Women’s Empowerment is Human Empowerment
Though we may wish to believe that the world has developed into a largely egalitarian society with equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender, this is a regrettably idealistic approach to the current global atmosphere. Studies have been conducted, goals have been presented, laws have been passed and conferences have been convened, all serving to raise awareness of gender equality around the world. But it has not been enough to solve the problem of the global suppression of women.
Nowhere is this inequity experienced more than in the developing world. Women and girls contribute to 60% of the world’s poorest people. Human traffickers target women and girls, forcing them into lives of prostitution and manual labor. Ill-equipped and under funded health care systems in the developing world lead to abysmal maternal and child survival rates.
The continuation of such practices and norms is even more unconscionable when taking into account that women are the backbone of society. Women are increasingly becoming the majority of the world’s farmers, health care providers, factory workers, and business entrepreneurs. While women have proven to be integral to the development and stability of society, they are continually left out of the development process and their power goes untapped. Thus, as Hilary Clinton would argue, providing equal opportunity to everyone, regardless of gender, is not only an issue of human rights and humanitarian values, it is a necessity to the progression of humanity and a prerequisite to sustainable development.
Secretary Clinton highlights the benefits investing in women brings to local societies and the world as a whole. “When women are free to vote and run for public office, governments are more effective and responsive to their people. When women are free to earn a living and start small businesses, they become drivers of economic growth. When women are afforded the opportunity of education and access to health care, their families and communities prosper. When women have equal rights, nations are more stable, peaceful and secure.”
Similarly, Nicholas Kristof noted in his keynote speech at the first annual Global Washington Conference that investing in women provides “so much bang for the buck.” Empowering women promotes smarter spending on education and health care, resulting in a more stable and secure environment.
In order to accomplish gender equality in the face of the global subjugation of women, the United States has embarked on a foreign policy strategy that aims to improve equality worldwide. By focusing on women in the three priorities of its global development policy, global health, food security, and climate change, the U.S. is working to improve the living conditions of women around the world. Senator John Kerry recently introduced the Enhancing Quality Assistance and Leadership and Improving Transparency (EQUALITY) Act that would create offices in the Department of State and USAID committed to elevating women’s empowerment and integrating gender equality into foreign assistance strategies.
Even with the actions taken by the United States and other international actors, we must change the way we view gender equality in global development in order to accomplish true gender equality. We must garner the vast array of benefits women can contribute to society. We must view gender equality as not only empowering women, but also empowering humanity as a whole.