Women empowerment and sustainable development


Empowerment have become the widely used term in contemporary world. The term empowerment to characterize relations in local and global levels. Empowement is the expansion of freedom of choise and action. It means increasing one’s authority and control over the resources and decisions that affect one’s life. While in one region women are equal to men, in other parts of the world, women are still struggle for their rights and it requires changes in values and rules in the traditional society. Raising women’s age at marriage, enhancing the level of educations and providing better employment will promote the process of empowerment, at least in some spheres. In this paper I try to consider which problems face women while they want to be empowered. The practice part of the paper is baced on the example of Arab countries, where women empowering is one of the key points in the way of economic and social developments of the countries.


The idea of women’s empowerment is based on the assumption that, male dominates on female, at least in their households and families.­

After the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, where the empowerment was established as a goal, the interest to the problem of empowerment began to grow rapidly (Hodgson and Watkins 1997). Critiques of demographers’ views of gender (e.g., Presser 1997; Watkins 1993) have grown apace with the wealth of empirical studies of demographic consequences of women’s empowerment (e.g., Amin et al. 1994; Balk 1994, 1997; Basu 1992; Basu and Basu 1991; Chowdhury and Trovato 1994; Das Gupta 1990; Dharmalingam and Morgan 1996; Florez and Hogan 1990; Greenhalgh and Li 1995; Jejeebhoy 1995; Kishor 1993; Kritz and Makinwa-Adebusoye 1995; Lim 1993; Malhotra, Vanneman, and Kishor 1995; Morgan and Niraula 1995; Pedraza 1991; Schuler and Hashemi 1994 ). The accent shifted to considering cultural component of gender stratification system as important as relations and material basement of the society(Smith 1989). Such systems prescribe basic principles of social life for individuals, so the individual chioce is defined by ideology. But some people may try to change the norms or strike against them (Hammel 1990). Group norms change rather slowly but large transformations of human behaviour patterns are connected to the evolution of the system of norms. Gender systems are fundamental for the society.

The paper is focused on general attributes of women’s empowerment in the Arab Countries. The paper consists of the three main parts. In the first part women empowerment is considered in the context of education as key point and the second part is focused on women power within the household. It is impossible to consider the empowerment in one or another context, that’s why this paper has the third part, where is written about interconnectedness of first two parts and other parts as well.

The conditions that empower women seem to be an object of interest. Gender equality is evidently one of the basements of prosperity of the country and personal well-being, and this evidence explains the interest to the issue. Definition and measurement of this concept are still confused and measuring women’s empowerment by their years of schooling, employment experience or age at marriage are quite popular, although the scientist put their comprehension into question (Balk, Deborah 1994; Govindasamy and Malhotra 1996; Malhotra, Schuler and Boender 2002).

Women at home or women’s power in the family

Gender systems are complex and can’t be described in quantitative ways only. This fact is cruicial to understand possible causes of social or economic change. Gender inequality is multidimensional and the different dimensions are independent (Mason 1986). Women can have high power in one dimension, for example, in financial decisions, but no scores in other spheres.

This part of paper focuses on women’s empowerment within the household and domestic sphere. Empowerments cruicial for development because it determines the level of gaining access to education, employment or health care for themselves and their children, including decisions of fertility (World Bank 2001). The key points of this part are women position in family.

Unfortunately, in arabic countries women find themselves in «lowly position in relation to decision making process» (Arabic Human Development Report, 2009:7) within the family, their situation continuously exposes them to forms of family and institutionalized violence. Their physical freedom and movement is under men’s control, most of the time they even can not apply for the divorce. Most notorious form of violence against women is «honour crimes» (ibid. p.8) in several Arabic countries. So, the fact that religious and ethnic features influence the level of empowerment (Jejeebhoy and Sathar 2001; Mason et al. 2002) proves the idea that gender norms play an important role in determining women’s empowerment.

Women, who lives in different gender systems suppose themselves to have differing levels of empowerment, and this apprehension is independent from personal traits. Social contexts for the include the nation, as it determines the gender regimes in legal systems, public policy. And it is impossible to consider women empowerment in Arab countries without considering with social context and how it affects social aspects and relations.

Thus, when we look within countries rather than across them, we find that the aggregate measures of women’s gender-role attitudes usually can explain a substantial proportion of total inter-country variation in women’s domestic empowerment. This proves that the important reason women’s empowerment within countries is the nature of gender systems and their norms.

Female empowerment is thus more appropriately considered a reflection of social systems than an atomized, individual trait.

Two things are evident. First, correlations among items generally are low, especially within countries. The freedom of movement scale has a moderately high correlation with the freedom of movement item, but these measures are closely related conceptually and are appropriately considered substitute measures, rather than measures of distinct aspects of women’s empowerment. The second point to be noted is that correlations between different dimensions of women’s empowerment vary in magnitude across countries. In other words, social context affects not only levels of women’s empowerment, but also the extent to which different aspects of empowerment are interrelated.

The point remains, that there is indeed variation among social contexts in how strongly different aspects of women’s empowerment are interrelated. Gender regimes create different patterns of empowerment for women, not just a high or low average level of empowerment.

Some of these reasons are given for why women who marry at older ages should have greater empowerment and for why a smaller age gap between husbands and wives should enhance women’s empowerment. The experience and self-confidence that result from marrying at an older age are said to make older-marrying women more autonomous than those married during adolescence. The husband’s greater experience and self-confidence compared to the wife is similarly argued to deprive women of empowerment when the husband-wife age gap is large (Cain 1993; Presser 1975).

Based on the 1997-2006 UNICEF estimates, that the proportions of women aged 20-24 that were married by the age 18 were 45% in Somalia, 37% in Yemen and Mauritania, 30% in Comoros and 25% in Sudan (Arab Human Development Report, 2009:9)

Education as a key point for women empowerment in Arab Countries

Despite many international agreements affirming human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence, especially in the Middle East countries. Due to conservative traditions, women are still regarded as second-class citizens.

In the paper the author is going to define the term “empowerment”, describe legal base of the process, emphasize resources women use to achieve and defend their rights.

The Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979. The Convention calls for equality and provides mechanisms for observing and monitoring it. States should affirm women’s rights in such areas as trafficking, the exploitation of prostitution, public and political life, international affairs, nationality, employment, education, equality before the law, equality in marriage and family, rural women and education, health care and social life. However the convention didn’t include gender based violence. This gap was rectified by the declaration on the elimination of violence against women.

In the XXI century women legally have equal rights with men, but not everywhere they are observed in the right way. The majority of Middle Eastern countries, with the exception of Iran and Qatar, have ratified CEDAW. Nevertheless century rules enshrined in scriptures and traditions are more authoritative for Middle Eastern nations. Islam arose in the early seventh century, c.e., and the earliest substantial remaining writings date from the ninth century. Today Muslims who believe in «gender equality often interpret the Quran as supporting such equality» (Nikki R. Keddie, 2007:9)

Demographic, political and economic changes are the internal factors behind the growth of women organizations. The role of the UN and its world conferences is significant. First meeting of women’s organization from Arab countries at regional level was sponsored by the UN’s regional commission for West Asia in 1994. The document summarized women’s conditions in Arab countries as follows: (1) Women suffer lack of employment rights and undue burdens caused by economic crisis and structural adjustment policies, (2) The absence of democracy and civil rights harms women especially (3) There is inequality between men and women in authority and decision making. (4)Women suffer from violence, including “honor crimes”. (Valentine M. Moghadam, 2006:287)

However, women from Arab world “have entered the twenty-first century still dragging behind them the dead weight of such issues as a woman’s right to education, work and political activity, matters long resolved elsewhere.” (The Arab Human Development Report 2005:146)

The empowerment occurs when women achieve increased control and participation in decision making that leads to their better access to resources, and therefore, improved social and economic status. There can be identified five levels of empowerment, namely, welfare, access to resources and services, forming groups for defending interests, mobilization of efforts and control over decision-making process. In Jordan women’s group and activists lawyer Asma Khader and journalist Rana Hussein pushed for amendments for the Civil Status law and raised legal age for marriage to 18 years. Another example is Lebanese feminists within the Lebanese League for Women’s Rights. They are working to increase women’s parliamentary participation – a matter of some importance in Egypt, too, where the National Council of Women provides some for women candidates. (Valentine M. Moghadam, 2006)

Another resource which is used by women is mass media. “The Middle East media have changed dramatically since the early 1990s and women’s voice have grown in audibility over the same period.” (Naomi Sakr, 2004:4)

In addition to facing political pressure for reform, countries are dealing with economic changes that are creating an impetus for women to become more active outside the home.

Education is the single most important determinant of both age at marriage and age at first birth in the Middle East. Educated women generally want smaller families and make better use of reproductive health and family planning information and services in achieving their desired family size.

Many people – especially girls – are still excluded from education, and many more are enrolled in school but learning too little to prepare them for 21st-century job markets. In some countries, access to the secondary and higher education that helps create a skilled and knowledgeable labor force continues to be limited; even where access is not a problem, the quality of the education provided is often low.

It is not enough to make education more widely available; the quality of the education also needs to be improved. Arguing that the poor quality of education in the Middle East countries has led to a significant mismatch between the labor market’s needs and graduates’ skills, the 2002 Arab Human Development Report points out that education in the region often fails to teach students to analyze information or think innovatively. The report also warns that education systems may split into two tiers, with high-quality private education available only to the wealthy minority and low-quality public education the sole option for most citizens. Such a trend would turn education into a “means of perpetuating social stratification and poverty” rather than a means of increasing social equality. (Arab Human Development Report 2002: 53-54)

Women who live in the Middle East countries with a large agricultural sector, such as Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Yemen, tend to work mainly in that sector, although some countries have been more successful in getting women into nonagricultural occupations. Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey, for example, have been able to engage women in the countries’ export-manufacturing sectors. (Mine Cinar, 2001:62)

The Middle East counties generally have lower levels of women’s education and labor force participation than other regions with similar income levels. Men are more likely to have direct access to wage employment and control over wealth, while women are largely economically dependent upon male family members. In a number of the Middle East countries, the use of capital-intensive technologies that require few workers, along with relatively high wages for men, have precluded women’s greater involvement in the labor force.[8] Women’s employment options have been limited to a small number of socially acceptable occupations and professions, such as teaching and medicine.

Nowadays, the interaction between the region’s economic structure and its conservative culture, in which traditional gender roles are strongly enforced, is largely responsible. Women’s employment options have been limited to a small number of socially acceptable occupations and professions, such as teaching and medicine. In many countries in the region, women must obtain permission from a male relative, usually a husband or father, before seeking employment, requesting a loan, starting a business, or traveling. Such laws often grant women a smaller share of inherited family wealth. (Valentine M. Moghadam, 2008:13)

As the result, families tend to make greater investments in education for boys than for girls. As women’s educational attainment in Middle East countries has increased, more women have moved into the job market. But women’s participation in the labor force is still low: Only 20 percent of women ages 15 and older in Middle East countries are in the labor force-the lowest level of any world region. But economic activities are not the only vehicle for helping women escape from poverty and advancing gender equality and empowerment. There needs to be a combination of activities in various spheres of a woman’s life that address the dynamic and relational nature of poverty. Economic empowerment can, however, provide incentives to change the patterns of traditional behavior to which a woman is bound as a dependent member of the household. In short, gainful employment empowers impoverished women in various spheres of their lives, influencing sexual and reproductive health choices, education and healthy behavior.

In nearly every country, women work longer hours than men, but are usually paid less and are more likely to live in poverty. In subsistence economies, women spend much of the day performing tasks to maintain the household, such as carrying water and collecting fuel wood.

Women who live in countries with a large agricultural sector, tend to work mainly in that sector, although some others Middle East countries have been more
successful in getting women into nonagricultural occupations. Turkey, for example, has been able to engage women in the countries’ export-manufacturing
sectors. Most of the women who work outside the agricultural sector are college-educated professionals employed mainly in government. A smaller share of women work in factories, but many lack the educational qualifications of factory workers in countries such as China, Vietnam, and the nations of the former Soviet bloc. (Valentine M. Moghadam, 2003:4)

Unpaid domestic work – from food preparation to caregiving – directly affects the health and overall well being and quality of life of children and other household members. The need for women’s unpaid labour often increases with economic shocks, such as those associated with the AIDS pandemic or economic restructuring. Yet women’s voices and lived experiences – whether as workers (paid and unpaid), citizens, or consumers – are still largely missing from debates on finance and development. Poor women do more unpaid work, work longer hours and may accept degrading working conditions during times of crisis, just to ensure that their families survive.


Women have come a long way. They have made their positions clear in many more complicated spheres of life than what they themselves could imagine of. And the world has long before been savoring the fruits of women’s virtues. And now they are on a level playing field of all imaginable odds and opportunities and they stand poised to stake indisputable claims for their due pounds.

Ultimately, what turns out to be those signs of change in our present day society is more of the result of these claims than of the so-called revolutions that other social organs like parties and pressure groups, both political and non-political, claim to have brought about over their efforts.

When it comes to women and their representation in the society, what surfaces most visibly is their positions in the political circles or in the circles of some power. It is a fact that not many changes have come up in the society by way of women holding such positions. So long as they remain not proportionally represented, the ones who get set and go with their male counterparts end up nowhere and they come back to square one. So, it is better not to press for their flesh in the electorate. But there is a strong stake when it is a matter of running the government.

To successfully empower women, both gender and empowerment concerns should be integrated into every service provision area. Moreover, they should be incorporated in the economic, political and social spheres as well as at the individual, household and community levels in order to overcome gender inequality. (Women economic empowerment, http://www.unfpa.org/upload/lib_pub_file/712_filename_empowerment.pdf)Women’s empowerment, no matter where it takes part, here in the Middle East region or somewhere else, is not an easy outcome to measure. The International Labor Organization sees a strong link between the vulnerability of impoverished women to underemployment and low returns on labor, especially since most employed women are part of the informal economy. Economic empowerment projects usually focus on income-generating activities, which allow women to independently acquire their income. Income-generating activities encompass a wide range of areas, such as small business promotion, cooperatives, job creation schemes, sewing circles and credit and savings groups. One of the most popular forms of economic empowerment for women is microfinance, which provides credit for impoverished women who are usually excluded from formal credit institutions. Microfinance enables poor women to become economic agents of change by increasing their income and productivity, access to markets and information, and decision-making power. Offering women a source of credit has been found to be a very successful strategy for alleviating poverty because it enhances the productivity of their own small enterprises and the income-generating activities in which they invest. (ibid. p.7)

Economic empowerment provides incentives to change the patterns of traditional behavior to which a woman is bound as a dependent member of the household. More and more programming has taken an integrated approach, involving other aspects of development into microfinance projects in order to increase a women’s income and create a positive change in her perception of health and education.

The overall results show an impressive common denominator: the female and male voices in the study are cosmopolitan, confident and hugely optimistic about gender equity. They are ambitious and look forward to an interesting work life and raising smaller families. Family is paramount, religion is treasured and tradition is respected though not perpetuated by all.

Yet further analysis reveals potential dark clouds. Women have much fewer job preparedness skills than their male colleagues, making their struggle both ideologically and pragmatically harder than for men to achieve employment. Women’s access to the job market is a thorny issue, but still one of the biggest and most pressing challenges confronting Saudi Arabia’s segregated society. 78% of the female Saudi students consider a successful career as part of their life plan – in the context of a society operating on rigid perceptions and allocation of roles – this is a small revolution. The high unemployment is, however, a serious problem and inauspicious, not only regarding the participation of women, it is a risk factor in respect to the country’s inner stability. Only 54% of the Saudi respondents expect to find a job after graduation. Within only a few decades, the Emirates have made the leap from living in desert tents to the glistening glass skyscrapers of their new metropolises. Seventy percent of the total respondents – both men and women – no longer link power with gender-based privilege, but rather with education. Do the educated youth find that much has already been achieved? Do men think “enough is enough”? Just above 50% of women find unrestrainedly, that “more women should strive for leadership.” Oppositely, half as many men, 25%, encourage this. Careers present a high degree of attractiveness, and the dream of a super-career is gender neutral. In Jordan young women expect a great deal of female leaders. About 40% of the female respondents whole-heartedly believed that more women should strive for leadership, only 25% of their male counterparts agreed.

The project also provides a practical solution to the known shortfall between the number of highly educated women and the low number of engaged women in public life by creating a tailored “This is Me!” special fairs program for personal and professional positioning in the careers market for young female graduates in the Middle East as a direct application of the “Bridging the Gap” research.

The aim was to coach the graduates into pro-active, articulate, critical thinkers with a focus on pragmatic job seeking etiquette and exploring and generating opportunities for the market. Arab women are on the move – in a top down and bottom up revolution. The dramatic boom in women’s education will certainly change the face of the Middle East contributing to the advancement of a professional middle class much needed in the region.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are human rights that lie at the heart of development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Despite the progress that has been made, six out of ten of world’s poorest people are still women and girls, less than 16 percent of the world’s parliamentarians are women, two thirds of all children shut outside the school gates are girls and, both in times of armed conflict and behind closed doors at home, women are still systematically subjected to violence.