Women’s empowerment cannot be achieved by just one intervention. Building of social capital with economic empowerment needs to be fortified by an overall protection component where women and children are ensured safety. The time has come for a paradigm shift where global and national policies need to be scrutinised to ensure the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities.
This is part of the summary of a research ‘Linking Women’s Economic Empowerment and Unintended Increased Risk to Violence against Women’ this scribe wrote in 2013. It was a research done to look at various aspects of women’s economic empowerment and protection issues. The findings of this research are very relevant when one looks at the outcome of fielding of candidates and the preliminary results of the Nepal’s local elections held last week.
Rights to resources
Access to resources and property rights is highly gendered in many parts of the world. Women and girls in particular suffer from inequitable land rights and experience restricted access to resources and inheritance. Boys and men can also be denied access, such as when the first son inherits more than the second or third son. Rights to resources may also affect ability to access other resources or services. For example, a woman’s lack of land ownership or rights may inhibit her ability to access credit, as land is often used as collateral. Achieving more equitable access to resources offers significant opportunities both for economic growth and women’s empowerment.
This paragraph is also from the same research and could be linked to today’s election in Nepal, and clearly shows how access to wealth and power can marginalise those who do not have a say though they may be entitled to both. This is mainly true for women and people from marginalised communities. The fielding of candidates by the coalition has very aptly removed the constitutional provision of fielding one woman candidate in either of the two top positions in the urban and rural municipalities. The political parties give various excuses for fielding male candidates for the two top positions and shun their mandatory responsibility of fielding women candidates!
This clearly shows that the political parties do not have the full commitment towards the rights of all citizens as guaranteed in the constitution and their own manifestoes. This fact makes one ponder on the fact that although Nepal has implemented several programmes and policies to empower women, they still do not have the power and resources to compel the political party leaders to give them the constitutional rights. Therefore, in this case too, protection of rights of women, girls and marginalised communities are very important.
Looking at various economic empowerment works, my research concluded that various programmes to increase access to financial services have been widely used to offer opportunities to poor women and men. While results are mixed in terms of success, the evaluations of gendered targeting of micro-financial services have shown that male beneficiaries contribute less to household well-being and food security (Mayoux, and Hartl, 2009). While microcredit schemes have the potential to contribute to women’s small-scale income generating activities and increased confidence, they can also contribute to indebtedness and further vulnerability.
While some studies have found that women who start their own businesses, gain employment, or own properties or lands experience a lower incidence of domestic violence, some studies show higher incidence of domestic violence. This is particularly the case in culturally conservative settings, and reflects the impact of shifting power dynamics. Programmes aimed at empowering women economically, including microcredit schemes, therefore need to consider how best to mitigate the negative impacts by, for example, including violence prevention initiatives. This will lead towards a more holistic approach towards women and children’s protection. Although seen as rhetoric chanted by feminists it is also a fact that often governments, donors and also civil societies lack to integrate women’s voices in projects designed for them.
Women’s domestic roles often make them disproportionate users of natural resources. Wells and taps set up far from homes can contribute to women’s and girls’ increased workload and risk to various forms of violence. Forest conservation projects can limit women’s access to forest products and impact negatively their survival strategies. As discussed above, access to external finance can lead towards domestic violence. Empowering women to assert rights and challenge traditional socio-cultural or religious roles could lead towards domestic and other forms of violence. Therefore designing programmes for women should not consider only one aspect. A holistic approach of moving towards their wellbeing with protection in the centre should be the core emphasis of all programmes designed for women’s empowerment.
While creating social capital, it is necessary to make sure that the peer pressure concept does not land up becoming an instrument of burden creation for women. Many a time it has been seen that targeting women’s groups for development interventions lead to additional burden for them. Pressure is put on them from within the household and from banks in case of microfinance services to become a source of bringing external interventions within the households. This may not necessarily increase their own empowerment, but make them recipients of household empowerment instead.
Nonetheless, women in Nepal have increased their social capital and contributed to the economic and financial wellbeing of their households and communities. They have also demonstrated leadership in every field but the political parties still hesitate to maintain the landmark leadership positions they held during the last local elections five years ago. This in itself is violation of women’s’ political right spelt out by the national charter. It is important to start raising this voice before it gets too late.
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate. email@example.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)