“It is in this generation’s reach to transform gender relations, to empower women and girls, and humanity as a whole.”
– Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director
Along with millions of people around the globe, The Hunger Project will celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, a day that honors the achievements and calls attention to the rights of women. International Women’s Day is a chance for the global community to rally together as advocates for women’s rights and empowerment.
This year’s theme is “Women in the Changing World of Work,” driving momentum towards implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a particular focus on women’s economic empowerment. Many of the SDGs specifically recognize the need to empower women as both an objective and a key to sustainable development.
This year’s International Women’s Day focuses on Goal 8 of the SDGs: Decent Work and Economic Growth, which challenges governments around the world to achieve “full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.”
Women in the labor force have accomplished much in the past twenty years, pushing through legal and legislative changes to address women’s rights and equality. Policy makers in Egypt, for example, have designed a cash transfer program that puts money in the hands of women, while caregivers in Kenya have negotiated a place in health and welfare policymaking at the local and national level. Over half of all countries now offer at least 14 weeks of maternity leave and slightly less than half offer some provisions for paternity leave.
Yet, there is still much progress to be made. Women often bear the burden of unpaid care and domestic work. When these unpaid hours are added to salaried work, women actually work longer hours than men in both developing and developed countries. Women are also significantly underrepresented as legislators, senior officials and managers. Full and equal access to senior leadership positions, in particular, could empower women to make changes needed to address the educational, infrastructure and health and social service needs of both men and women. Across all economic sectors and occupations, the gender pay gap persists, with women earning, on average, 24% less than men.
In the changing world of work today, globalisation, technological disruption and rising inequality will all have implications for women and their ability to achieve economic stability and security. International Women’s Day is a chance to highlight the importance of addressing these shifts in the labor market in the context of women’s empowerment. Policies are needed to bridge the gender pay gap, address the gender gap in leadership and entrepreneurship, and ensure equal access to education, capital and social protection.
Perhaps most importantly, policies are needed to ensure women have access to formal, well-paying, climate-resilient work. Out of 143 countries, 90% still have some type of legal restriction on women’s employment. Meeting the SDGs, alleviating poverty and providing economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable requires ensuring that women have full and equal access to employment and protections in the labor market. Furthermore, it’s not enough to simply incorporate women into unstable, informal labor markets. Rather, labor markets must be transformed to meet the demands of the new world of work in ways that benefit both women and men, and society as a whole.
Empowering women to reach their full potential fosters a healthier, more vibrant economy that benefits everyone. With this in mind, The Hunger Project works to support and build the capacity and skills of women and girls in our program areas.
In India, The Hunger Project builds leadership skills among women who have been systematically denied information, freedom of motion and a voice in decision-making. We train and empower women who have been elected to their panchayats (village councils) and work to encourage voter participation among women and the election of women leaders to all panchayat seats. At our epicentres across Africa, tens of thousands of women food farmers are increasing their incomes and strengthening their clout in the marketplace through our Microfinance Program. Our Women’s Empowerment Program throughout Africa and specialized animator training worldwide empowers women to seek positions of leadership and train all of our partners, women and men, to take responsibility for improving lives in their communities.
To further our efforts, we launched the Women Empowerment Index in October 2015, which measures progress across multiple dimensions of women’s empowerment and enables us to improve our programs that target women empowerment.
Supporting women’s equal rights and economic empowerment, particularly in this changing global work environment, is critical to achieving the end of hunger. Join us in celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8 and advocating for economic empowerment and equality for all.
Photo credit: Johannes Odé