Gender Equality: Insights on Financial Literacy and Economic Empowerment

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This article was published at “Child & Youth Finance International”: http://www.childfinanceinternational.org/news-and-events/news-blog/entry/gender-equality-insights-on-financial-literacy-and-economic-empowerment

In their actions the Youth Governance and Accountability Task Team (The Youth Governance and Accountability Task Team is an initiative spearheaded by Restless Development, the British Youth Council, ActionAid and Plan UK) advocate for the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on governance, and the participation of young people in governance and accountability. The Governance team has also called for integration of gender equality concerns, and inclusion of young women in decision-making, this through global and national advocacy and campaigning actions in different countries. They highlighted youth priorities, with a special focus on governance & accountability, in the post-2015 development agenda by taking part and speaking at different high level meetings and global discussions in the United Nations among other international bodies.

Gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goals

The draft outcome document “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, will be officially adopted by world leaders at the United Nations Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda, which will be held in New York from 25-27 September 2015.

This is the first development agenda that has been negotiated and agreed by all Member States and which is applicable to all for the next 15 years.

The new sustainable development goals aim to complete what the MDGS did not achieve, through addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality and the sustainable development that works for all. The new agenda addresses an action plan for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. It highlights the necessity of fostering peaceful, inclusive societies and calls for the participation of all countries, stakeholders and youth. The determined agenda pursues to end poverty by 2030 and endorse shared economic prosperity, social development and environmental protection. This new agenda that is founded on 17 goals, including a goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as well as gender sensitive targets in other goals.

Assuring and protecting economic empowerment on an equal basis for both men and women has been acknowledged as a human right and as a concern for policymakers. Along with the strap line of United Nations in order to achieve the Millennium Development goals, women’s empowerment is seen as a prerequisite.

The importance of economic empowerment for women and girls

A number of studies and researches over the past years have highlighted that gender equality is a smart economic tool. It has been determined that the unexploited potential of women is a lost opportunity for economic progress and development. Women’s economic participation promotes agricultural productivity, enterprise expansion at the micro and macro, small and medium enterprise levels, in addition to improving business management and returns on investments.

Yet, awareness of gender differences in financial literacy and of their significant implications has endured quite low albeit policy makers now perceive financial literacy as an essential for sustainable development, and financial education has become a vital policy priority.

According to the OECD/INFE financial literacy survey, women have lower financial knowledge than men in a great number of developed and developing countries. Women tend to be less-educated and possess low-income and most of them lack financial knowledge. The survey shows that women are less confident than men in their financial skills, they are less over-confident in financial matters, and are more averse to financial risk.

When it comes to financial behavior, women seem to be better than men at keeping trail of their finances, but they face more struggles in making ends meet and choosing financial products fittingly.

Regardless of its importance, recent initiatives to measure “financial literacy” recommend that levels of financial literacy understanding are low. This typical situation limits the objective understanding of financial issues and leads to subjective interpretation.

Due the external environment challenges, it becomes a necessity for individuals to enhance their financial understanding, to make appropriate financial decisions so to reach positive outcomes. Such challenges include the decline of public welfare policies, increased life expectation and health care costs; the development of complex financial markets; and effects of the global financial crisis. Whereas the need for financial literacy is largely acknowledged as vital, though the importance of equal gender dimension stays a subject for debate. Such gender differences represent fundamental problems for social equity, with several consequences on sustainable development of countries.

Countries tend to display loss of economic potential when one half of their population is disoriented, particularly in societies where a great percentage of production takes place in informal enterprises run by women. Low levels of female financial literacy and confidence have a negative impact on their participation in the economy.

The conceptual framework that individuals face may differ according to inherent characteristics among populations of women and men that affect their chances to obtain financial literacy. These characteristics may be different: (age; personality traits; environmental constraints). Women and men experience different cultural norms, which limit where, when and how they best learn about personal finance. Studying these factors is important as they may have impact on founding relevant policy responses: effective financial education interventions necessitate addressing different root causes.

Understanding the gender causes of financial literacy in countries requires effective policy design policy, analytical and comparative reports and research highlighting good practices and detailed case studies on financial education and literacy across national and regional levels. Policy makers need to emphasize standards, principles and guidelines as well practical tools to enable and improve strategic financial education.

Investing in women promotes financial literacy and economic growth

Besides boosting economic growth, I believe investing in women has multiplier effects; women plow a large portion of their income in their families and communities. They play crucial role in creating peaceful and stable societies which are important factors for economic growth. Regrettably, even these benefits have been universally recognized and have therefore not translated into women’s full economic participation in different countries, especially in developing countries, where women still face obstacles when establishing new businesses or even increasing existing ones. Among the biggest obstacles are discriminatory laws, regulations and business conditions, with women’s lack of access to property rights, finance, training, technology, markets, mentors, and networks. According to “Women Finance Hub”: 71 countries prevent women from working in some industries. 16 countries don’t let married women get jobs without their husband’s permission, 44% countries don’t let women work at night. We can only imagine one of the reasons behind the lack of economic development of the world when half of the population is discriminated from full participation in the economic level.

Although there has been current focus on developing women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries, this spotlight has been on growth-oriented women’s businesses. Women’s entrepreneurship in micro and small business that are often measured as informal, regardless of these concentrated efforts of poverty reduction initiatives through increased access to skills training and micro-credit, still have not been able to reach the growth potential among women.

I have been working with women in different countries in Africa and Middle East, and I have noticed that the role of women in national economies is more emphasized in recent years by ensuring gender equality and women empowerment among individuals. But the fact is that women have less access to resources, education and health facilities in most of the developing countries, where women are half the workforce. Greater participation of women in economic activities is the major concern of most of the countries, which is considered as one of the best tools to achieve and attain a sustain development.

Governments need to show more financial aid to support efforts to increase women’s access to quality financial services; there is an urge need to highlight women’s crucial role in advancing agricultural development and food security, and encourage policy and programmatic support for female farmers and agricultural businesses owned by women, and reform the policy to facilitating the processes for women in this field.

More support to NGOs, industry associations, and corporations advocating for policy and programmatic solutions that would enable women’s economic participation, also enhance more technology access and providing access to mobile phones, internet, and other vital technologies along with addressing cultural, financial, educational barriers.

Provide capacity building, trainings, and mentoring programs to women and girls and equip them with market information, entrepreneurship opportunities, and the necessary skills to attain economic independence; and encourage best practices to increase women’s leadership in the sector of business and entrepreneurship.

Government states especially in developing countries need to find a solution to one of the biggest obstacles which is data collection; endorse the collection and configuration of gender data in the economic sector to create evidence-based policy and programs aimed at increasing women’s economic participation across all sectors. Governments need to provide their youth with space to hold their leaders accountable and that’s by ensuring youth participation in data collection and arrange for youth to express their innovative analyses that form the basis for recommendations to policymakers, help them make decisions and promote policies best suited to ending global economic inequalities and to generating people-centered sustainable development.

Sana AFOUAIZ

Post Agenda 2015: Gender approach

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This article was published on “Foresight for Development”, check: http://www.foresightfordevelopment.org/featured/gender-equality-ii

 

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I was honored to represent women in two international events that emphasized changing history: the “World Conference on Youth” in Sri Lanka and “UNAOC: Unity in Diversity” in Indonesia. I used this opportunity to be the voice of many women around world, and negotiate the right for gender equality to all women.

The outcomes of the post-agenda 2015 are a future promise to girls and women to live a normal life. It is now time to stand up for quality of girls’ secondary and higher levels of education and learning outcomes. “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation” cannot be possible if girls and women are forced to stay at home instead of studying. Ensuring the right of education for women, means giving them much better economic forecasts, more decision-making autonomy, greater control over their own productivity, healthier children, and a better chance of educating their own children.

If there is anything that would help to improve the situation of women, I would say “education”, which is a great way to empower women, not only socially, but politically and economically. As for the so-called “economic empowerment” of women, women’s roles in economic contributions were mostly ignored. Women’s economic empowerment must be not only a priority but a matter of urgency in the post-2015 framework.

The post-2015 development agenda should include targets and indicators on women’s ownership of and access to assets, engagement in employment and entrepreneurship. Women should have ownership of and access to possessions, resources and services.

Another thing that is unacceptable in the name of humanity that happens to one in three women in their lifetime is “violence”. Violence is a universal phenomenon ingrained in the determined discrimination against women and the historic power inequality in relationships between the two sexes.

I believe that violence is not tolerated across all cultures, countries and generations. It damages women’s health and well-being, inflicts upon their human rights, and deprives women, families and society as a whole.

 

Women to lead, to voice out and influence

Women should have the capacity to participate in and influence the decisions that affect their own lives, which are basic human rights and a requirement for responsive and equitable governance. Empowering women and thereby enhancing their chances to take leadership positions in the global economy, politics and society, has a great impact on maximizing a country’s development potential.

 

Contribution of women in peace and security

It is necessary to ensure participation of women in addressing the peaceful dialogue. Building peaceful and sustainable states can only happen through the active engagement and inclusion of women in peace and security negotiations.

 

Women and the environment

Research established that women are the world’s main producers of food and responsible for collecting water and fuel. In India and Africa, women walk from six to eight hours to fetch water. As such, they have extensive knowledge about the management of natural resources and ecosystems and their views can contribute considerately in fighting climate change.

Gender equality is a precondition for the health and development of societies and countries, and a driver of economic, social and political growth. It is our duty to ensure a brighter future for our daughters, without making them feel lesser than men or compromising opportunities to be equal to males.

I BELIEVE that we will still face poverty problems, health issues, employment matters, education difficulties, environment complications, unless we ensure gender equality, where both sexes have equal opportunities and chances to build a better world.

 

Sana AFOUAIZ

 

Can there be sustainable development in Africa without gender equality?

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Can there be sustainable development in Africa without gender equality?

This article was published on “Foresight for Development”: http://www.foresightfordevelopment.org/featured/gender-equality

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Hundreds of millions of people suffer from discrimination in the world of today. This not only disrupts a most basic human right, but has serious social and economic consequences. Discrimination suppresses opportunities, and thereby economic progress, and emphasizes social pressures, inequalities and problems.

The situation of women has never been easy, especially in Africa, yet it has witnessed some changes over the last years, though discrimination remains a serious issue in the region.

One of the most urgent matters is the high levels of violence against women. South Africa, for example, has one of the highest incidents of rape in the world. It is estimated that one in three married women faces domestic violence. According to Amnesty International, girls and women are still raped in war-torn countries like Chad, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. In addition, women situated in these countries are affected by institutional discrimination which reveals significant socioeconomic and cultural barriers.

In the area of work, women are still suffering from male dominance. According to South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality, a white, middle-aged male is 5,000 times more likely to be in an executive position than a black woman. Getting a job is another challenge for women in South Africa. Besides the competition with their male colleagues, the number of women in formal employment has been declining compared to the past few years.

The truth is that African women often face a wage gap between their income and those of men. With jobs mostly requiring the same work, this gap can only be ascribed to gender discrimination. In most sectors, women also face challenges to start up their own businesses.

As for their education, in sub-Saharan countries the number of boys enrolled at primary school is higher than girls. Although many governments are devoted to deliver equal education for girls, in real life, girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys. The reason for lower enrolment of girls in schools, is due to the attitude of families to spend money on the education of boys instead of females, because males are perceived to be the future main source of income. They expect their daughters to carry out domestic and housework, and that’s why they put pressure on girls to marry young, as they are seen as an economic encumbrance on their families. Sometimes families don’t let their daughters attend school because of the lack of separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools.

African women have fought to achieve equal rights in many parts of Africa. They refused to live in a society that treats women as objects. Those women all did their best to confront the social injustice, to ensure their daughters live a normal life with basic human rights.

In 2011, Rwanda was the only country where women outnumbered men, with a high number of women in Rwanda’s parliament. This has enabled the passing of certain laws, such as inflicting stricter punishments for those committing violence against women.

Now African governments are including more female politicians than ever. In Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was the first woman to become president of a modern African nation. In 2012, Joyce Banda became Malawi’s first female president.

In South Africa, Ellen Kuzwayo, a great writer, has written a book entitled Sano minua naiseksi (Call me woman). The book pictures apartheid, and the life and power of South African women. Kuzwayo speaks about her life in prison and about other inspiring powerful women. She tells her society that change is always possible and without ensuring gender equality, Africa will never advance.

These few countries have shown how women have successfully fought for their rights: they fought against the disreputable pass laws to women under apartheid and legal abortions; and have since risen to the ranks of parliament.

This shows societies are shifting. African women are progressively able to choose their own path in life. It is no longer uncommon to find women leading successful businesses in Africa alongside having a family. The enrollment of women in political, social and economic life of their societies is important for the development of Africa.

The health of a nation also advances with providing equal opportunities. I see no sustainable progress in Africa without gender equality.

I say NO discrimination against African women.

 

Sana AFOUAIZ