Time to Talk Numbers

Women play a key role in the reconstruction and development of a country’s infrastructure, in particular after a political or economic crisis, as well as during the aftermath of a natural disaster. In recent years, this has been most notably observed in post-genocide Rwanda, where women have a significant presence within the parliament and other legislative bodies.

Although the presence of women in decision making positions throughout the government is important, it is just as important for women to play a key role in the financial and daily operations of the household.  In a recent Foreign Committee Affairs Hearing entitled Beyond Micro-Finance: Empowering Women in the Developing World, the CEO of Women’s World Banking, an Associate Professor of Applied Economics and the Executive Director of Georgetown Women, Peace and Security discussed the importance of economic inclusion, national security and innovation.

It has been statistically shown that women have a higher tendency to invest in education, health and the general well being of their family and community members. As a result, providing economic independence, resources and education to the women in a community has the potential to lead to high levels of sustainability and prosperity.

It’s clear that women have an important role to play in the reconstruction and developement of infrastructure and socio-economic institutions, and these are critical towards creating greater stability and eventual prosperity within a country. Selly Kerim, an economist and research engineer, points out the importance of health, education and employment among individuals from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

Why is it important to focus on human stories when we discuss economic, political and social global issues? Can’t we simply rely on statistics and analysis to provide accurate measurements? After hearing Selly explain one of her many projects in the sparsely populated country of Mauritania, I was intrigued by the level of passion in her voice as well as her clear explanation of the intertwining roles of human development and economics. She is a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellow, holds a PHD in finance and development economics and has a sincere passion for empowering women and children through education. Selly explained why she decided to create the first academic survey of governance and living conditions in Mauritania, and for a brief moment economics made complete sense to me.

I decided to follow up on my interest in the sphere of economics and watch the Council on Foreign Relations Women & Foreign Policy Facebook discussion on Inclusive Economies. Rachel Vogelstein, Director of CFR’s Women and Foreign Policy Program and Jeni Klugman, a development economist, discussed the report entitled Building Inclusive Economies. They highlight some of the major benefits of the full participation of women within economies as well as various indicators which influence this such as employment, pay range, types of work, education as well as cultural, religious and legal barriers.

Women not only shape the economy. Women are economists with a unique ear for the human voice and a mind to measure what matters.

It’s Time to Recognize Women Farmers in India

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word, I think of a man.

Or, at least I used to think of a man. Before I went to India, that is. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture but due to traditional gender roles they are rarely recognized as farmers. This is no news, but because of severe climate change and male work migration to cities women farmers are now more visible than ever, which creates an urgent need for them actually to be recognized as such.

So, the feminization of farming does not mean that women suddenly start taking part in agriculture work, but rather that they become visible within the agricultural sector. It means that many women across India are now taking care of both their households and their farms, while their husbands move to the cities in order to find another income to make ends meet. It means that women work for 3300 hours, while men work 1860 hours in a crop season. It means that there is an urgent need for women farmers to be recognized in order to be able to maintain a sustainable way of living.

There are a lot of initiatives in India aimed at the empowerment of small farmers. However, they are often formed to fit the average male farmer, which means that they fail to address the specific needs of women farmers. Taking care of the household and the children result in women having less time and opportunity to, for example, take part in farming training and travel to the market to sell their produce. Furthermore, if women are not recognized as farmers in the first place, they will still be overlooked when new projects for farmers’ empowerment are initiated.

Women play a vital role in food production, not only in India, but around the world. However, due to patriarchal structures they do not have equal access to land ownership. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture, but only 9.4% own land. We know that if women could improve their economic and social status it generates more productive farms and decreases child malnutrition. If women were to be given equal access to productive resources, they could yield 20-30 % more.

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I now think of strong women.

In addition to tending to their farms, they are also looking after their children, cooking, cleaning and fetching water and firewood. These women have been discriminated for ages and their skills and knowledge have not been recognized simply because they are women. It has to change. If women farmers are not recognized, if they do not have access to productive resources, if they do not have access to proper education, who will feed the next generation?

The feminization of farming has been going on for decades, and it will most likely continue. Women farmers are the future and there is an urgent need to recognize them as such. Not only in India, but everywhere.

A Day in the Life of a Working Nepalese Woman

This post was written by 2016 LEADer and Women LEAD Blogger, Samika Mali

Whether it is a weekday or weekend, my mom wakes up every day at 6am and sweeps the entire house. Preparing lunch every morning until 9am is a compulsion for her no matter how sick or weak she is. Then, in no time, she has to gulp down her lunch, get dressed, and rush to work.

After a long day at her shop, she returns home tired and exhausted. But she doesn’t get to rest. Though her duties as a businesswoman are over, her responsibilities as a housewife have not ended yet. In the evening, she has to serve food to all her family members and do the dishes. Then, she cleans the whole kitchen. Sometimes, she even mops the floors, throw the clothes in the machine to wash, and sits down to help me with my projects. Finally, her day ends.

Growing up, I saw my mother balance her life as a successful business woman in a culture where women are expected to limit themselves within the four walls of the house. A few years ago, my mother decided to work alongside my father in his business, even though she was highly criticized by my grandparents, who asked her to stay home. But she refused to be silenced and instead raised her voice against social taboos in order to pursue her career.

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In our Nepalese society, once a women gets married, she can’t keep herself away from all these responsibilities. Wearing a red bridal dress, a woman promises her new husband to be his partner for life and adjusts herself in his family, leaving her own parents behind. It’s a common story of every Nepalese woman. Her new life can bring her tons of happiness, but along with that she gets many new responsibilities— responsibilities of a daughter-in-law, a wife, and a mother. She works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as a caretaker, a cook, and a cleaner without expecting anything in return.

A woman sacrifices her surname, sacrifices her beloved parents, and sacrifices her body to be pregnant. And only a woman does it.

 

After marriage, my mother says that a woman compromises in ways that a man would never think of, especially when it comes to her career. The dedication, effort, and hard work that she used to invest in her job before marriage is now invested in doing all her household chores. The promotion that she deserves based on her ability and skill is given to another man just because she can’t afford to be away from the home for any extra hours or because she wants to avoid the additional workload. In Kathmandu Valley today, men are rarely expected to make the same compromises.

received_655684851260830Though we live in 21st century, and Nepal is a federal democratic country where women and men have equal rights by law, the traditional thinking of the people hasn’t changed yet. The social structure of our society discourages married female members of their house to go out and work competing against male members. They are expected to look after the house and rear children rather than to do a job or run a business. People should understand that the economic contribution of both women and men is necessary for a country to progress. And only a change in our culture shall ensure this can happen.

Affording a healthy, balanced, and satisfied life in this era is a big challenge. So, gender equity in both workplace and household chores should be maintained. A working woman not only supports her family financially but she can introduce good cultures too. A working woman most probably is educated, has a skill and meet new faces everyday. Thus, she knows better culture, she is independent and she can deal with problems effectively.

My mother says, “In Nepal, after a woman is married, there are so many boundaries set for them not only in terms of work but also their dress code, lifestyle and more. Thus, we ought not to stay quiet, but fight against the society to get our right and freedom, we have to raise our voice to be equally treated in the family as well as community and we have to be strong enough to eradicate male dominance in the society.”

Because of my mother, I know that a woman can be a great parent and a successful entrepreneur at the same time. But if women are not given equal rights, treated equally, or allowed to contribute to the  workforce, then our country cannot develop. A country cannot progress if they are not willing to acknowledge half of the population as equal. Women must be encouraged to participate in entrepreneurship, contribute new ideas, and involved in the workforce. This will ensure both the development of Nepal in one hand and progress for women in another.

Featured image: Robert Stansfield/DFID (Creative Commons)

Images inside text by author.

A Letter to the 15-Year-Old Me

As we celebrate women’s month in South Africa, I took a moment to reflect on of all the mistakes I made and the right things I did to prepare myself for womanhood.

I am a 26-year-old young woman, who doesn’t have it all together. But, I am glad I am working towards a goal. Looking back to when I was young, there are certain things I wish someone could have told me, lessons that I should have learned a lot earlier. Although I am happy with the life I am leading, I have made my own fair share of mistakes. I made enemies that could have become valuable friends, spent money that I should have saved and wasted time that could have been better used.

On the note, I decided to write a letter with advice to my 15-year-old self, with the hope that it will be useful to someone who is in their journey to womanhood:

  1. You are beautiful. The world may have its definition of beauty, but you are allowed to create your own. You are your greatest asset, and no one can love you or value you more than you. Tell yourself how beautiful you are every day. You know yourself best.
  2. The world owes you nothing. In fact you are the one who owes your government tax, if you’re religious you probably owe your church tithe, and maybe even your time towards community service. You have to consistently work hard to stay alive.
  3. Standout. It may seem cool to be part of the most popular group of friends where you study or live. But you need to strive for individuality, if you are blending in you may be giving up a lot of who you are just so you can fit it. Remember, you are so special – you cannot afford to be anyone else.
  4. Educate yourself. Get formal education, study society, your history, history of your country, continent and the world. Remember you are a product of your parents’ past. Don’t only depend on the education you get at school, it forms a small part of the life you will live in future. Learn something new every day. Read about financial reports, sports, politics and stay well informed. An educated mind is an empowered mind.
  5. Humility is key. Do not look down on other people just because they are not like you. They may not be of the same religion, race, class, speak the same language or gender. That does not give you the right to look down on them. Learn about your differences, learn about their religion and accept them as they are.
  6. Travel whenever you can. Never miss an opportunity to meet new people and learn about where they live, their beliefs and what they like. The best lessons are learned in a place of discomfort.
  7. Stay healthy. Having a healthy mind and body is essential. Exercise and eat right while feeding your mind with positive thoughts. Skinny is not always healthy. Exercise for health, not only weight–loss.
  8. Marriage is not everything. Women are mostly groomed to get married, so much that you start thinking of marriage at 15. Marriage is good, but remember that your success should not be tied to a man. Work on making yourself a masterpiece. Marriage can be an addition to the masterpiece. You can be happy without being married.
  9. Find your passion. Find out what makes you tick and what you are willing to do without remuneration. Your passion will be a place of mental refuge when days are dark, friends are few and finances are dry.
  10. Spend wisely. Teach yourself to manage finances as early as you can in life. The skills you acquire will come in handy when you earn your first salary. Know how to differentiate between needs, wants and luxuries. It’s not bad to spend your money on anything you want, but know when the right time is to spend on each of the three. Remember to save money wherever you can.
  11. Have fun. Try to have as much fun as possible in everything you do, including exam preparations and writing assignments. It’s the best way to excel. Allow yourself to make mistakes, laugh at yourself and do not walk away without learning from them.
  12. Life is a journey not a destination. You are a work in progress. You need to improve yourself to be a better person in all you do. There are so many talented people in the world that average will not be enough. Strive for excellence in your studies, career and extra-mural activities. An undergraduate degree is nice, but a master degree is more competitive.
  13. Run your own race. Never mind how fast or how far other people your age are progressing. What matters is that you have started and are determined to achieve your goals. However long it takes, you will get to where you want to be. Do not compete, it is bad for your confidence.

What would you tell yourself at age 15 if you could go back? Perhaps to be more gentle to yourself – and to recognize the uniqueness you possess. Maybe you should write this letter too – and remember that it’s never too late to listen to your own advice!

Featured image: Rebecca / Flickr (Creative Commons)