On March 8th people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and religions came together to “Be Bold for Change” and celebrate International Women’s Day. This year the theme called on women to be “bold” and empower themselves to break down gender barriers. Empowerment is defined as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights” (1) Empowering a woman is to encourage her and allow her to see and believe that she has the power to change her life, her community and drive the world towards gender equality. Thus, fighting for equality and supporting women's empowerment is extremely important, not only for her own well-being but for her community as a whole.
Since the mid-19th century women's suffrage movement the fight for women's equality has been steadily increasing throughout countries such as the U.S, Canada and China. However, with the recent change in the American presidency many have suggested that this upward pattern is under threat as President Donald Trump makes statements like “It’s certainly not groundbreaking news that the early victories by the women on ‘The Apprentice’ were, to a very large extent, dependent on their sex appeal” (2). As the misogynist Donald Trump was elected President of the United States on December 9th 2016, many feared that the progression towards total equality was under threat. However, instead of letting Trump’s sexist and degrading comments deter them from their path of empowerment, women used his harsh words as fuel for the fight for their rights. Today, women around the world are marching together and are building a social media movement to #BringBackOurGirls and #BeBoldforChange (3).
In an interview published in The Globe and Mail, Farah Mohamad, founder and CEO of the G(irls)20 Organization, which advocates for women’s empowerment globally, stated “[Progress] may be slower than we would wish for but for the moment, the gearshift is still in the forward position. If we want to avoid idling or reversing than we cannot take our foot of the gas.” (4) She is right; we need not let a speed bump like President Trump deter us from moving forward, we need to advocate for our rights, we need to insist on change because men and women have voices and rights which cannot be silenced.
Around the world women are living under misogynist president's, strict cultural and religious conditions, or are confined by laws which imprison them in their homes. All Women, whomever and wherever they are, have been subject to some form of discrimination. So the question is, how do we empower women to become leaders of their generation and to drive us towards global equality?
One solution is education. We need women and girls to be educated so that they have the opportunity to be self-sufficient, to earn their own income, to be confident in vying for their rights. Most of all we need education so that we can achieve global empowerment.
Neil Denison, director of MEDA, stated that
...education is the one thing that cannot be taken away from you, you can be sent to a refugee camp, you can have your house burned down, you can be in extraordinarily difficult situations, but if you can take with you the essential knowledge than you can join with the others around you to rebuild your nation (5)
Yet Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia alone have over one million girls not in school, and two thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate persons are female (6). This lack of female representation in educational systems then creates a lack of female representation in the work force. Education not only gives a woman the knowledge needed to obtain a job, but it also empowers her and gives her the confidence to demand respect and fight for her rights to have an equal role in the community. According to Forbes only 14.6 percent of executive officers and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women; a rate like this will fail to generate leadership parity for roughly 68 years. Statistics are also in support of closing the gaps and prove that greater represented of women on boards in Fortune 500 companies influences significant growth in equitable performance (7). The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women's Representation on Boards (2004-2008) report by the Catalyst a nonprofit organization aiming to accelerate women through workplace inclusion has indicated that Top Quartile WBD (Women Board Directors) companies outperformed corporations with minimal female executives by 53% (8). With access to higher education women will have more opportunities to earn a higher salary and with that comes a decrease in their dependency on men or their families. Independence and ability to financially support one’s self is a key determinant of empowerment.
Organizations Investing in Women’s Education
Helen Lofting, the VP of Economic Opportunities at the Youth and Women for Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) began to work with Libya Women Economic Empowerment (LWEE) in 2012. When MEDA and LWEE came together they made it their goal to train 200 women entrepreneurs via an online learning database. This database is made accessible to women in the “middle of a warzone” (9) where classroom education is no longer possible. Helen explained that,
When women are able to earn an income, they contribute to the household and can move beyond basic survival needs. They also become more empowered and confident in their abilities. They become a more active participant in the decision-making in the household. (9)
With the help of Brightspace by D2L (10) MEDA and LWEE have created a fully accessible, simple and independent training program which has been completely translated to Arabic. This program is meant to give women the leadership, negotiation and business skills they need to be successful twenty-first century entrepreneurs.
Projects such as the MEDA and LWEE training course with Brightspace D2L, along with hundreds of organizations such as the G(irls)20 Bootcamp for Brain, and Girls on Boards aim to provide skill-based training for young women and girls “to pursue leadership roles within their community” (11) and unleash their potential.
Woman’s education is important if we want to see change in a population's overall well being, whether it be local or global. Educating women narrows the pay gap; for example, in countries such as Pakistan women earn 51 percent what men earn with primary school education but increase have an increase in earnings to 70 percent if they complete secondary school (12). Yet, 71 percent of Pakistani women have not successfully completed primary school compared to 41 percent of men, which is a direct correlation with the importance education has for women’s empowerment.
Additionally, educating women can influence demographic trends such as the “world population problem” which has calculated that continued growth at the current rate will result in the doubling of our global population every 35 years (13). With an exponential population growth comes increased demand for and exhaustion of food, water and other natural resources needed for the global population's well-being. The large total fertility rate (TFR) contributing to said population growth is predominantly a concern in countries with poor economies, where women have few rights and are discouraged from pursuing higher education. Yet, this worryingly high TFR leading to unsustainable population growth is not influenced by modernized countries with a low TFR’s and relatively gender equal institutions like in Norway. In fact, Norwegian females with secondary education combine to about 37 percent of the total population, which is gradually closing the gap between men who have 44 percent of the population in secondary school (14). Conversely, TFR grows in countries such as sub-Saharan Africa where each woman has an average of 6.7 children and begin childbearing very early in life (about 17 years old). Whereas a female's completion of secondary school will contribute to lowering the TFR to about 3.9 children per woman, which is a result of the postponement of childbearing (15). Therefore, we can deduce that women's empowerment through formal education attributes to positive economic, social and individual growth.
The Fuel for Empowerment
In order for the #BeBoldforChange to satiate women's fight for equality the community and support organizations must work together to empower others and allow for easier access to education and skills training which have previously been denied or limited to a select few. We need non-governmental organizations such as G(irls)20 who can directly address G20 governments and insist that they acknowledge the societal and economic importance of closing the gender gap.
After years of women demanding for their equality, the G20 made a commitment in 2014 to creating 100 million or 25% more new jobs for women by 2025 (16). This is proof that the drive towards women’s empowerment globally is here to stay. So, with time and appropriate resources women will continue on their drive and continue to make feats towards greater equality.
International Women’s day was March the 8th, but we need not a day to remind us to seek justice for women’s rights and equality in the world. As Farah said “we cannot take our foot off the gas”; we must drive full throttle, honk our horns and remind the world that we will not allow anyone or anything get in the way of the fight for the empowerment of women.
Update: Gender equality In the News
Recently, The Icelandic government made an amazing feat towards gender equality in the workforce. On March 8th 2017 they announced that new legislation will be introduced to parliament that will force all sector employers to prove that they offer equal pay regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. Iceland is thought to be one of the first nations to pass such a policy, and will continue to work towards the closure of the pay gap by 2022. Iceland is the leader of change, and hopefully their actions will convince other nations to follow suit and take the necessary steps to empower women and support gender equality. (17)
(2) Trump, D., McIver, M., & Trump, D. (2004). Trump: How to get rich ; and ; Think like a billionaire. New York: Random House.
(3)Blay, Z. (2016, March 21). 21 Hashtags That Changed The Way We Talk About Feminism. Retrieved March 9, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/21-hashtags-that-changed-the-way-we-talk-about-feminism_us_56ec0978e4b084c6722000d1
(4) Eichler, L. (2016, December 24). Trump's victory energizes fight for women's advancement in work force. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/career-advice/life-at-work/trumps-victory-energizes-fight-to-promote-womens-advancement-in-workforce/article33423986/
(5) Winters-Robinson, E. (2017, February 13). Giving Libyan Women Entrepreneurial Independence. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from https://www.d2l.com/blog/libyan-women-entrepreneurial-independence/
(6)Kelleher, F. (2014, September 08). The literacy injustice: 493 million women still can't read. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/jun/17/literacy-women-illiteracy-development
(7)Ilgaz, Z. (2014, August 25). Lead Like A Girl: How To Empower Women At Every Level. Retrieved March 9, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2014/08/25/lead-like-a-girl-how-to-empower-women-at-every-level/#579ef7696714
(8)Joy, L., PhD, & Carter, N., PhD. (2013, April 12). The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women's Representation on Boards. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/bottom-line-corporate-performance-and-womens-representation-boards
(9)Winters-Robinson, E. (2017, February 13). Giving Libyan Women Entrepreneurial Independence. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from https://www.d2l.com/blog/libyan-women-entrepreneurial-independence/
(10) #1 LMS for Online Teaching & Learning. (n.d.).https://www.d2l.com
(11)G(irls)20. (n.d.). from http://girls20.org/programs/bootcamp-for-brains/
(12) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(Issue brief). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf
(13) National Academy of Sciences. 1963. The Growth of World Population Analysis of the Problems and Recommendations for Research and Training. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 8-19. doi:https://doi.org/10.17226/9543.
(14)Population’s Level of Education. (2015, October 01). Retrieved March 11, 2017, from https://www.ssb.no/en/utdanning/statistikker/utniv/aar/2016-06-20
(15) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(Issue brief). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf
(16)G. (2016, November 15). A G20 Leader Who Walks The Talk. Retrieved March 09, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/girls-twenty/a-g20-leader-who-walks-the-talk_b_8568448.html
(17) Lawless, J. (2017, March 08). In world first, Iceland to require firms to prove equal pay. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-iceland-equal-pay-20170308-story.html