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Ideas & Debate

Gender equity key in the race to spur economic growth

Changing norms are creating a need to analyse the gender question in a fresh manner to gain an insight on how equality can be a foundation for robust economic growth.

It is now common knowledge that economically empowering women yields socio-economic dividends.

Not only can bringing women into the labour force boost per capita income and gross domestic product growth, increasing earnings for women improves family welfare as they prioritise health and education which, in effect, develops human capital.

As a result, and rightfully so, there are concerted efforts to empower women particularly economically, because this provides them the power to make better decisions for themselves and their children.

However, a danger is emerging. As women become more financially independent and economically empowered, they are still subject to very high levels of abuse by men.

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In fact, 45 per cent of women between ages 15 and 49 in Kenya have experi­enced either phys­i­cal or sex­ual violence.

Further, women and girls account for 90 per cent of the gender-based violence cases reported. These statistics are important not only because they highlight the serious danger women and girls are in, but also the fact that the economic empowerment of women is not necessarily being matched with social freedom and safety.

While it is true that women who are economically empowered have more power to leave abusive relationships, the cold reality is that leaving an abusive partner can be very dangerous.

According to some reports, up to 75 per cent of abused women are murdered after they leave their partners. Further, even if a woman is earning her own money, in an abusive relationship her partner often forces her to give her earnings to him.

This is where the question of male psychology becomes important because it is directly related to economic power. Most men are socialised to pin most of their sense of self-worth to their financial status.

Men often feel more powerful when they are wealthy and economically dominant. Thus, as women break through economic glass ceilings, some men view this as a threat to their masculinity.

As a result, some men turn to the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of women in an effort to establish a power dynamic in which they are dominant.

How does this all matter with regards to economic performance? Well, if the focus on women empowerment is not balanced with efforts to show men that this is not a threat to their masculinity, the result may be escalating violence against women.

In one study, 70 per cent of women members of a microfinance institution reported higher levels of domestic violence after participating in women economic empowerment programmes.

Is there a trend emerging where increasing women’s economic independence is correlated with an increase in domestic violence?
To be clear, it is crucially important for the continued economic empowerment for women to continue; at the same time strategies need to be developed to help more men see this as a positive development in their life, rather than feel threatened by it.

This way, women not only will become more economically productive, the men in their lives will view this as an advancement to be supported.

This can then create a dynamic system that supports the capacity of both men and women to earn more thereby seeding a foundation of stability and equality that catalyses broader economic growth.

Ms Were is a development economist. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @anzetse

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