March 8th is International Women’s Day! It’s a day when the international community takes stock of the empowerment of women all over the world. And, here at CFTC, we’re taking stock of the role that women’s livelihoods play in women’s empowerment.
Women’s livelihoods are global game changers
Study after study affirms that women’s livelihoods are essential to the well-being of children, other women, and entire communities. In much of the world women are already part of the agricultural work force. What is missing is that
- their work is often unpaid;
- women don’t have the same access as men to resources, including education and technologies;
- when women earn money, they often don’t get to control their earnings.
Changing these three things would literally change the economic productivity of entire countries.
Why are women so important?
The UN’s Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that women in the developing world make up about 43% of the agricultural work force. Yet many of the world’s most poor and vulnerable people are women. This is because women receive less education and training than men. They lack access to resources including credit, agricultural extension support, agricultural technologies and markets that are commonly available only to men. And, women often work for free on land owned by men. According to the FAO:
If women farmers… had the same access [to resources] as men, agricultural output in 34 developing countries would rise by an estimated average of up to 4 per cent. This could reduce the number of undernourished people in those countries by as much as 17 per cent, translating to up to 150 million fewer hungry people.
These are staggering numbers. Why are these numbers so high? Among other things, it’s because women are typically the main caretakers of children. Healthy women who earn an income produce healthy, well-fed children who can afford to go to school, thus paving a path out of poverty.
A less remarked-on point, though, is that women who earn a livelihood also tend to lift other women out of poverty! The empowering of women is contagious and spreads from woman to woman, from women to children, and from families to entire communities!
For this reason, it is essential that women not only earn a livelihood but that they control the money they make. This leads to sustainable economic empowerment. It makes women’s livelihoods more secure and guarantees greater security for children and for the whole community.
Empowered women empower women
When we enter communities and collaborate with them and local NGOs to unleash women’s full potential, we invariably observe that women take other women along the path of empowerment.
Gertrude gets growing
Determined to keep her children in school, Gertrude received small business training through Canadian Feed The Children’s local partner HUYSLINCI in Uganda. She learned how to grow and market fruit and vegetables. She kept some of the produce for her kids and sold the rest. Her business grew and thrived. What did Gertrude do? She asked three of her neighbours to grow their own vegetables and sell them at her kiosk for a reasonable price.
Prudence shares her fishing profits
Kelsuma steps into leadership
Through Canadian Feed The Children’s MILEAR project, Kelsuma attended gender training and was able to leave a difficult marriage. Although she faced a lot of criticism from her community, the gender training stayed with her. It gave her the courage to start her own farm with her eldest son. She did so well she was named Farmer of the Year in her community. What did Kelsuma go on to do? She became a women’s rights advocate and was recently trained by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health as a local Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights instructor!
The toolkit of women’s empowerment
Women’s livelihoods and empowerment rest on their productivity and on the diversification of their sources of income. When sources of income are diversified, if something does not work there will be something else that does. Given climate change and the increase in natural disasters, it is essential for women’s livelihoods that all their eggs not be put in a single basket (sometimes literally!).
The essential tools in creating and sustaining women’s income, productivity, agency and empowerment are:
- building literacy and numeracy skills into programs targeted to women’s economic development
- opening up access to training normally reserved for men, including training on equal rights, financial/credit skills, marketing and business management, and agricultural techniques
- properly leveraging the value of group work to increase social cohesion and women as knowledge-holders
- access to credit and knowledge of how to borrow and pay back loans, invest in and run one’s own business.
A magical thing happens when women are empowered with these tools and tactics. Not only do children and communities benefit from the increased productivity and value women bring, but women’s value is recognized, their social status is elevated, and women’s solidarity — empowering themselves and empowering each other — becomes an unstoppable force for ongoing, sustainable betterment of their own and their children’s lives.
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