Breaking Barriers, Building Economies: Empowering Women for Economic Equality

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International Women’s Day serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and the imperative need to empower women across all spheres of life. Economic empowerment stands out as a crucial aspect of women’s empowerment, as it not only uplifts individual women but also drives overall economic growth and development. Sustainable Development Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This principle is also engraved in the Indian Constitution and manifests itself in Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, and Fundamental Duties.

Women’s participation in the labour force increases their chances of having more empowerment through control over resources, helps in increasing household income and contributes to macroeconomic growth. According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2022-23 data, 37% of women were part of India’s labour force, as compared to 29.4% in the preceding year. The male WPR stands at 73%. India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLPR) has been low in comparison to men, highlighting gender inequality. Research shows that even when FLPR is low, it often increases during times of crisis, indicating its counter-cyclical nature. In the 1999-2000 to 2004-05 period in India, for example, women’s participation in the labour force increased to supplement falling incomes in response to distress conditions in agriculture.

We need to delve into the intersection of gender and economic empowerment, highlighting the vital role of women in driving economic progress, the barriers they face, and the transformative impact of empowering women in diverse economic sectors. Ultimately, it calls for collective action to dismantle barriers and create an inclusive economic landscape where women can thrive. The conceptual blueprint behind this is that women’s empowerment is largely influenced by a combination of individual, household and community characteristics.

The Imperative Role of Women in Driving Economic Growth

Women constitute half of the world’s population and play a pivotal role in economic activities, both formal and informal. From agriculture to entrepreneurship, women contribute significantly to GDP growth, employment generation, and poverty reduction. Studies have shown that increasing women’s participation in the workforce can boost productivity and drive innovation, leading to more inclusive and sustainable economic development.

Women have been at the forefront of entrepreneurial ventures. Imagine the latest Shark Tank India episodes; do we see more women gaining centre stage in entrepreneurship? According to the Sixth Economic Census (2013–14), women-owned enterprises accounted for nearly 14% of the total number of establishments in India. Government schemes such as the Stand-Up India initiative, which provides financial assistance and support to women entrepreneurs, have played a crucial role in fostering entrepreneurship among women.

Indian women currently only account for 18 percent of the GDP, despite comprising 48% of the population. This glaring disparity underscores the potential economic boost that could be achieved by simply closing the gender gap in employment, with estimates suggesting a potential GDP increase of up to 30 percent. Moreover, empowering women economically has a multiplier effect on society. When women earn income, they reinvest a significant portion of it in their families and communities, leading to improvements in health, education, and overall well-being.

Existing Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment

Despite their significant contributions, women continue to face numerous barriers to economic empowerment. Structural inequalities, discriminatory laws and policies, limited access to resources and finance, unequal pay, and gender-based violence are some of the key challenges that hinder women’s economic participation and advancement.

In many parts of the world, cultural norms and societal expectations relegate women to traditional roles as carers and homemakers, limiting their opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship. Additionally, women often lack access to land, property rights, and financial services, making it difficult for them to start businesses or access credit to invest in their economic ventures.

Furthermore, gender-based violence, including sexual harassment in the workplace, poses a significant barrier to women’s economic empowerment. Fear of violence or harassment may deter women from pursuing education or employment opportunities, further perpetuating their economic marginalisation.

Lastly, available analyses fail to consider the significant burden of household care responsibilities disproportionately shouldered by women. While women indirectly contribute to the labour force by providing unpaid care work to dependents, this contribution is not reflected in the GDP.

The Transformative Impact of Empowering Women

Despite these challenges, empowering women economically yields transformative results for individuals, communities, and economies at large. When women have equal access to education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities, they can unleash their full potential and contribute to economic growth and development.

Empowering women economically also leads to greater gender equality and social cohesion. As women gain financial independence and decision-making power, they challenge traditional gender norms and stereotypes, paving the way for more inclusive and equitable societies. Moreover, by promoting women’s economic empowerment, we create role models and mentors for future generations of women, inspiring them to pursue their dreams and aspirations.

Collective Responsibility for Creating Inclusive Economic Landscapes

Achieving women’s economic empowerment requires a multi-faceted approach involving governments, businesses, civil society organisations, and communities. Governments play a crucial role in enacting and enforcing laws and policies that promote gender equality and protect women’s rights in the workforce. This includes measures to eliminate gender-based discrimination, ensure equal pay for equal work, and provide access to affordable childcare and parental leave. Further, providing access to finance, markets, and technology will enable women to start and grow their businesses. An imperative role of the government here is to focus on gender-responsive budgeting.

Businesses also have a responsibility to create inclusive workplaces that value diversity and promote women’s leadership and advancement. This includes implementing policies to address gender pay gaps, offering mentorship and training programmes for women employees, and providing support for women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

Civil society organisations play a vital role in advocating for women’s rights and providing support services for women facing barriers to economic empowerment. This includes initiatives to raise awareness about gender-based violence, provide legal aid and counselling services, and offer skills training and entrepreneurship programmes for marginalised women.

At the community level, individuals can challenge gender stereotypes and support women’s economic empowerment through grassroots initiatives and advocacy efforts. This may involve promoting girls’ education, supporting women’s cooperatives and self-help groups, and advocating for equal rights and opportunities for women in local decision-making processes.

Conclusion

Empowering women for economic equality is not only a matter of human rights but also a fundamental driver of sustainable development and prosperity for all. This must not be looked at as an end, but as a means to achieve gender equality. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to breaking down barriers and building inclusive economic landscapes where women can thrive. By working together across sectors and stakeholders, we can unlock the full potential of women and create a brighter, more equitable future for generations to come.



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