Analysis: SHEM SIMUYEMBA
IT HAS been said that if you “educate a woman, you educate a nation”. I would like to suggest that while education is a key pre-requisite and necessary condition to empowering women, on its own, it is not sufficient. Rather, education should be the foundation upon which economic empowerment of women should be built.
I would like to propose that the economic empowerment of women is the additional condition that will aid in unleashing their full potential not just as women, but, more importantly, their offspring and their families for generations to come. Thus, “Empower a woman – you empower a generation”.
From our traditional societies, to Biblical times, to the present, women have been economic drivers, harnessing whatever little opportunities and resources at their disposal to generate incomes to provide livelihoods for their families. In this context, women have been both innovators and leaders.
Bible (Acts 11:14) makes mention of a certain woman named Lydia, from the City of Thyatira, who was a dealer in purple cloth. We are informed that purple cloth was the most expensive cloth of the time. You can therefore be certain that to be a Merchant in that trade, Lydia must in all likelihood have been literate to be able to deal effectively with the rich people and royalty who bought her merchandise, and that she must also have had, adequate financial resources to support her trade, which would have required relatively large capital outlays.
So, why has the world not acted with resolve and purpose to empower women economically? The answer lies in the fact that there has been too much prose and too little practicality in seeking to empower women – too many platforms, dialogue forums, networks, resolutions at the expense of the three (3) things that women require the most – education, skills and finance. Like a three-legged African pot, these are the pillars required for balanced and sustainable economic empowerment of women, worldwide and for generations to come.
So why has this not happened nor happened fast enough? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the agenda for economic empowerment of women has largely been driven by players other than the women themselves. This is changing for the better. The creation of a dedicated global agency to deal with women’s affairs in the form of the United Nations (UN) newest body, “UN Women”, is a major step in the right direction.
However, to be more relevant to the plight of women worldwide, UN Women needs to reposition itself to come closer to the marginalised women on the ground in locations where these women are seeking to make a livelihood. To address the imbalances currently facing women and to create a stable three-legged African pot, UN Women needs to: i). Set up dedicated “women community schools” to fast-track the education of women to raise literacy levels; (ii). Establish dedicated “Women Skills Institutes” to provide basic skills; and iii). Create a dedicated global financing mechanism for women, the “World Women Bank” (WWB).
Why a dedicated women’s bank? The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report, 2018 states that while some progress has been made, “… women are still being deprived of basic rights and opportunities”. A dedicated WWB is needed because the gap is so large and traditional financing institutions have not been able to adequately address the economic empowerment needs of women worldwide. The proposed WWB will help mobilise and consolidate resources into a global pool targeted at women’s financing needs in a more structured and systematic way.
It will be a custom-tailored solution for women’s needs for the same reasons it became necessary recently to set up new development finance institutions (DFIs) such as, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the New Development Bank (NDB) of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The same reason why the United States is turning the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) into a DFI and Canada has set up a new DFI, FinDev Canada. Simply, these are unique financing mechanisms to fill a unique gap. Women’s financing needs are unique requiring unique innovative solutions. Once the three – education, skills and financing are addressed, women globally will be turned into literate, skilled and resourced agents of transformational change. Thus, by empowering women in a new, innovative way, the world will be empowering future generations for a long time to come.
The author is a development practitioner.
Analysis: SHEM SIMUYEMBA