Women Empowerment Beyond Productive Role

Photo: Vandeth Seng/Oxfam

Women Empowerment Beyond Productive Role

Organized by SEEP Network, WEE Global Learning Forum took place from 23rd -25th May 2017 in Bangkok with more than 300 participants from 60 countries representing over 150 organizations. It was an exceptional opportunity where all practitioners, decision makers and influencers around the globe explored topics that are emerging as critical constraints to women economic empowerment around the world.

Learning from experiences in Cambodia on Oxfam Saving-Lead Microfinance Program within more than one decade, women in rural communities could access to the household’s money on the family’s behalf. However, as the main income earners and household heads, men are mostly still expected to make the final decision in relation to any sizable expenses.

Can the economic upgrading of women’s productive roles support the social upgrading of their roles in the households?

On May 24, we had the opportunity to learn, share our work at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Learning Forum and discuss if improving paid work for women was the only factor to uplift their social roles in the households. Our experiences at the field from diverse background and continents came up with “YES” and “NO” with other factors.  The “YES” has confirmed by experience through many case stories, for instance, rural women in Saving for Change group (SfC) of Oxfam in Cambodia have equipped on financial literacy, women leadership and community-based enterprise development to upgrade their economic status. Field observation shared that the SfC who are small business holders have more confident in taking leadership roles in their communities as well as in their households compare to other as they hold paid work in their families.

Oxfam’s definition of WEE

Oxfam asserts that effective economic empowerment for women occurs when women enjoy their rights to control and benefit from resources, assets, income and their own time, and when they have the ability to manage risk and improve their economic status and wellbeing. However, for WEE to translate into meaningful empowerment, women must also have the autonomy and self-belief to make changes in their own lives, including having the agency and power to organize and influence decision making, while enjoying equal rights to men and freedom from violence (Oxfam’s conceptual framework on Women’s Economic Empowerment)

Why women economic empowerment alone cannot address women empowerment?

Women’s empowerment is a process whereby women’s lives are transformed from a situation where they have limited power as consequence of gendered barriers, to a situation where their power is equal to that of men. Women’s economic, social, personal and political empowerment is interconnected; positive change in one dimension of women’s lives is unsustainable without progress in the others. It is more comprehensive than WEE alone. One presentation by WOCAN on how will the W+ Standard be implemented recommended that “projects must plan for and measure progress in at least one of the six domains: Income and Assets, Time, Education and Knowledge, Leadership, Food Security and Health (www. Wocan.org). This means that economic participation alone is not enough to guarantee women’s broader empowerment: this requires additional approaches that challenge the structural barriers that keep women from achieving all the dimensions of women’s empowerment: economic, social, political and personal.

We also recognized the “NO” since the upgrading women’s productive roles only one of contributing components to women empowerment. Learning from other women around the globe, even though women with formal or informal paid work also suffering from investing more time, energy with mental pressure to unpaid work. Quality and accessibility both need to go hands on hands. Could women work only 6 hours a day for formal or informal paid job to be compensated with their unpaid work that they are pressuring? It is still a question for policy makers, private sectors and other key stakeholders.