March 14, 2009

Educate, Emancipate and Empower Women

In my blog post, "International Women's Day: Women and Men Uniting to End Violence against Women," I list a number of statistics that affect women in our modern era. I define "modern" as the ability to communicate easily through advances in information and communications technology and improved access to education, social and economic development services. Technology has allowed us to better understand the inequality issues between men and women, but many of us have yet to assertain the ability to resolve these issues or more importantly, to empower women to take more control of their respective lives just as men have appreciated for millennia.

The Seattle Times published an editorial by Tim Hanstad, president and chief executive officer of the Rural Development Institute (RDI), a Seattle-based international nonprofit advocating for secure land rights for the world's poorest people (see "Access to land improves women's lives around the world"). I agree with Mr. Hanstand, "While the international community has focused on initiatives that create opportunities for women, it is important to recognize those achievements are not equally shared, and much more needs to be done for women mired in poverty." Many of the economic projects I come across should have a stronger component focusing on poverty eradication for women.

Mr. Hanstand draws a connection between land ownership and poverty, "Women represent 51 percent of the world's population and provide 60 to 80 percent of food production in most developing countries. But they own less than 2 percent of the world's titled land, largely because few have legal rights to land." Through all my extensive experiences working in the developing world, I see that women are largely responsible for food production; however, I did not realize the small number who has the legal right to own land.

Mr. Hanstand explains how "RDI developed its Women and Land Program about 10 years ago to focus specifically on gender issues around land, which have long been ignored. Research in this area is absolutely crucial. We know that deeply rooted cultural norms in Third World countries won't be changed overnight, but a lot can be done just by changing policies and laws to create political and legal space for women to assert their rights and become pioneers in this field in their respective countries. It's also important to listen to what women want and not to impose Western values on these societies and to provide legal education on the laws that are already in place."

In today's, March 13, 2009, New York Times, Nicholas Kristof published an editorial noting the recent creation of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee dealing with women chaired by California Senator Barbara Boxer, President Obama establishing the Council on Women and Girls, "and the State Department naming a new position of special ambassador for global women’s issues" (see "Women’s issues getting traction").

Programs like the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program should have a specific focus on recruiting and training women to become entrepreneurs in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors (see "Rebuilding Afghanistan through Rural Enterprise Development"). As Mr. Kristof writes, "One of the things we've learned over the last 15 years is that you can't fight poverty effectively unless you educate, emancipate and empower women, and bring them into the formal economy."

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