Women are essential to global development. Gender equality leads to higher rates of education, better health outcomes, increased economic growth, and even improved agricultural production. Focusing on the empowerment of women doesn’t just benefit women; it benefits society as a whole.
None of this is new information. The importance of women’s empowerment has been a part of the global development conversation since the very beginning of international development efforts. In 1948, theUnited Nations established the Commission on the Status of Women just three years after the organization itself came into existence. The Commission was the first global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the empowerment of women.
Gender equality has remained a part of development discourse ever since. In 2000, the world saw the largest gathering of world leaders in history. The Millennium Summit resulted in a 15-year-long strategy to reduce extreme poverty. Goal Three of the Millennium Development Goals focused exclusively on the empowerment of women. The conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 also marked the beginning of theSustainable Development Goals. According to the United Nations, women will not only be affected by all 17 of these goals, but they will also be the driving force behind the success of these programs.
Be the change you wish to see in the world. It’s a cliché, but still an inspiring message. Does the sentiment of this saying hold real possibility? Can we all truly be the change that’s needed? The history of gender equality has portrayed women as the beneficiaries of change. Programs and policies have been continually designed to uplift the status of women. Yet only recently are we embracing women as agents of that change. Gender equality cannot happen until women are seen as equal and active stakeholders in their development.
Women and girls comprise 49.5 percent of the world’s population. Despite the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, gender inequality continues to permeate the educational, health, political, and economic sectors. Women are egregiously underrepresented in decision-making positions. There are only 18 countries with female heads of state. Out of the five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, there are six female ambassadors, but not one nation with a female head of state. In the very organization that has led the campaign for gender equality since the 1940s, women have a disproportionately small presence.
If the change we wish to see in the world is gender equality, then women must be that change. Women are not passive bystanders in their own empowerment. They are the innovators, the catalysts, and the leaders. In the issue of gender inequality, women themselves are the solution.
In a blog post series for Disruptive Women, I will highlight cases across the globe where women have not only inspired change, but also driven it themselves. If you have a story about women’s role in gender equality that you would like share, or a topic you would like to see explored in greater detail, please feel free to connect with me via Twitter @jPotterRay
Julie Potyraj is the community manager for MHA@GW, HealthInformatics@GW and MPH@GW, all offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. For several years, she served as a community development specialist in Zambia coordinating youth empowerment programs and reproductive health education. She is currently an MPH@GW student focusing on global health and health communications.