Women’s empowerment has adorned many faces of mass media for the past decade, with institutes and corporations proclaiming their support to prove their inclusivity as a way of upholding a good reputation. But what does empowering women really entail? Does it just consist of including women in male-dominated environments? Or perhaps it means portraying women as strong and independent? This article will look into what it actually means to empower women and how our society places such emphasis on its enforcement.
What is women’s empowerment?
Women’s empowerment is the act of providing women with the autonomy and control over their own lives by enabling them to have the opportunities required to make their personal life choices and to realize their full potential. The act of providing women with this power derives from the unjust societal contexts that have been witnessed for centuries, whereby women have been in positions of inferiority in comparison to men and have had little control over the way their lives are led. Although often mistaken as simply an act of uplifting women’s self-worth, women’s empowerment is more than just focusing on a singular woman, it is about breaking down boundaries that have been put in place by blatant systemic gender discrimination so that women can have the opportunity to progress collectively. It is also the awareness that many aspects of women’s lives are directly influenced by decisions made by men and so the point of empowering women is to allow them to be involved in making these decisions, especially when they directly involve women themselves.
Why is empowering women so vital?
The importance of empowering women is as simple as an acknowledgement that women deserve human rights that are equal to that of men. Truth be told, many people expect a long and in-depth answer to this question, when in reality, this sort of elucidation is entirely unnecessary as it should be something that is unequivocally accepted.
On a personal level, empowering women is important as a way to help them build up their own self-esteem and confidence in accepting the way their physical appearance is and the abilities that they possess. This is what is commonly seen throughout mass media, with prominent public figures like Alicia Keys and Beyoncé who unabashedly proclaim their commitment to changing the way that society views women and aiding other girls and women to become more comfortable with their womanhood. These efforts towards self-acceptance and elevating women’s self-worth is undoubtedly commendable but it must not desist at this level only.
Helping women recognize their potential is only the first step and must be followed by continuous efforts that enable them to fulfill their full potential through equal opportunities and autonomy. This is all the more prominent when one observes the exorbitant number of gender-based discrimination and violence cases which usually stems from the disapproval of seeing women in roles that are deemed unfit for them; roles which entitle them to power, progress, and independence.
The importance of this issue is even highlighted by the United Nations and is addressed under Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals which aims for gender equality and women’s empowerment by 2030.
Types of women’s empowerment
According to Keshab Chandra Mandal, empowering women can be categorized into five different sections. This is mainly due to the multifacetedness of the topic which requires different responses to each distinct issue.
Social empowerment refers to the elevation of women’s perceived status within a social structure which leads to the recognition of women as individuals who are capable of serving purposes to society separate from conventional ideals of what a woman’s societal role is. This is the type of empowerment which is seen more clearly in mass media, whereby the representation of women in non-traditional careers and roles are becoming increasingly normalised to shift society’s views towards one that is more accepting to women’s integration into places where they would be easily rejected before.
Michelle Obama is an example of a public figure who is working towards socially empowering girls and women by her constant pursuits of instilling inspiration for women and girls to better themselves and accomplish their goals whilst breaking away from the traditional mould of what a woman should be. Michelle Obama is an inspiration to many by proving that women can be career-oriented and embrace motherhood.
Without such empowerment, women’s creations and contributions would be overlooked and neglected, with history proving this notion. Flipping through history books, it is often very difficult to even spot a woman’s name, causing many to believe that women did not do much for society’s advancement. The ugly truth of this lies in the fact that their contributions were taken so lightly and overshadowed by those of men which led to a vast erasure of women’s names from historical records. Accrediting their works to men was a normal occurrence as it would be taken more seriously by academic communities if they were penned under a man’s name. However, in many instances, women’s names were purposely left out, completely erasing them from the legacy of their works.
Providing girls and women the opportunity to expand their knowledge is a catalyst to developing their self-confidence and equipping themselves with mental capabilities so that they can progress academically and be self-sufficient. Hence, denying women’s rights to education is more than just preventing them from learning, it is a deliberate act of stunting the sustainability of their independence through the perpetuation of their ignorance. Without proper education, girls and women are not able to critically question patriarchal systems and are stuck in a cycle of subjugation, where they are forced to conform to primitive roles. This situation is disconcerting as 132 million girls are currently not enrolled in schools worldwide.
The lack of educational opportunities for girls and women is a harbinger of countless other social issues: forced child marriages, higher rates of early childbirth, child labour, higher mortality rates, and increased risks of gender-based violence. Thus, preventing girls and women from obtaining an education not only limits their potential for a successful life, but also potentially subjects them to one of destitution.
However, there is still a persisting resistance in certain societies towards girls’ education, with many girls forced to drop out of school due to the dangers that are intertwined with their education. This was the case for Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for publicly advocating for girls’ rights to education. Today, Malala is an Oxford University graduate and is the founder of Malala Fund, an organization aimed at breaking down barriers to girls’ education.
Economic empowerment involves providing women with equal economic footing with men, as well as allowing women to participate more actively in economic decisions, may it be from personal households to international corporations. In reality, there are alarming disparities between the wages that men and women earn, with Malaysian male employees receiving a median salary of RM 2,477 and female employees receiving a median salary of RM 2,370 in 2019. This proves that women are at a common financial disadvantage merely because of their gender.
There also exists a lack of female representation in senior managerial positions, with only 29% of women holding board seats in 2019. This imbalance is often brought on by gender bias where women are seen as incapable of carrying out the responsibilities that come with their position due to their perceived role of homemakers and the uneven representation in the workforce, which means that more men will automatically be shortlisted for senior positions. These issues have led to the initiation of the 30% Club which strives to create gender diversity at senior management levels, with its influence branching across international borders.
Political empowerment entails revising women’s roles in political scenes by amplifying their political voices and power in order to decentralize the authority in the silenced people who have been incapable of participating in important decision making processes. By enabling women to hold political leadership positions without gender-based discrimination, it allows women to have a say in unjust and biased laws as well as restrictive systems.
The inclusion of women in politics is a doorway to a juster legal system as women’s voices will be equally represented , especially for matters that concern them. This also strengthens the principles of democracy by ensuring that each citizens’ voice is represented. With more female politicians, the prioritization of public amenities and socioeconomic improvement for women will be made apparent. In fact, increasing women’s political representation leads to an increase in female labour force, women’s share in employment opportunities, and accessibility to public amenities.
Empowering women to be more represented in political scenes also stumps the reinforcement of gender stereotypes that women are unfit for leadership. A prime example would be that of Jacinda Ardern who is widely known as an outstanding leader in virtue of her success in dealing with crises like the Christchurch terror attacks and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Psychological empowerment is very similar to social empowerment in the sense that it emphasises the way that women embody themselves; the uplifting of their self-worth and the change in the way that they define femininity. With its main focus being the destruction of societal confines regarding patriarchal taboos and primitive obligations, psychological empowerment enables women to decide for themselves how they wish to lead their lives without constraining themselves due to what society dictates.
This kind of empowerment is also significant in encouraging women to take control of their own minds and bodies to recognise that they have power over themselves and should thus be allowed to take their own decisions concerning their bodies. It equips women with the confidence to stand up for themselves and recognise the injustices that they have been subjected to.
Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement is living proof of such empowerment as she helped sexual assault victims to find strength within themselves to speak up about the violence that they endured and to lessen the blame that they placed on themselves. This movement is still strongly supported today and it is raising awareness about sexual violence, with Burke hoping to make the movement that empowers others through empathy.
Why is it perceived as a threat?
There are people who are against women’s empowerment as they perceive it to be a female supremacist movement that places others at a disadvantage due to its focus on women. However, empowering women does not mean taking power away from men, but rather enabling women to rise to the same level that men are, without gender being a factor of exclusion.
A common argument against women’s empowerment is that it hands out power to women simply because they are female and does not take into account their capabilities. This is evident in the formation of gender quotas which is seen as an initiative to take in more women simply because of their gender. Nevertheless, these quotas should not be put in place as a means of seeing more women in leadership positions, they should be enforced to see more capable women provided with the opportunity to succeed and not neglected for the sole reason of being a woman.
In short, the only threatening thing is to allow women to persist in the oppressed situations that they are in. Across the globe, there are still vast numbers of girls and women being subjected to gender-based sexual violence, weakened economic power, silenced political voices, and deprecating self-regard. Empowering women is not only for the emancipation of women, it is for the benefit of society. A more equal society will consequently create an improvement in political systems, economies, and social structures, making women’s empowerment an indisputable necessity.
By: Julia Rosalyn