What does Women’s Empowerment Really Mean?

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Siphumeze Khundayi, ithongo musings

My last post reflected on the statistics by Oxfam which were presented alongside the World Economic Forum meeting held in Davos in December 2015. The stark revelation was that less than 100 number of the richest people owned assets equivalent to the wealth of about 50% of the world’s poorest.

Normally I keep each post discreet and different from month to month, however in this case, the last post had me thinking the ins and outs of wealth and wealth creation and how we ended up this way.

I pondered on the statistics.

The world population gender ratio is about 49:51 between men and women. It means that of the 51% of the population which is female, is also (potentially) poor. I also wondered about the number 100 richest people in the world and wondered whether the gender ratio applies there too. I expect, however, that there could only be about number two or three in this group to be female.

I studied economics as my first degree but I don’t believe that makes me an economist. I worked in banking for a decade and a half. I switched careers and went to work as a fund manager for the largest social security organisation in the country for another decade. Later on I switched sectors altogether to go and run a securities exchange. At this present time I chair the board of an insurance company. From my in-depth knowledge and information from all these sectors of financial services, I can safely say that my understanding is bolstered by the application of the economics principles that I learnt.

I understand how systems work which makes me understand socio-political systems and enables me to understand man’s behaviour towards money, risk, reward and the motivation behind some of the choices they make.  It is from this premise that I claim to be an economist!

This 51% representation of women in the overall statistics implies a significant chunk of potential that is missing in the grander scheme of things. It requires all our active attention to realise this potential.

It calls for answers now.

Fifty one percent is too much to ignore. What would the world be like if only half of it was the light? The picture would obviously be incomplete. These statistics tell us that there is only half a loaf available to eat, the key question is how do we find the other half?

In my assessment of the problem, women have everything stacked against them. Cultural norms mean women are last in the pecking order of family decisions.

This is critical, and calls for immediate answers as there is no time to waste. It calls for solutions from everywhere in and outside the norm. It also calls for a new awareness. Awareness that we have been dealing with fewer resources than is available. It therefore means that we are all in the arena looking for these resources and turning things around faster and faster to make up for lost time. New ideas and new strategies must be applied so that the pie grows just as quickly. Like many challenges that we face, the answers are nearer than we think. If you ‘open your eyes you will realise that we are talking about women’s empowerment [WE]. WE cuts across every sector. Its potential to scale up productivity is almost magical! By simply involving more women to the productive equation, women who were hitherto excluded. (This is not an academic forum so I will not attempt to quote figures to validate this claim).

Now that we know where the answers lie; now that we can validate these answers by numerous research conducted previously on the same subject let’s get to work.

The question is where does one start?

In my assessment of the problem, women have everything stacked against them. Cultural norms mean women are last in the pecking order of family decisions. Girls go to school last after all the boy children have been catered for. In some countries female foetuses have a higher chance of being aborted than male foetuses. Those who make it are condemned to lower ranks in accessing education, social and health services. Ultimately, the result is a large chunk of potential missing almost by design and the communities are suffering as a result of this.

Here is my take on this matter folks, mothers, women take up the mantle and run. We have to start work at home with the children. Tell the children about life, about love and about money. Tell them all this at home. The options to WE are many. It starts with learning from home. The women themselves must manage and control the narratives that they give to their children. They must be positive and inspiring even if their own lives have been anything but. This is giving hope to the young ones. Unfortunately, that learning though systematic, it has not been beneficial. The present curriculum is as repressive as the lives they themselves have lived. While hygiene and housekeeping, cooking are good life skills is great, this does not catapult woman with the attributes to navigate modern landscape.

Teach them about money in the home as a good number of small businesses and cottage industries are carried out in the homesteads. So while this is happening let’s talk to our children. Can you imagine what would happen to the statistics if girls were taught from an early age that they are the rulers of the world. That they were brought on earth with the responsibility of not only bearing children but ensuring that those children aspire to be the best that they can be. They must learn entrepreneurial skills to use resources that are at their disposal.

They can learn to create whatever they want with whatever resources that they can find in their vicinity and use it to their advantage. What if these girls were taught to negotiate and assert themselves among their peers? What if they were taught to pursue whatever dreams they had to become whatever they wanted? What if these girls were taught to say no when they were sure it was not ok to do certain things? I am of the view that WE is in our hands. Women are deliberately discriminated against starting at the homestead, it’s no wonder that in the evolution of time 51% of value from gross world GDP has been eroded!

A change in this trend must start with a mind-set of a woman.

A woman who is aware and knows what she wants and is willing to pursue it. It is not about academic education only. It is about having a mind-set that allows you to be confident enough to identify a niche that you want to claim for yourself. This involves risks so women must embrace risk and aim high. Women’s Empowerment is evolutionary has been there in small pockets here and there in all societies. Every society has women heroes so why are these women the exception and not the norm?

One must imagine the strength of a woman with knowledge about running a business, investment and risk management. Can you imagine how women would fair if the narrative to the learning was relevant and positive? Women would learn about saving, investment, portfolio management, skills development and leadership.

They must learn these from home. After they start school, they are able to add academic concepts and other things that would only make their chances of survival better.

Women would be prepared to plan and take charge of their lives from a very early age. They must be comfortable to step out and try things like start a business instead of looking for a job. If day in day out women were to be psyched like this, what would be the outcome? Potentially it could be:

  • Women would have the single mindedness to decide to have fewer children who would be healthier.
  • Healthier females are less stressed and have lower incidences of mental illnesses arising out of spousal abuse.
  • Women with higher incomes translate into better family choices and ultimately better general wellbeing of women and their families.
  • Such an empowered group of women will grow up expecting nothing but the same for others. Chances are high that they will support others to be empowered

Female empowerment is a community effort. While the home environment is the first port of call, the external environment must supportive to enable women to take risks and even allow them to fail. When they fail, there must be a system that raises them back to try again.

We must not implement this strategy in retrospect. We are in 2016, and it is already quite evident that a crop of women is emerging who are fearless and determined to defy the shackles that have held them back.

We are all in agreement that women have a contribution to make to change the overall global imbalance to access of resources. Women don’t have to go to war thankfully and the men are listening, willing and amenable to women participation in the empowerment agenda on a new level of acceptance and affirmation. They acknowledge that without women the cup is half full.

Everybody get on board; by the way we also need a new crop of gender responsive males to partner in this effort. Recently US President Barack Obama was identified as one such sympathiser. With one like him on this case how can we go wrong?

BN

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