Gender inequality and economic exploitation have become human rights issues of our time. Since the beginning of the 20th century, women's rights have been recognized as human rights issues by all international conventions and declarations, including those of the United Nations General Assembly, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
As a human rights issue, women's empowerment is as fundamental as it is complex. Women's economic empowerment has the potential to transform the global economy—and women already play an outsized role in many economies. On average, they invest 90% of their income in their families and communities—driving markets for food, fuel, and other essentials. More than half a trillion dollars of demand is added to economic activity annually (World Bank data).
Investing in women's economic empowerment increases productivity and reduces inequality,
with significant positive impacts on families, communities, and society. Empowered women are more likely to educate their children and manage household assets and resources effectively. They are less vulnerable to economic shocks, including natural disasters. As entrepreneurs, they create jobs, while as employees, they tend to be more productive. Investing in women's economic empowerment is an intelligent business move. Inclusive growth policies that foster women's participation in the economy improve not only standards of living but also fuel growth. When women have equal access to employment, they help drive an economy forward.
This is challenging to be mindful of in Zambia, as it is not easy to endorse the idea of women's empowerment and rights. Zambia has been strongly criticized for its lack of progress in empowering women, with UN agencies and other international bodies blaming the country for being one of the worst performers on this front, holding the 10th-worst ranking on gender inequality worldwide. This can largely be attributed to legislation that prevents women from being paid higher wages than men (National Women's Policy Act, 2003).
But despite these challenges, there are signs that things are changing in Zambia. The government has recently made some strides toward renewing women's participation in the workforce, with the National Women's Policy Act of 2013 providing some ground for hope.
As part of its Youth Employment and Enterprise Development Strategy, which aims to create 1 million jobs for young people by 2015 and to increase women's participation in the workforce by 5% each year, Zambia has adopted a new 'Inclusive Growth Policy 2015-2020' that will encourage economic diversity by ensuring that women are represented in all sectors. The policy also includes specific recommendations on strengthening women's economic empowerment and promoting gender equality through gender budgeting.
Central to this strategy is creating Women's Entrepreneurship Development Centres (WDDCs) across the country, which will support women's development and contribute to a more resilient and productive economy. These centers are expected to ensure that female entrepreneur have access to capacity-building, training and networking programs, and other essential services related to business start-ups, marketing, business development, financial management, legal assistance, human resources management, and training. The WDDCs will also provide funding for business start-ups through microfinance systems.
Such things are majorly beneficial to society as they provide employment opportunities for the particular gender and reduce women's unemployment. Furthermore, it helps to reduce poverty and improve economic welfare.
Image from: seepnetwork. Bringing Gender Equality Closer to Women’s Economic Empowerment, 2020, seepnetwork.org/Blog-Post/Bringing-Gender-Equality-Closer-to-Women-s-Economic-Empowerment.