Women empowerment: a market-based approach

Struggle for identification has been the source of both change and development throughout different facets of history


Durdana Najam April 08, 2021
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore and be reached at [email protected]

The struggle for identification has been the source of both change and development throughout different facets of history. Unattainable things drew awe and trepidation. The sun, moon, giant trees, even a bull, because of its sheer weight and heaviness, commanded respect. Anything that could not be controlled or reached out or subordinated was considered worthy of being worshipped. On the other hand, God, call it by any name, had to work hard through His prophets and saintly people to establish His identity as an all-powerful, omnipotent entity. The ancient people had a clear notion of an unseen God; however, they had a problem recognising His power. For them accepting a bull or moon or sun as a sign of power was easy. 

Even today, billions of people worship these objects of command. Education, modernity and scientific revelations have done little to affect this belief system. The same is true with women. Like God, they had to struggle to define themselves. It took centuries to bring the world around to the simple fact that a woman has equal mental prowess and deserves to be treated at par with her male counterpart. Though the struggle for feminism has covered many milestones and women are much more liberated and recognised for their abilities now, the race to stand at par is far from over. 

Every year millions of women come out on the street under the banner of the Women’s March to highlight inequalities they still have to put up with. A clear indication that women empowerment lacks ownership and is an unfinished business. Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in March 1911, with an agenda to support women’s right to vote, hold public office, access vocational training, and enter the labour force and participate without discrimination.

Ironically, a couple of countries in South Asia, like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, had women heads of state while millions of women under their rule faced discrimination and harassment at home and the workplace. More than talent, it was their privilege to have been born in politically and financially powerful families that helped them climb the ladder of success. The gap between the privileged and non-privileged women, the latter most of the time flooded with the aptitude to excel, was abridged at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, where Hillary Rodham Clinton made a famous statement that “Women’s rights are human rights.”

This awakening, coupled with the dramatic global rise of urbanisation and technological revolution in information technology, gave every woman the privilege to assert herself not as a unique spice but as a person of blood and flesh. 

In this stride and struggle to give recognition to women’s participatory role in society, the advocacy groups’ role has been remarkably significant. To influence decision-making at the state level, they needed wheels, which the hierarchically structured not-for-profit organisations provided both at the national and international level. From financial assistance to linkages in government, the NGOs helped rights advocates to sensitise women and the power yielders on women’s rights. Different financial programmes have been launched over the years to emancipate women from economic constraints that eventually gave them a voice within their domains.  

All these programmes have been designed in the context of the philanthropic approach, which suffers whenever donor fatigue sets in, which usually does every few years because of either global financial disruptions or projects taking too long to materialise or when a competing issue becomes more favourable for donors. Therefore, if philanthropic money is channelled using a market-based approach, it may ensure a sustained supply of money.

In the market-based model the money received from donor organisations would be invested in different investment ventures concerning and involving women, and the donors would get interest on their investment.

The Cambridge-Edbiz Group of Companies is the first organisation to have conceived this idea, which will be launched in August this year, by the name of Womani Fund. It is an investment fund of proposed $100 million, which will be used on feminal commercial opportunities. The funds will be invested in four different areas: infrastructure development, talent development, business ventures, and investment in welfare activities. Women would be actively participating in all these areas — from wealth creation to investing in developing talents and opportunities for other women. 

In infrastructure development, a digital platform would be created to involve women in buying and selling products, as we do on Amazon or DarazPk. The women talent development programme aims to select 20 women in the age bracket of 16 to 20 years and groom them over 10 years to make them professionals in their desired fields. In the arena of business ventures, investment opportunities shall be explored in businesses involving women. The fourth area is an investment in the activities with a target of welfare enhancement for one million women over 10 years.

The project, besides targeting donor organisations shall also reach out to billionaire and high-networking women to sensitise them to invest, rather than donate in women development.

There shall be three benefits of adopting a market-based approach to spending donation money on women empowerment. One, it shall involve women in wealth creation at the grassroots level. Two, wealth management shall transcend the concept of empowerment from mere attainment of power to exercising it. Third, women empowerment shall get ownership and push it towards fulfilment.

The Womani model can contribute significantly to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal-5. These goals concerning women empowerment and gender equality shall remain unfulfilled because there is and shall never be enough money to pursue them. Unless we want to see these goals transferred every 15 years to another programme, a market-based approach to managing philanthropic money is indispensable.  

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