The economic and political empowerment of women was the subject of a side event led by Michele Bachelet, the first Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women (Ms. Bachelet was President of Chile from 2006-2010 and decided to save billions of dollars to support programs directly impacting the lives of women and children in her country). The panel discussion focused on the importance of advancing women’s economic and political rights in the context of adequate funding for local, national and international programs. Bachelet highlighted the significance of financial investments to support women’s access and control of resources, as well as commitments to enhance women’s participation in political office.
The Fund for Gender Equality is one of the largest supporters of women’s empowerment in the world and has contributed $43 million dollars to programs in 40 countries over the past 3 years. Bachelet made the comment “when you invest in women, it pays.” As a high school humanities teacher, I was thinking about how this statement would be an interesting source of discussion for my students. It’s another opportunity to engage young people in analyzing the vital role of women in political, economic, and social life in communities and nations throughout the world.
Bachelet provided examples of the fund’s impact in different contexts. For example, a “Market Fund” initiative in Liberia has resulted in the construction of 8 markets to extend women’s access to sustainable income, economic opportunity, day care, clean water, and electricity. Over 9,000 women have been benefited and a unique literacy component has allowed women to read and interpret legal contracts. In India, a “Gender at Work” program empowers and protects the rights of women in employment sectors. A Mexican project targeting women’s participation in the political arena has resulted in an increase of 7 new female mayors and a 25% growth in the election of women to legislative seats in 10 states. Mainstreaming gender into “municipal youth policies” has enhanced responsiveness to women’s issues and concerns.
I was particularly captivated by Patricia Munabi’s efforts n Uganda. As Director for the Fund of Gender Equality for Women in Democracy, she spoke about how women in Uganda are benefiting from increased access and equitable distribution of local and national resources. So far, 2.3 million women have been impacted by this program. As 90% of all rural women are engaged in agricultural work, the fund has supported a mobilization of women demanding land rights, control of resources, and education. It was interesting to hear Ms. Munabi discuss “village budget clubs” that are actively engaging women in the decision-making process of the local economy. She mentioned how inspiring it is to see women at the grassroots level securing real participation in economic and political affairs. Gender mainstreaming policies have recently passed as well and government officials are examining equity issues in areas such as education and business.
The key message from my perspective: put women at the center of the decision-making process, foster leadership opportunities, and support initiatives with adequate funding and partnerships. While the fund provides needed economic and other resources, its success seems to rest in giving ownership to local women in their respective nations and communities. In many ways, it made me think of the microcredit work I have seen in rural Nigeria. It is empowering to watch local women use their skills and entrepreneurial spirit to create businesses that directly affect the lives of their families. I am really looking forward to seeing how the Fund for Gender Equality will continue to expand and support the lives of rural women in the future!