Throughout the entire 100 000-year history of humans, the recognition of women as bearers of equal rights and duties as that of men is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, since the dawn of the first wave of the feminist movement during the 19th century the world has seen the positive benefits that empowering women brings about for all of humanity.
One of the main benefits of giving women equal freedom, especially economic freedom, is that economic growth is stimulated. The math behind it is quite simple: empower the once deprived and disadvantaged half of humanity and the labour force participation rate increases. Women, once told that their place was in the kitchen by patriarchal misogynists, are now utilising their once unrecognised productive capabilities and bringing about economic prosperity.
Turns out that productive potential is just as beneficial as reproductive potential, if not more. In the words of Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund: “If you discourage half the population from fully participating in the labour market, you are essentially behaving like an airline pilot who shuts down half his engines in mid-flight. Sure, your plane will likely continue to fly, but it would be such a crazy thing to do.”
Women are also attaining greater levels of education. This does not bring about just mere monetary benefits. According to U.N. Women, a study by Gakidou et al determined that for every additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5 percent. Mothers who are economically empowered also bring about other benefits for their children. Increasing the income of mothers improves the food security of their children as well as the healthcare opportunities for the whole family. Put simply, allowing women to earn more enables households to reap greater benefits.
Empowering women also entails abstract sociological benefits. Economically empowered women cause a shift in gender norms, with more and more women stomping on the patriarchal stereotype perpetuated by people like Gavin McInnes that they are first and foremost housewives.
South Africa has also seen some strides of progress when it comes to empowering women. The Social Institutions and Gender Index of 2014 revealed that South Africa has low levels of discrimination against women in social institutions. South Africa also ranks 18th in the world when it comes to reducing the gender gap.
Unfortunately, our society still has a long way to go to bring about total prosperity and equality for women. The facts speak for themselves. In South Africa, the S.A. Medical Research Council determined that a woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours. This femicide rate of three women per day is five times higher than the global average. According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, one in five women older than 18 has experienced physical violence. In poor households, the rate is one in three women.
Women are more likely than men to rate their health as fair or poor, whereas men are more likely to rate their health as good or very good. Men are more likely than women to be literate, especially in non-urban areas. And then we have the very real and pressing issue of feminine hygiene: condoms are provided free-of-charge even though sex is not unavoidable, whilst poor women still have to struggle with unavoidable feminine hygiene issues thanks to Jacob Zuma’s failure to come through on his promise of free-of-charge sanitary pads.
South Africa, it is time to wake up and smell the roses. Women are our key to a greater future. I leave you with the following quote from Michelle Obama:
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”