Women’s Empowerment

What is Women’s Empowerment?

Simplified, it is the actions that result in women being able to own and control property. It is primarily financial, but extends into the areas of body autonomy (the ability to chose what is done with your own body), childcare, education and violence against women because they all directly impact a woman’s ability to work, run a business and/or manage property.

Addressing inequality and Human Rights violations are key to resolving poverty. When inequality is high, poverty goes up; when inequality is low (and equality is high), poverty goes down.

It’s an important economic concept that has been thoroughly examined, discussed and researched by academics and activists all over the world (see references below).

My Own Experience

Since I’m just a poverty survivor and not a world-renowned academic expert in economics (or anything else), allow me to provide a ground-zero perspective from life here in the United States of America.

The examples I have collected show how an individual is kept in poverty or under absolute financial control of another individual. Therefore, it is important to understand that placing one person in a family (or community or collection of humans) under the absolute control of another person contributes to poverty overall.

The most simplistic explanation for this statement is this: If the controlling person is wealthy, the person they control is impoverished because they care unable to own property.

However, these human rights violations continue the cycle of poverty in many other ways. If a woman is unable to make decisions, maintain control over her body or well being, is subjected to violence, or is simply trapped in her home, then she is not contributing her full potential to the household or the community. Also, if something happens to the individual who is controlling all finances, leaving him unable to work, then the entire family becomes homeless.

For the purposes of this answer, I will focus on the effect on the women (specifically). Please understand that there are others who are effected, both directly and indirectly, by these issues.

1960s

Image source: Asterisk Gallery: No Moms Allowed: Teen Hangouts Through History

(Note: this is NOT a photo of my mom. Technically, it’s a 1950s photo, but the hairstyles remind me of photos of my mother during her late teens.)

During the late 1970s, my mother told me the story of her first drivers license. She a navy child, so my grandfather was out at sea when it came time to go to the DMV, take the test, and get her license; so, my grandmother took my mother in herself.

The man behind the counter asked one question: “Where’s your father?”

They explained the situation and he flat out refused to allow my mother to get her license without a man present, providing his permission. She was not allowed to drive until my grandfather returned home. You can imagine how infuriating it was for both my mother and my grandmother.

Why this is important

Not being able to drives means being shut out of nearly all forms of employment in the far majority of people in the USA. It also significantly restricts movement and the ability to complete simple daily tasks, like shopping for food and going to the doctor.

Simply making divers licenses available to women (and punishing this sort of discrimination on the part of DMV workers) improves both women’s rights and women (economic) empowerment.

1970s

Images Source: NIH: Domestic Violence in the 1970s

As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I had a stay-at-home-mom and lived in a house surrounded by houses filled with stay-at-home-moms. Some of the women were literally trapped in their homes without a vehicle or access to public transportation (at that time, it did not exist outside of the city). A few were doubly trapped by an abusive spouse.

Domestic violence was also common. Not just in my little town – everywhere.

This was when the women’s movement was picking up steam and making a lot of progress, but deep social and political change always seem to take an extra 5–10 years to reach the deeply rural areas and the states located in landlocked areas between the coasts. It took a while, but it did, finally, arrive.

Why this is important:

Without realistic options for income, these women were unable to escape violence and abuse against themselves and their children. Without employment they could not escape. Employment was not possible until after they managed to escape. It was an impossible situation.

When domestic violence awareness campaigns reached all corners of the USA, and changes to the laws provided all people of all ages protection from violence and abuse, then large numebrs of women were finally able to achieve both physical and financial freedom.

1980s

Image Source: 1985 cover of TIME | Current & Breaking News | National & World Updates

As a teenager in the 1980s I found myself faced with some strange contradictions. There were people who were claiming that women had achieved equality and feminism was dead (sound familiar).

Yet, at the exact same time, many of my classmates were getting pregnant due to many difficult realities. Chief among them were the anti-birth control and anti-abortion sentiments of the local religious and political leaders and the disturbingly common occurrence of date rape.

While the majority of teenage girls simply gave their babies to family members to raise, there was a not-insignificant minority of teenagers who were forced to marry their boyfriend and/or rapist. I listened to more than one story that roughly translated into the following process:

  1. Boy ‘likes’ girls and wants to control her (permanently).
  2. Boy rapes girl.
  3. Boy tells everyone, including girl’s parents, that they had sex and the baby was his. There may not be a baby on the way. This did not appear to matter.
  4. Girl is now socially tied to boy. Other teens and adults perceive her as ‘his.’
  5. Boy continues to rape girl until she gets pregnant.
  6. Boy demands marriage.
  7. Parents force marriage, while trying to absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.
  8. Girl is now physically, socially and financially trapped by boy.

This is not a relic of the past – it continues to happen.

Why This is Important:

Body autonomy is about significantly more than ‘wanting to be a parent.’ It’s about physical safety and freedom – literal freedom.

No human being, regardless of age or gender, should be subjected to rape. Laws are in place to protect the victim, but they are difficult to enforce. The circumstances are also frequently complicated, particularly when it’s ‘date rape.’

The ability to prevent a pregnancy under any circumstance is the last line of defense against this particular kind of predator. Therefore, birth control is absolutely necessary in the fight against rape, domestic violence, and women’s inequality.

The ability to raise a child as a single parent, and still pursue a career and/or life goals is something our entire society MUST support, because it provides freedom to girls facing this kind of abuse,

The ability to address everything that goes along with a teen pregnancy, including medical care, without being forced into a marriage, is also absolutely necessary.

Those who have access to these necessities are also provided access to the possibility of a financially independant and reasonably secure future.

1990s

Image Source: Huffington Post: Why Anita Hill’s 1991 Testimony Is So Haunting Today

I started working full-time after college. Then I went to grad school, and returned to working full time immediately after. That makes the 1990s the decade of my introduction into the regular workforce. Here are somethings that I heard on a regular basis during that decade (said to me directly and to other women):

  • Of course your pay is low, you’re married. Your husband is bringing in the real income.
  • You’re young and married. You’ll be having babies soon. We don’t expect you to stick around.
  • We need someone to take notes. [Name of only female in room], you can be the secretary for the meeting.
  • The best job [a woman] can get is secretary (nurse, teacher, [other stereotypically female position]).
  • You should wear clothes that are tighter (more revealing, more fashionable, etc.). If you want to get ahead, you have to learn to work it. Don’t you want to succeed?

I could go on but you get the idea.

While all of these things were frustrating, uncomfortable and occasionally infuriating; none of them were perceived as harassment. In fact, the possibility of harassment didn’t come up until the Anita Hill hearings brought the topic into the TV sets and living rooms of every American with access to standard news channels. Even then, the focus was on extreme examples of sexual harassment.

Therefore, I will put aside the general atmosphere that was prevalent a few decades ago, and focus on the one specific comment that had real and far-reaching consequences for every working woman in the USA:

  • Of course your pay is low, you’re married. Your husband is bringing in the real income.

This is just one of the many excuses/responses to questions about pay disparity that I, personally, encountered. Attempts to pursue this line of inquiry, or negotiate for a simple pay raise, were usually (invariably?) met with threats (direct or implied) of dismissal.

(Note: Reason it’s important will be explored in 2000s)

2000 to Present

Image Source: Equal Pay For Equal Work (Also see: Equal pay for equal work – Wikipedia)

While being held back in the pay-scale during my 20s was frustrating, I didn’t realize just how important it was until many years later. The problem is this:

  • New employers base their pay-level offering on the amount of money previous employers have already paid you.

Requesting pay history and verifying the amount former employers paid is standard background check process. These are also standard discussion points during the interview process.

When it comes time to talk salary, it’s ALLWAYS based on information the new employer has on what previous employers paid. If you made $30,000 doing the same (or similar) work at your last company, why would the new company pay you significantly more? The fact that the men in the company are getting $90,000 during their first year, is irrelevant.

Bottom line: Your price has been set.

Why this is important:

Women consistently making 70% of the salary earned by men (across all professions) has serious implications for total household income. It reduces a woman’s ability to sustain herself and her children without a roommate or a husband. It significantly reduces her ability to find a job that pays a living wage, if she happens to be an unskilled worker.

However, it also has wider implications that directly affect men. The existence of wage disparity establishes a process by which some people are financially discriminated against. This process can be…and often is…applied to any group of people, as the company sees fit.

This isn’t about finding the best candidate or paying for a stronger skill set. Wage disparity is the act of paying significantly different wages to people who are doing the exact same work.

This perpetuates poverty by systematically restricting select groups of people from accessing key resources.

What the Academics Have Said

There are many highly respected academics and activists who have been saying poverty is reduced when women are economically empowered for a long long time. Here are a few examples of published academic papers that illustrate this fact:

For an excellent speech on the effects of violence (specifically) and unenforced laws (in general) on poverty, please watch this TED talk:

Ted Talk (YouTube.com) Gary Haugen: The hidden reason for poverty the world needs to address now

Originally posted in response to How powerful is female empowerment in resolving world poverty? on Quora.

Nothing Can Stop Us

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Amazon.com

It was a case of women coming together at the right time and deciding that we were going to stand up for ourselves and stand up for other women. Once we coalesced for action it felt like nothing could stop us.

-Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

Admiration List: Jennifer Brea

Video

Jennifer Brea has been suffering from an un-treatable and not-yet-properly-identified neurological disease. She has been given diagnosis (e.g.: chronic fatigue syndrome) that basically mean nothing and was told it was ‘all in her head.’ This woman has been through the proverbial fire.

Yet, despite extremely difficult physical and social barriers, she has persevered, created a film about her experiences and pursued a life of activism, acting as a voice for all people suffering from invisible and un-diagnosed illnesses.

From her TED talk, you can see her strength, attitude and remarkable good will, as she expresses her hope that one day the medical community will learn how to face a disease like her own and speak the honest truth: I don’t know what is wrong with you.

I have to agree with her statement that this ability to be able to admit to not having an answer is a key step in eventually finding an answer.

Admiration List: Alaa Murabit

Video

Alaa Murabit has achieved some pretty amazing things. She’s championed the cause of women in countries where that sort of activism could get a person killed. She has lived through death threats and all sorts of challenges. She has also successfully improved the status of women, within Muslim countries, by leveraging the same tactics used  by her opposition – quotes from the Koran.

Her resilient personality, positive attitude and ability to take all of the challenges in stride are evident in her TED talk. There are many things to admire.

Having said that, I must admit that none of those accomplishments are the reason why she is included here. The primary reason for my own, personal, admiration is the fact that I watched this video and kept thinking: How do I expand my social circle to include more women like her? I need more friends like that.

 

Stillbirth Equals Prison Time

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Amazon.com

Marsha wandered through her first days at Tutwiler in a state of disbelief. She met other women like herself who had been imprisoned after having given birth to stillborn babies. Efernia McClendon, a young black teenager from Opelika, Alabama, got pregnant in high school and didn’t tell her parents. She delivered at just over five months and left the stillborn baby’s remains in a drainage ditch. When they were discovered, she was interrogated by police until she acknowledged that she couldn’t be 100 percent sure the infant hadn’t moved before death, even though the premature delivery made viability extremely unlikely. Threatened with the death penalty, she joined a growing community of women imprisoned for having unplanned pregnancies and bad judgment.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

US Dept of State 2016 Trafficking In Persons Report

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Amazon.com

Today, we continue the long journey toward an America and a world where liberty and equality are not reserved for some, but extended to all. Across the globe, including right here at home, millions of men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. We remain committed to abolishing slavery in all its forms and draw strength from the courage and resolve of generations past.

President Barack Obama

HUMAN TRAFFICKING DEFINED
The TVPA defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:
➤ sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
➤ the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within these definitions.

2016 Trafficking In Persons Report (PDF)(Home Page)

Notes:

Why a Muslim Registry is a Bad Idea

Originally posted in answer to the question What is so bad about a Muslim registry? on Quora.

I am going to provide an IT perspective on this question.

Yes, that’s right, an Information Technology, computers and the-people-who-deal-with-the-machines-collecting-and-crunching-the-data-perspective.

Why? Because when someone decides to ‘create a registry’ someone (similar to myself) is tasked with the job of creating a database AND reports generated by that database.

As illustrated by the wonderful commentary generated by the Y2Gay database discussions, IT has an important perspective on these things: Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective

Creating Databases Means Identifying Key Data

When a database is created, the first thing that must be done is simply this:

  1. identify the key data being collected
  2. identify the reports and other deliverables created by the database

While you might thing the second item could be restated as ‘identify the reason for the database’ nothing could be further from the truth. When dealing with non-computer people it is not unusual to have someone demand that a database be created to gather information “that creates a positive customer service experience for our customers!”…or something equally unclear yet very pep-rally appropriate. Then, after talking to multiple people and FINALLY getting them to explain what, exactly, they are going to DO with the data, the unofficial and IT specific purpose changes to: “create a mailing list.”

This is one of those near-universal experiences people in IT like to laugh and complain about. It applies to government and private sector equally.

So, in the case of a Muslim registry, the first step (key data) is partially addressed in the notes included with this question:

I am shocked there is not already a registry of ALL citizens with info such as race, gender, religion, languages etc. At least a Muslim registry is a step in the right direction, seeing as a great threat to America happens to belong to a single religion (I know most Muslims are not terrorists).

As noted in other answers, many of these elements are already gathered through existing databases, like the US Census and ID Cards.

Don’t Make Me Fill Out ANOTHER Form!

When data is already being collected and reported, the individuals responsible for that data tend to get cranky when someone comes in asks them to fill out another form, create another report, and generally re-enter the same stuff AGAIN. There’s also the possibility of entering errors into the data source when it’s being created/generated/imported/modified multiple times by multiple people.

Of the items listed, everything except religion and language are already included on divers licenses and state IDs. The data collected by the DMV is free and available to the general public (personally, I do NOT agree with this massive dumping of personal information…but I digress) so an enterprising database designer could…potentially…import the DMV data and connect it to the missing elements: religion and language.

With the right connections and political power, it could also connect to the state and federal databases containing anyone and everyone who has ever been arrested for any reason (including those cleared as innocent) AND the databases maintained by the department of homeland security, the no-fly list, and even the records maintained by public schools. Several of these databases INCLUDE religion and race.

In short, we COULD create a complete profile on every person residing within the United States neatly coordinated within a single location just by importing already existing data.

Explain to me…again…why we are doing this?

That brings us to the second question – what, specifically, is going to be DONE with this data?

Since the Muslim registry enters into the network of existing information specifically for the purpose of:

  1. collecting religion and language
  2. identifying terrorists
  3. focusing specifically on Muslims as potential terrorists

Then the database being created is more like a report-generating app that connects all existing data, spits out lists of known Muslims, their home address, the school they attend, the language they speak, connections to known terrorists groups, their place of worship, and anything else that might be deemed important.

Presumably, this information would be provided to people in the field, who would add information to individual files, as needed.

As an IT person, I’m thinking: soooo…you want to re-create the department of homeland security?

As noted above, all of this information already exists and it is a well known fact that federal agencies have made concerted effort to connect and share data. I guarantee you, this sort of thing already exists – along with similar reports on every religion, hate group, environmentalist group, activist community and whatever else someone in ANY federal level policing agency (or state level or whatever) might deem important to know…for whatever reason,

In fact, if human behavior remains consistent (and it usually does) there are probably databases and reports that focus on individuals, groups and concerns going back to the beginning of data collection – and people working in all levels of law enforcement who occasionally stumble across these things and scratch their heads wondering why in holy hades do they even HAVE this?

Duplicate with different purpose…and the reason is what?

So, again, why are we building this?

Now we are getting down to brass tacks. The key term here is registry.

A registry managed by the government contains data on people that is made publicly available (GovernmentRegistry.org – Public Records Online). A category-specific registry is usually (always?) focused on presenting information about people who are deemed dangerous enough to warn the general public on a permanent basis.

For example:

Therefore, this isn’t data collection, this is data distribution to the general public.

Whats Wrong With a Muslim Registry?

Creating a database of all individuals who associate with a specific religion and making it publicly available for the express purpose of warning all individuals NOT associated with that religion to be wary of interaction due to potential terrorism…

Yeah, that’s a problem.

Why? Because that’s not purpose-driven data collection, that’s propaganda.

I suggest reading any of the other posts that focus on the registries maintained by the Nazis or the crimes committed again the Japanese here in the USA during WWII. I’m sure there are other equally powerful examples and all of them come down to the same thing: when the government ostracizes a group of people and generates a marketing campaign that vilifies all members of said group…and a registry would achieve that goal (and ONLY that goal)…then bad things happen.

Really bad things.

We don’t need that here in the United States.

Admiration List: Nacole

Video

I have great admiration and respect for victims of horrendous crimes who find the strength and courage to speak about those crimes publicly. Nacole is one such brave soul who gave a TEDx talk about child sex trafficking – and what it’s like to be the mother of a child who has been lured away and sold.

This talk is brave, powerful and heart wrenching.

ASEAN Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP)

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Quotes From: ASEAN Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children

C. Law Enforcement and Prosecution of Crimes of Trafficking in Persons
b. Develop pro-active investigation methods and where appropriate, to conduct surveillance and other pro-active measures to gather evidence to establish a case to prosecute trafficking in persons cases even without the testimony of victims;
c. Enhance efforts to investigate alleged cases of trafficking in persons, strengthen the means to combat trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators, including through more systematic use of freezing assets for the purpose of eventual confiscation in accordance with the provisions of Article 17 of the ACTIP, and ensure that penalties are proportionate to the gravity of the crime;
e. Prosecute crimes of trafficking in persons that encompass all forms of exploitation and enact, enforce and strengthen legislation that criminalises all forms of trafficking in persons, especially women and children;
f. Combat and prosecute organised criminal groups engaged in trafficking in persons, in accordance with domestic laws;
g. Investigate, prosecute and punish corrupt public officials who engage in or facilitate trafficking in persons and promote a zero-tolerance policy against those corrupt officials consistent with the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime;

ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, (ACTIP) of 2015, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Admiration List: Kim Dempster

Video

Kim Dempster worked with Freedom For All to lead the creation and organization of the Stop The Nightmare campaign, which focuses on raising awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery. The campaign included TV PSAs and a live performance of a present-day slave auction.

Here is her TED talk: