International Women’s Day: Tackling barriers to empowerment

8th March 2018

Over the past year, there has been an exposure of largely socially or publicly invisible sexual harassment and discrimination committed against women. On International Women’s Day, initiatives from the Institute of Development Studies and The ESRC-DFID Impact Initiative are drawing attention to the more visible issues that form significant barriers to women’s empowerment. They focus on the lack of access to public services and infrastructure, such as energy, running water, childcare, and lack of access to decent work with good conditions and fair pay, and the policy ideas and innovations to better empower women to make choices about their own lives.

Address the burden of unpaid care and providing decent work for all

Many women in low income countries are paying a physical, emotional and mental price when trying to balance unpaid care with the need to earn income. Without access to energy, water or electricity, women are walking miles for water and firewood before beginning their working day or at the end of it. Absence of quality childcare means they take their children to work and have little choice about what work they do. It can be dangerous, physically arduous and poorly paid. Often their older children miss out on school or don’t have time to study as they have to help out with household chores or looking after their younger siblings. 

Recently published research by IDS and partners in India, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania, finds that national and local level women’s economic empowerment initiatives in developing countries are failing to capture the full physical, emotional and economic costs to women of balancing paid work with unpaid care duties. The report, entitled ‘No Time to Rest’, warns that unless the backbreaking drudgery of water carrying, fuel collection, cooking and caring is urgently addressed future global progress on women’s rights and gender equality could stall.

Deepta Chopra, Research Fellow at IDS and lead author of ‘No Time to Rest’, says the solution lies in the provision of good quality and affordable public services, alongside decent work opportunities for men and women. She says:

“Work with decent pay and conditions, alongside basic public services is essential for women in low-income countries to break free from the backbreaking drudgery of their daily lives. Achieving the UN Global Goal 5 on gender equality by 2030 depends on it.

“The current tendency in international development to view women’s economic empowerment as only a matter of access to employment is failing women and their families.”  

How can we improve women’s life choices?

Traditional and cultural expectations, low economic status or lack of access to healthcare and education are major barriers for women and girls. At the 62nd Commission for the Status of Women (CSW62) a panel of researchers and NGOs, will argue that adequate policies, programmes, and investments in women’s health and education not only lift women’s living standards but also pave a way towards gender equality.

The panel, chaired by Thokozile Ruzvidzo, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Gina Porter, Durham University, Nicola Ansell, Brunel University and Barbara Kalima-Phiri, World Vision International will propose policy ideas to better empower women to make choices about their own lives.

The propositions are part of a wider Impact Initiative campaign on #Policies4 improving women’s life choices. The campaign will highlight the evidence and research funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID) Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research that should inform decision making and interventions.

The campaign will demonstrate the multiple and persistent barriers that are unique to women and girls, especially in rural areas, and the policy ideas and innovations that could empower women, including:

 Photo credit: At Koonthaikulam, a village in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, Swarnam Nayanar (left), and Pappa S. take part in road widening as part of the central government's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. | Kalvi Kendra/Cordaid Flickr CC-BY-NC 2.0