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A collection of posts relevant to agricultural and environmental matters such as farming, agribusiness, water, sanitation, natural resource management, and sustainability.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spin Cycle to Empowering Women

By Elly Brown

"To my grandmother, the washing machine was a miracle."

Doctor and academic, Hans Rosling's Ted Talk sheds light on the importance of inventions such as the washing machine on global development. In his talk, Rosling draws a compelling connection between the use of washing machines, additional time for women, and the education of children. An informal poll of his students revealed that while some chose not to own a car to minimize their carbon footprint, even the most hardcore in the green movement use washing machines. Hand-washing laundry is a labor-intensive act in relation to its productivity. However, according to Rosling's market research, out of 7 billion people in the world, 4 billion people still live below the "wash-line," earning $40/day.

Innovation creates capacity. It allows women to effectively balance their time spent on productive activities. A washing machine can dramatically change the life of a mother and create time for more meaningful activities, including reading books to their children and educating themselves. But in order to truly empower women, we must go beyond the spin cycle. 

At Root Cause, we are working on an engagement with the Women's Resource Center of Bermuda to organize services for the empowerment of women. To improve the economic mobility and well-being of women, change must be attained through four levels: Will, Knowledge, Assets, and Capacity (Source: Commission on Women and Development)

Will
: First and foremost, women need the self-awareness and self-confidence to empower themselves. They must assess their own situation, aspire to change their lives, and envision life beyond the boundaries of prevailing social norms.

Knowledge and Assets: Once women have developed a determined will, they will educate themselves to attain knowledge, earn additional income, and obtain assets like the washing machine or services like healthcare.

Capacity: Most importantly, the social-political structures need to allow women to make decisions and use resources at will. The community and the family environment can enable or inhibit a woman's full participation in society. Changes at this level are tied to institutions, laws, and cultural norms of society.

When women are empowered through these four levels of change, not only is the gender gap diminished but also the health and education of the household increases. In a previous blog post, Manuel Bueno wrote about the complex and dependent nature of labor force participation, education, and health on women's empowerment.

Why the focus on women? Because investing in women pays off. In many cultures, women are typically the household managers and are said to have a lasting impact on outcomes of the next generation. Read Scott Anderson's blog on the 10,000 Women program by Goldman Sachs on why investing in women makes sense.

Empowerment is a process, not solely an outcome. It is a "dynamic construction of identity, both individual and collective (CWD)." There is an element of personal change but corresponding social and political change is also necessary. Once determined women are provided the opportunity, owning a humble domestic appliance is only the beginning of their journey to full participation in society.

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