Unlocking Women’s Full Potential


Unlocking Women’s Full Potential

The Paths to Equal Report, jointly published by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), finds that women around the world are empowered to achieve, on average, only 60 per cent of their full potential. This was measured by the Women’s Empowerment Index, which evaluates the achievement of women and girls in expanding their capabilities across five aspects to make choices and seize opportunities in life, including health, education, inclusion, decision-making and freedom from violence. The report also points out that 3.1 billion women and girls—more than 90 per cent of the world’s female population—live in countries characterised by low levels of women’s empowerment and low levels of achieving gender parity.

There are different reasons why women are unable to reach their full potential, including gender norms, existing beliefs and social norms, as well as insufficient empowerment and resources. According to UNDP’s Gender Social Norm Index Report published last year, over 25 per cent of world’s people, including women, believe that it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife. In the paid work environment, less than one-third of all managerial positions are held by women. Such biases, lack of empowerment and violence not only inhibit women’s wellbeing and development, but also severely impede the global progress of sustainable development.

Major obstacles hindering women’s development

According to the Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2023 report released by the United Nations, some of the major obstacles of achieving gender equality across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals include:
  • Lack of education opportunities: It is estimated that 110 million girls will still remain absent from school by 2030.
  • Poverty and lack of economic opportunities: It is estimated that over 340 million women and girls, or 8 per cent of the world’s female population, will still be trapped in extreme poverty, living on less than $2.15 a day. Gender-positive discrimination and improved access to job opportunities are much needed for women to be able to lift themselves out of poverty.
  • Food insecurity: By 2030, close to 24 per cent of all women and girls will be experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. In order to safeguard women’s food supply, livelihoods and health, it is important to strengthen women’s status in agrifood systems through increasing their access to ownership of land and resources.
  • Social norms and cultural practices: Female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and other gender-based harmful practices remain prevalent. One in five young women is married before turning 18. This highlights the need and urgency for advocacy and developing legal frameworks that safeguard women’s rights.
  • Workplace discrimination and inequality: Globally, only 61 per cent of all prime working-age women are in the labour force, compared to 91 per cent of prime working-age men. This inequality undoubtedly hinders the socio-economic and global progress towards sustainable development.

Change comes through empowerment of women

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 8 March. This is not only an occasion to recognise the achievements and contributions of women, but also encourages us to continue advocating for women’s empowerment and promoting women’s rights. UN Women collaborated with UN Global Compact to produce a set of seven Women’s Empowerment Principles, offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community:
  • Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
  • Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and non-discrimination
  • Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
  • Promote education, training and professional development for women
  • Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
  • Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
  • Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality
World Vision believes that women who are in good health, educated and empowered can become drivers of change. By empowering women, they will be given a platform to make decisions, exchange ideas and bring about change, as well as the opportunities and resources for them to thrive, improve their communities and become a driving force for sustainable development.

At World Vision, for decades, gender equality and women’s empowerment have been integrated into our long-term development projects, emergency responses and advocacy. We aim to create environments that enable women and girls to overcome the unique obstacles and barriers they face. Our efforts include:
  • Provide women and girls with assistance in multiple sectors, including health, water, education, child protection and economic empowerment, in order to improve their financial situation and living conditions.
  • Raise awareness among community members of the behaviours and practices harmful to women’s health and wellbeing, including child marriage and FGM.
  • Collaborate with communities, faith leaders and local authorities to act upon gender injustices.
  • Develop and empower girls and women, enabling them to fight for their own rights.

World Vision’s work: How women’s empowerment improves children’s wellbeing

We have changed as a family

Darlington and Maria’s family were participants in World Vision’s Transforming Household Resilience in Vulnerable Environments (THRIVE) programme in Malawi. Today, the couple get along well, and work hard together to grow their farming business and take care of their two children. But it wasn’t always like this.

Darlington says most men in the community tend to work when and for however long they want acting as unilateral decision-makers in their households, while expecting their wives to cook, clean, take care of the children, and even labour in the fields. When World Vision staff offered the Empowered Worldview training in his community in 2017, Darlington’s perspectives began to change. Maria says the training helped strengthen their marriage, in part because they learned how to communicate better. Now Darlington even helps with household chores and consults Maria before making decisions.

For years, the family eked out a living by farming maize and running a tiny grocery stand in the village. They had been equipped to steward their finances well through their participation in a World Vision savings group, but it was the Empowered Worldview workshops that helped them turn a corner toward living with a deeper purpose. “Before we got the training, we believed that you could only do well in life if you were already working or had money,” Maria says. “But then we realised that even we could do a lot, too.”

Since 2017, the Empowered Worldview training and technical farming training in the THRIVE programme have helped thousands of farming families in the community like Darlington and Maria to experience a significant increase in their production and income. Darlington and Maria have also been able to develop fishponds, start keeping bees, and use the nutrient-rich pond water to irrigate their crops, such as cassavas, bananas and sweet potatoes.

Besides the improved standard of living, their children are also enjoying better health. Their nine-year-old daughter Nolia was malnourished when she was younger, but has since made a full recovery and is now thriving at school. Her four-year-old brother does not even know what it means to go hungry. Now, inspired and equipped with new skills that she acquired from THRIVE, Maria aspires to move towards a brighter future together with her family.
“I didn’t have a bank account anywhere, I had even never set foot in a bank because of fear, but now I advise and take other women to the bank to open their account.”

From having nothing to graduating from poverty

Not long after she was married, Gulzar was abandoned by her husband. He left Bangladesh illegally and never came back. That left Gulzar with a three-month-old daughter in her arms and in much distress.

Later, World Vision started implementing the Gender Inclusive Pathways Out of Poverty (GPOP) project in Gulzar’s community. GPOP aims to increase the income of ultra-poor households in communities vulnerable to climate change, improve their food security and nutrition, while also promoting financial, social and gender inclusion.

Currently, the project is ‘graduating’ households out of poverty through an adapted ultra-poor graduation approach, which takes place over 24 months. Graduation criteria include income generation, meeting basic needs, financial inclusion, disaster risk reduction (DRR), gender equality and social inclusion. To ensure households continue to progress up the economic ladder after graduation, GPOP also supports them to participate and benefit from economic markets, with a strong focus on women’s economic empowerment.

For the first four months in GPOP, Gulzar and other families were provided with cash assistance to meet their needs. Then they would receive training on homestead gardening. After seven months, World Vision provided 15 chickens to Gulzar’s family, with the condition that she take part in building the chicken shed. That was how Gulzar started her journey out of poverty. Now she can sustain herself as well as her daughter, including affording her education. Moreover, through selling goats and chickens, she was able to save enough money to build her own house.

Besides keeping chickens and goats, Gulzar also sells the birds and their eggs at a market in her village. The market is managed by community members, and prices are regulated so that the producers would not suffer losses. Moreover, as it was not possible in the local context for women to go out and conduct businesses in markets far away from home, and there were extra costs in transporting her animals, buying and selling in this easily accessible market close to her home has helped Gulzar reduce expenses and ensure her safety.

“My life was in ruins. After being abandoned I felt I had lost my footing and the ground on which I stood. I had no hope to live for. Now, I feel as though I have four feet standing on solid ground,” says Gulzar.

Gulzar is a role model in her community and has become a strong leader who can earn her own living, prepare her own budget and make savings. “I didn’t have a bank account anywhere, I had even never set foot in a bank because of fear, but now I advise and take other women to the bank to open their account,” she says with a bright smile.

Gulzar’s biggest hope is that her daughter Tammana would not have to experience traumas like hers. “Due to extreme poverty and my parents’ lack of awareness, I could not receive an education and develop my potential, but Tammana will become a doctor,” she says while proudly looking at her daughter.

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