In mid-June, the “No to Violence Against Women” annual conference was held in New York City. It was presented by the National Council for Research on Women and the U.S. National Committee for Unifem. Over 300 people were in attendance, hailing from the fields of government, non-profit, policy, activism, and the media. On the agenda was an exploration of strategies that could lead to “transformative change.” High on the list for examination was the link between women’s need to be safe from violence and economic self-sufficiency.
One out of every three women will be touched by violence during her lifetime. In the age range spanning 15-44, women are affected in greater numbers than they are by illness and traffic accidents. Annually, more than 4.5 million violent crimes against women occur worldwide. In the United States, those who are the victims of domestic assaults lose 8 million days of paid work per year.
Violence against women diminishes the economic development of nations. Currently, 70% of the “global poor” is comprised of women. Building security for women creates a foundation of building blocks that yields strong civil societies—both in developing nations and those countries that are struggling to recover from the ravages of conflict and war.
It has been shown that investing in women and creating opportunities for them to generate income produces positive results. Globally, the default rate on loans to women is extremely low. Women spend their earned funds judiciously on food, fuel, education, and health. Their resulting activities are community driven, and they advancer peer-led models of engagement. If a woman gets involved in creating income, she brings her friends—who have witnessed her success—into the process. It generates a ripple effect, and women become stakeholders in the economy.
There has been analysis showing that women in emerging countries have been crowded into low paying sectors such as serving, food, and beauty, as well as artisan projects. Regarding the latter, this is often the result of an intervention that takes place late in the game, when skills have not been previously put into place. The question remains, “How do you scale up from weaving baskets?” One of the new systems being implemented is the channeling of money into communities through loans for education and healthcare.
In order for women to be active in the workforce, they must be protected by laws and have access to health care and education. Governments need to understand how women are held back by cultural strictures. One example is the issue of women and land rights. While constituting the largest sector of agricultural workers, women make up less than 1 percent of landowners. Whether her husband loses the land she has been working on through default, or she is passed over because she does not qualify for inheritance rights—a woman separated from the land she has cultivated is left without a source of income and no safety net.
Change must take place at two levels. First, it must be put into play by governments, their legal systems, and the global adaptation of the International Violence Against Women Act. Second, NGOs need to implement transformation through a grassroots, on the ground approach.
In a session devoted to the “intersection of socio-economic status and violence against women and girls,” it was pointed out that access to education for girls is an essential component to the economic piece—as well as a “mitigating factor.” Wendy Baldwin, of Population Council, spoke about how “education is transformative for girls.” Building on girls’s assets between ages 12-14 offsets a “negative life trajectory, including protection from violence.” Baldwin explained, “If you are not in school at age 13, you are likely to be at risk for child marriage at a time you should be developing a vision for your life.” Lynne Paterson, co-found and director of Pro Mujer, agreed that “starting younger is better.” Her organization is working with the mothers of the next generation “to make the women change agents in their own lives.”
In the United States, the picture is not dissimilar for girls of color and those from low-income homes who do not get access to health care, education, and skills training. They, as well, lack the requisite footing they need to move forward in life.
When a woman earns her own income, it makes it possible for her to kick out an alcoholic husband. However, a rupture in the dynamics of a household partnership, particularly where the man is unemployed, has shown a spike in domestic violence incidents.
In order for women to reach higher paying jobs, there has to be gender parity. In the area of job creation and developing fields, such as the green sector, a place at the table has to be set for women.
Women’s financial empowerment is a key to national stability and growth. Using only half of a country’s potential human resources is inefficient and wasteful. Additionally, reports from around the world show that violent behavior against women creates an enormous fiscal burden.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney told the audience that economists believe that 30 percent of a nation’s legislature must be women in order to reach a critical mass. At that point, change can be effected.
In tackling these problems, women can no longer be half the population, yet only qualify as a “special interest group.” They need to have power over the money they earn and must slip the bonds of being a “side issue.” Another elemental step would be to get women into leadership positions—globally. As Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International pointed out in an anecdote, it’s hard to give advice to developing nations on equality…when the Western diplomatic force has less than 50 percent women.
This article originally appeared on the website WomenMakeNews.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of David Zamdmer © 2010