Women have an important role in contributing to peace and stability in war-torn countries. If given the opportunity to invest, they often put their money in businesses that benefit the local economy, which in turn contributes to stability. Nonetheless, in order to strengthen women's economic development, men need to be involved.
What can Sida do to help women gain more power and influence, especially in countries affected by conflict, or where fighting has recently ended? That was the question asked by Sida during a seminar held to learn from other stakeholders’ experiences. When a country is affected by war, women have a particularly important role in contributing to peace. Moreover, if they get a chance to make an income, the money is normally put into the household’s welfare, and to ensure the family gets food on the table. At the same time, it’s particularly difficult to focus on women's economic development in a violent environment.
– Young women have often missed out on education due to war. Lack of necessary infrastructure also makes it important to support informal structures, as in DR Congo, with support to initiatives in which women lend money to other women, said Afshan Khan, Director of Women for Women International.
The organisation, which works in eight countries, aims to support women in becoming self-sufficient after having been exposed to war and conflict. Rwanda is an example of how women's increased economic influence has contributed to stability. Investment in women and agriculture has not only resulted in them getting products to sell, it has also given them access to land, which made it possible to obtain credit. But while a conflict situation implies major problems, it is also an opportunity for change, said Eva Werner-Dahlin, Human Resources Director at Sida, who has worked with women's rights for many years, including as ambassador in Guatemala.
– We see that conflict situations can be a chance to change long established gender norms. Women have often been forced to be more economically active and breadwinners during the war, and that experience is good to build upon after the conflict has ended. It is also important to support their political participation.
Violence against women increases with their influence
The link between violence and women's economic development is also very evident. Both due to the fact of violence inhibiting women's ability for decision-making, but also that when women are given a chance to increase their income, domestic violence often increases.
– We have seen in studies from different countries how violence against women increases dramatically after they get jobs and are able to increase their household income, and the violence gets worse the more women earn. Men are often unable to live up to gender stereotypes as the ‘bread-winner’ and feel their authority is threatened. One way to reduce this problem is to invite the man and woman to counseling discussions, which we have supported in, for instance, Burundi. The discussions focused on how to make joint financial decisions, but they helped reduce violence, said Markus Goldstein, a senior economist at the Africa region and coordinator for the Gender Practice at World Bank's work on gender equality for the Africa Region.
Ramzia Aleryani Abbas, General Secretary of the Yemeni Women's Union, could also confirm the link between economic power and gender-based violence and the importance to involve men to counteract it. There is also a need to raise the awareness of gender equality and women's political participation, both among men and among women, in which women might need support to dare and challenge social norms by standing up, for example, for their legitimate right to inherit land.
So what can donors, like Sida, do to promote women's economic empowerment and influence in countries where conflict exists or has just ended?
– Women's political participation is crucial, said Afshan Khan. Not only at the top level, but at local and regional levels. Furthermore, there is a clear link with women's political participation increasing as they become better off financially. Women are powerful agents of change in society: they don’t often start wars, but they can help keep peace. The best way to engage them is to engage women and men together.
It is vital to protect women's participation in the political process after a conflict has ended, to ensure that advances in women's empowerment are not taken from them again. Legislation is needed, but above all, support to women's networks at grassroots level.
Markus Goldstein argued the necessity of testing and experimenting, as different approaches are needed in different countries, depending on what the constraints are to women's economic development:
– One problem could be the opportunity to get larger loans from banks, because the staff won’t see the potential of women business ideas, or realize what a good dividend loans to these women could provide. In those cases, training the bank staff can be a good solution.
About the seminar:
The seminar Women's economic empowerment in conflict and post-conflict situation's was held at Sida on 10 December. The purpose was to get input from ideas and experiences, both for Sida's efforts to increase women’s economic empowerment in conflict and post-conflict situations, as well as to the World Bank Meeting on the same theme, taking place in Stockholm the following day.
The seminar audience was asked to participate by making suggestions to what Sida should prioritize in its continued work with Women's Economic Empowerment in conflict and post-conflict countries. Two re-occurring suggestions were: the importance of education and vocational training for women and to involve men and boys. In addition, the audience suggested establishing standards for how the women economic empowerment work should be conducted, preventing gender-based violence and support for women's grassroots organisations.
See an interview with Markus Goldstein, Senior Economist for the Africa Region at the World Bank.