Editors’ note: In anticipation of Democracy that Delivers for Women: An international conference on women’s empowerment taking place June 20-21 this year, the CIPE Development Blog is reaching back into its archives for posts tagged ‘women’. Here’s the first one ever, from International Women’s Day 2008.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day (IWD) – a holiday that celebrates women’s economic, political, and social contributions to the development of their countries and communities. Interestingly, it’s not universally observed but gained special importance – and a degree of notoriety – in the former Soviet bloc as an official state celebration. I hadn’t heard of it growing up in the U.S., even though this is where IWD was first observed in 1909. It wasn’t until I lived in Russia that I learned IWD’s history and significance.
International Women’s Day deserves a higher profile both in the U.S. and around the world, because it draws attention both to the essential role that women play in economic and political spheres and the challenges that prevent them from doing so. Despite a great deal of progress made – and a growing recognition that countries enjoy higher levels of prosperity when women are economically empowered – women remain disenfranchised in many nations.
In its special section on ‘Women and the World Economy,’ The Economist declared, “The future of the world economy lies increasingly in female hands.” To make that statement universally true – to enfranchise more of the world’s women – there is still a great deal that needs to be done in terms of gender equality. Women in many developing countries face huge barriers to participating in the economy: they lack access to finance, are often legally prohibited from owning land, and may lack the education needed to build a successful business. These challenges are often combined with conservative social customs that prevent women from seeking employment outside of the home.
CIPE’s women’s programs around the world address these issues head on. In Pakistan, CIPE facilitated the development of the new Trade Organisations Ordinance 2006, which allowed women to form business organizations for the first time. Since the law came into effect, 10 women’s business associations have been registered. In partnership with CIPE, women’s business associations in countries as diverse as Romania and Bangladesh have grown to be strong organizations that advocate for the needs of their members. For instance, advocacy efforts of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry have resulted in lower interest rates on bank loans for women entrepreneurs and the recognition of the legal separation of a women’s business from her husband’s. CIPE also prepares the future generation of business leaders through programs like Tashabos entrepreneurship education, taught in girls’ (and boys’) high schools in Afghanistan.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to draw attention to these initiatives and why they are needed. However, women’s issues need the world’s attention more than this one day a year, which is why CIPE works with its local partners year round to reduce gender inequality and empower women around the world.