Economic empowerment requires active decision-making role in domestic and social life while eliminating violence requires positive change in outlook and behaviour of all. How one will promote the other is not a simple matter of promoting inter-dependent objectives. Lack of economic empowerment in the Indian situation is not the only reason for domestic violence; nor will granting economic empowerment eradicate violence against women.
India is generally progressive as regards legislations and falters when it comes to implementation. Social prejudices still rule and accepted quietly and sometimes even justified as part of culture and values. The way courts are flooded with cases pertaining to women’s right of entry into temples is a typical example of the conflict in the society.
Women’s economic empowerment (WEE) is defined as “a process in which women enjoy their rights to control and benefit from resources, assets, income, and their own time and have the ability to manage risk and improve their economic status and well-being”.
It is, no doubt, widely accepted that women’s economic empowerment brings a range of concrete benefits like improving health and well-being of an entire family, better education for children, and thereby a certain contentment and happiness in homes. This can extend to an entire community and promote productivity and sustained development of a country. Directly and incidentally, it is expected to result in lessening domestic violence which grows with poverty and deprivation. Several countries like Australia place strong emphasis on economic empowerment of women.
But, the result has not been an unmixed blessing for women. Effective Aid Programme in Australia, designed to utilise the untapped potential of women in development by increasing women’s “command over financial resources”, also exposed women to “domestic conflict and violence”.
Gender-based violence includes domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage, child marriage and other forms of exploitation of women. Domestic violence may take many forms – physical and mental. Harassment at workplace is a separate category that haunts women at all levels in all sectors of employment.
Of these different forms of offences, domestic violence including violence between intimate partners is not controllable by laws as they mostly happen within the walls of a home and more than that within the prevailing notions of the role of women in a family. According to European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), almost one in four women experience physical and sexual violence in a relationship with men.
The tussle in India is between old notions and the changes introduced by economic empowerment of women. Rape within marriage and intimate partner violence are alien ideas and Indian family system does not admit that such “offences” are possible.
Gender-based violence is pervasive throughout the world and it is difficult to establish its co-relation with economic empowerment of women, which definitely has the power to reduce violence.
Some studies point out that economic empowerment has both positive and negative effects increasing or decreasing violence against women. The very advantages accrued to a family through women’s economic empowerment may become a point of conflict between couples. For, it requires intelligence and understanding to get over well-entrenched notions of subordinate role of women in family. Not all benefits of financial betterment reach women, but increase in workload on women is certain in most households. Where men tend to perceive a threat to their authority by enhancement of women’s status, problem starts.
Women’s economic empowerment often works outside the home, but not inside. It may even promote economic abuse of women at home threatening her ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources. Domestic violence may increase in households where men take control of financial matters as a matter of right depriving women of her financial security and the satisfaction of being a contributor to the financial status of the family. The mixed impact of WEE on domestic violence (DE) is result of unequal gender relations and contextual.
All these point to the stark reality that while we need Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana and direct benefit transfers under the Jan Dhan Scheme to empower women, we must also promote the concept of family as a partnership enterprise of equal partners.—INFA