Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Empowering women in developing countries is “smart economics” but faces challenges

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 25th March 2010

Empowering women in developing countries is “smart economics” that gives them jobs, helps them contribute to economic growth, and promotes greater liberty and democracy. But there are challenges that must be overcome before success is achieved.

Empowering women in developing countries in a way that gives them employment is “smart economics”. Not only does this give them jobs and help them contribute to economic growth, it is a route to combat poverty and a movement towards greater liberty and democracy. But there are challenges that must be overcome before success is achieved.

Such was the message delivered at today’s conference on women’s empowerment and employment, arranged by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Part of the ministry’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) series, the meeting was a precursor for the United Nations’ MDG high-level meeting in New York in September, which will assess the extent to which the millennium goals are being implemented.

Across the developing world, far more women continue to be out of the labour market than men, according to the Millennium Development Goals report from 2009. Northern Africa and western Asia have exceptionally low female employment-to-population ratios, and only about 20% of working-age women are employed in the most important sectors here, industry and services.

Overall, almost two-thirds of all employed women have vulnerable jobs, either as contributing family workers or as own-account workers, yet MDG 1 has a target that aims at full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people, while MDG 3 aims at promoting gender equality and empowering women.

But there are many barriers to success in reaching these goals, and the world economic crisis has delayed progress – and even reversed developments by five or six years.

We must empower women for them to gain their rights and promote economic growth,” Søren Pind, Denmark’s recently appointed Minister for Development Cooperation, told the conference.

Pind added that a new draft for Denmark’s development cooperation has five focus areas, including gender equality and boosting the position and status of women.

Through economic growth we can try to help and empower women, and that helps combat poverty,” Pind said.

Empowering women is smart economics,” said Robert E Zoellick, the president of the World Bank group.

Various reports indicate that improving women’s situation can benefit society in ways that transcend the direct benefits to individual women. Women’s independent earnings improve the well-being of their families and communities, reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. Higher income for women and better access to and control over their resources lead to better health and nutrition for children. In Bangladesh, access to micro-finance increases household consumption when the borrower is a woman, and access to credit also improves children’s health and nutrition.

While noting that women “can be driving forces in economic growth”, Zoellick added, “Women and girls are hit first by economic downturns.”

The world economic crisis means that micro-finance institutions – many of which lend money on very favourable terms to entrepreneurial women in developing countries – are now seeing that their customers are having difficulties repaying their loans, and the institutions may also face problems raising the new capital needed for their work, Zoellick added.

Helen Clark, the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), warned that there are very serious challenges to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. These challenges include classic areas of dispute such as rich versus poor, urban versus rural and men versus women.

But, Clark underlined, “Investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect across the Millennium Development Goals and expands the economic possibilities and employment of women. Women’s legal skills and situation must be strengthened in terms of their rights and to enable them to take part in decision-making processes, including in national legislatures.” This would ensure greater equality.

Carsten Staur, Denmark’s ambassador to the United Nations, summed up the recommendations from the conference discussions in five themes:

  • Economic empowerment of women as a rights’ issue and as smart economics.
  • Expansion of women’s entrepreneurship opportunities.
  • Creation of opportunities to overcome social and cultural barriers.
  • Priority for women’s health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Voice and political participation.

Staur will be presenting the recommendations at the MDG high-level meeting in September.

New organisation to be a platform for ethnic minority women

Friday, February 19th, 2010

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 19th February 2010

A new organisation, EMKR, will work for direct influence for ethnic minority women in Denmark, and it aims at being a platform promoting the political agenda of these women in Danish society. As well as “creating a new and realistic picture of ethnic minority women”, EMKR will work with other organisations that focus on the status of women in Denmark – and will also speak for men and children in ethnic minorities.

The Ethnic Minority Women’s Council (Etniske Minoritets Kvinders Råd, EMKR), set up last September, wants to speak the case of not only women from ethnic minorities living in Denmark, but also of their men and children.

EMKR will collaborate with and support other organisations related to the status of women in Denmark, but its focus will be on women from the ethnic minorities because, in the words of Trésor Kankindi, EMKR’s chair, these women “are one of the most discussed groups in Denmark – but never by themselves.”

According to Trésor Kankindi, who came from Burundi and has lived in Denmark for nine years, “EMKR wants to change that. We want to show ethnic Danes that immigrant women are just as diverse as everyone else. And we want to qualify the many perceptions that exist.”

In a press release issued in connection with a meeting presenting the board of the new organisation, EMKR’s treasurer, Annam Al-Hayali, said, “Women with a minority background are over-represented in many social areas in Denmark, including health and poverty. It’s important that we get problems like these on the political agenda without the focus being on our religion or culture.” Annam Al-Hayali, who came to Denmark from Iraq in 1996, is the co-ordinator of EMKR’s social committee.

Getting the problems discussed on a correct basis means there is a need for information, and EMKR has set up an information committee with Hakima Lasham Lakhrissi at the helm.

“Many people talk about us on the background of public feeling,” she said. “But we must have a proper factual basis if we are to make a difference and bring the problems into the light. The burka debate is just the most recent example of a distorted debate.”

Hakima Lasham Lakhrissi, who emigrated from Morocco to Denmark in 1991, added, “We have a lot to offer, and we’d like that to have a clearer role in the debate.”

EMKR also has a communications committee that will be pro-active towards the media.

“Instead of waiting for the media to present a truer and varied picture of women from ethnic minorities, we aim at writing the agenda ourselves,” said Alma Bekturganova Andersen, who trained as a journalist in Kazakhstan and now lives in Denmark.