This morning, my mother forgot to water her plant. A beautiful Kentia palm that can grow to over 40 ft tall outdoors, but when kept inside, they rarely reach heights over 10 to 15 ft. If you have read the headline, you’re probably very confused why this is about plants. Well, it’s not. This about another beautiful creature that stopped growing because it wasn’t allowed to.
You see, when you underwater your plant, it slows down its growth, even if you are giving it enough water to survive. Education, healthcare, the freedom of opinion and expression- these are basic human rights that every individual is entitled to, regardless of gender and any other characteristic. You’ll find several statistics that show that the world is becoming a better place, in terms of human rights, gender equality, improved life expectancy, and lower child mortality rates. However, no country in this whole wide world has achieved gender equality.
In fact, no country in the world will be able to achieve gender equality by 2030, according to the inaugural SDG Gender Index. Sounds disappointing, doesn’t it? It is also true that several countries, including the Maldives, have made significant progress on gender equity and equality. We find more women in jobs, more women in higher education, and more women volunteering. Compared to some places in the world, this is a prestige for women to be able to receive this freedom. A prestige. However, it all sounds like good news until it comes to the equal economic opportunities available in this country for women.
Despite the progress, women are underrepresented in the economy and political world. The most common reason for this is the conservative interpretation of Islam. “She should stay home”, “she needs to limit her movement” and “she’s too active” are no new words for us. At this point, a vast majority of women in the country are hesitant to be involved in public decision-making. This means that the Maldives is still facing a huge loss, with 50% of its population still not well-utilized.
Aishath Shifana, owner and CEO of Heat Health and Fitness, says that even though women are encouraged to work in this country, they aren’t empowered to develop as entrepreneurs. “Women are already in the workforce but there is a lack of opportunity for them to climb up the ranks.”
As for those females who were able to become business owners, the majority of them give credit to financial backing from family rather than government assistance.
This is where the plant stops growing. Without proper financial assistance, training programs, and the required support, women will be restricted to climb heights that most males find so easy to reach. The highly-skilled female population of this country will be unable to develop themselves and use these skills to run a profitable business.
A survey done by MACCS in 2013 for the outreach program by the SAARC development fund revealed that home-based female entrepreneurs are unable to earn a profit because they didn’t know how to set a profitable price.
“They keep facing losses because they don’t account for all the costs when setting the price of their products,” adds Shifana, a founder member of MACCS who has been actively involved in women’s development.
According to GEM 2017 Women’s Entrepreneurship Report, in 40% of economies, women’s early-stage entrepreneurial activity is half or less than half of that of men’s. As of January 2021, only 6% of women hold CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, showing that women are still constrained from achieving the highest leadership positions. Statistics also revealed that women are less likely than men to have access to financial institutions or have a bank account.
Women empowerment in the economy means that a woman should be able to equally participate in existing markets, have access to over productive resources, and have meaningful participation in economic decision making at all levels. Seeing more women work and more women growing as entrepreneurs means that the economy is growing. It leads to an increase in productivity and income equality. It leads to diversification and more ideas. It creates a smart economy, where both men AND women lead.
To achieve this, it is important to first shift public perceptions in a way that it encourages women to enter the political process. There should be specialized training programs to educate people to become entrepreneurs in their desired field. Women need to be provided easy access to financial assistance/ start-up capital and their performance needs to be more recognized in the economic and political sphere. These are just a few of the countless steps that could be taken towards women’s empowerment.
On 8th March 2021, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. Theme: ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.’ On this day, let’s step forward and call on immediate action. Make opportunities available for women to play a full role in shaping the critical decisions being made as countries recover from the pandemic. Let’s end the exclusion and marginalization of women and girls. It is time to fully harness the power of women’s leadership for an equal and sustainable future. We #ChoosetoChallenge!