Since the landmark 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that increased attention on women empowerment and women’s rights on the international stage, the movement towards gender equality has continued to expand. Women’s empowerment is a central key to reduce poverty and promote development around the world.
The Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) was developed in 1995 by the United Nations Development Programme to measure the relative empowerment of women in a specific country. The GEM supports the Human Development Index (HDI) by adding another measurement index to evaluate development.
The HDI is the leading composite index to measure a country’s social and economic development. This is a single statistic, which combines together a country’s life expectancy, education and income. This was developed to measure development as not just economic advances and increases in income, but to measure the improvements in the human condition. However, the HDI is limited because development contains a wide number of other factors that can measure human well-being.
Similar to the HDI, the GEM is a single statistic that focuses on three indicators: proportion of parliamentary seats held by women, percentage of women in economic decision making positions and income level. Although this statistic conveys the percentage of women in economic and political decision making roles, it does not reveal other more meaningful factors that measure women’s empowerment. Women’s empowerment is multi-dimensional and complex and requires a wider framework.
Measuring women’s empowerment can be broken down into five dimensions: economic, social and cultural, legal, political and psychological.
Economic empowerment includes having control over income and family resources, ownership of assets, opportunity for employment and access to markets and representation in economic decision-making roles. With economic empowerment, women can gain financial independence, enter the workforce, and have equal opportunity to gain positions of economic power.
Social and cultural empowerment includes absence of discrimination against females, control over their own bodies, freedom from sexual and domestic violence, having access to family planning services, greater visibility in social spaces and shifts in cultural norms that place women subservient to men. Social and cultural empowerment is essential to not only giving women control over their own bodies, but also providing them with education opportunities to better their lives.
Legal empowerment provides the framework for legislation that expands knowledge and awareness of legal rights. This will expand the opportunity for individuals to mobilize for increased women’s rights laws, utilizing the judicial system to create reform from above.
Political empowerment includes having the right vote, having knowledge of and the ability to be involved with the political system and being represented in local and national governments. Political empowerment creates female representation in the political system, while voting, lobbying and mobilizing empowers women to support policies and causes that they believe in.
Psychological empowerment involves self-worth and psychological happiness. Psychological empowerment comes with the acceptance of women’s rights and their inclusion in society.
There is no single indicator to measure how far women have come, and how much more women still have yet to go to achieve gender equality. Understanding the different dimensions of women’s empowerment is important to develop policies that will enhance gender equality and begin the shifts in cultural norms to promote women’s rights.
– Sarah Yan