If you empower a woman, you develop a nation

In the past, the day has also focused on a wide range of issues including women’s rights, gender equality, reproductive health rights and the prevention of violence and abuse against women.

ON March 8, the world celebrated International Women’s Day under the theme Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress. It is a day the world pauses to recognise and celebrate the contribution of women to the world’s social, political and economic development.

In the past, the day has also focused on a wide range of issues including women’s rights, gender equality, reproductive health rights and the prevention of violence and abuse against women. Spurred on by the universal female suffrage movement, the day has a long history originating from labour movements in North America and Europe during the early 20th century.

While there has been progress over the decades in achieving rights for women, there is still a lot to be done, mainly in some parts of the world where women can still not be heard and are unable to participate in all aspects of life due to cultural and religious reasons.

Women constitute about 50% of the global population and yet around 2,4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal economic opportunities. More than 90% of countries in the world maintain legal barriers that stop women from full economic participation, while in 86 countries, women face some employment restrictions and nearly 100 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work.

By March 2022, the World Bank estimated that the gap between men’s and women’s expected lifetime earnings globally was US$172 trillion — nearly two times the world’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). There is a need to close this gender gap, mainly wages and salaries in the agricultural and manufacturing industries and food production systems, as doing so will bolster the global GDP by a trillion dollars a year, leading to reduced poverty, hunger and malnutrition while improving household economies in developing countries.

Property rights and access to all services are essential in achieving this as in many countries, women still struggle to access and own property as well as other means of production. Strengthening property rights is, therefore, essential to ensure women’s equal access to resources, including financial and extension services, and to bridge productivity gaps. Their unequal status as a result of discriminatory social norms in various societies, mainly in the agricultural sector leaves them more vulnerable to poverty and hunger.

In 2022, 388 million women and girls lived in extreme poverty and 27,8% of women were moderately or severely food insecure. For most African countries, the agricultural sector remains a vital source of income for women. This is why land ownership and rights are critical to women empowerment. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 66% of women’s employment is in agrifood systems. 

Women and girls have continued to be more vulnerable to numerous shocks including wars, poverty, climate crisis and others. In countries where women are marginalised, they easily become victims of abuse and wars, struggle to raise children and are often the first to face hunger and destitution. Girls drop out of school at alarming rates and are exposed to sexual abuse and early marriages, while women overall lose their voices. Gender inequality continues to be the biggest human rights challenge, with women’s rights and those defending them facing threats and attacks.

Despite the world being unfair to women, globally women have continued to play a crucial role in the social, economic and political development of societies. Where they have been allowed to participate in all aspects of life, they have been a driving force for peace, development and national growth. As a result, investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only more urgent than ever but also an incredibly smart investment to generate economic growth, food security, income opportunities, and better lives, particularly in rural areas where most of the world’s poorest live.

“Investing in women means investing in sustainable development. The return on investment isn't just being able to beat poverty and inequality but building stronger institutions, economies and entire communities,” said Gerardine Mukeshimana, the vice-president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

In a world that is becoming more obsessed with wars and conflicts which are drawing men and boys to the trenches, women’s empowerment is one of the ways of ensuring family, community and national stability as well as ensuring productivity continues.

While access to assets and agricultural land and inputs are vital, that has to go alongside scaled-up investment in women’s and girls’ capacity through education, developing technical and leadership skills while putting in place policy and legal frameworks that address discriminatory social norms that limit their opportunities.

As the saying goes, if you empower a woman, you develop a nation.  In the words of Kofi Annan, “the empowerment of women is the most effective tool for development.” When their earnings increase, women are more likely to take care of their families, they are more likely to use the income in a way that makes sense and send their children to school.

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