Note: Everyone is welcome to join a Google+ hangout – focusing on women’s empowerment – on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The event is sponsored by UN Women, UNDP and the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law.
It’s easily taken for granted, but our essentially constant access to the Internet never ceases to amaze me. I use the Internet to stay in touch with my friends and family living abroad, to get my news, to shop for almost anything and to research laws from around the globe. But even more astounding are the revolutionary examples of how the Internet is being used as a tool to combat poverty worldwide.
Some of the most incredible illustrations come from India, where “cloud schools (without teachers) are being piloted to offer a new education channel for the poor in the remotest areas.” In countries such as Kenya, the social enterprise SamaSource is using the Internet to connect women and youths living in poverty to employment opportunities. One World Bank Group study even showed that simply increasing access to high-speed broadband Internet can accelerate economic growth by 1.4 percent.
Another exciting way to harness the transformative power of the Internet to eradicate poverty is as a platform to enable dialogue between advocates for change from all over the world. Women’s-rights activists, along with all those dedicated to women’s empowerment, have been taking their advocacy to the Internet in such high numbers that they are arguably coming to define a new wave of feminism. The tools bringing together such advocates to brainstorm strategies for empowering women include Google Hangouts, Twitter-chats and e-discussions.
The World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law recently leveraged the Internet as a platform for exchanging ideas by co-organizing an e-discussion with UN Women and UNDP. The e-discussion, Women’s Employment: Enabling Environment and Legal Incentives, took place from January 15 to 29 and was hosted on UN Women’s Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment. Experts were also invited to join the e-discussion, coming from such organizations as the IMF, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, OECD Development Center’s Wikigender, the International Labor Organization, the International Trade Union Confederation and Hogan Lovells.
The objective of the e-discussion was to bring attention to the main findings of the 2014 Women, Business and the Law report, focusing on the “Getting a Job” and “Providing Incentives to Work” indicators. It sought to obtain feedback on the impact and implementation of legislation surrounding various types of parental benefits, tax-deductible child care, the availability of public child care (such as public day-care centers), and free and compulsory education.
More than 12,000 women and men representing over 80 countries followed or participated in the conversation. They highlighted powerful examples from personal experience of where gaps exist between the laws as written and the laws as practiced, along with poignant reflections on the impact of such laws.
Writing from Argentina, Caro Cimador noted: “Although every woman has the right to keep her job during pregnancy, as soon as she reports she is pregnant, employers will fire her for any other reason.” Marie A. Abanga of Cameroon reported: “For the men, in my country, paternity leave is hardly a concern. They don't like it, don't want it, and some think they don't need it.” Featured expert Rangita De Silva De Alwis from India argued: “Unless men play an equal role as caretaker, women’s equality in the workplace or at home will not be guaranteed.”
On how to increase advocacy for women’s employment, Women, Business and the Law’s Yasmin Bin-Humam of the United States made the following astute observation:
"Countries are often spurred to action when they see what their neighbors or countries they consider themselves to be on par with are doing. Ivory Coast's recent reforms to the family law and tax code to extend child tax deductions to employed mothers, in addition to fathers, will hopefully lead to some tangible outcomes that can inspire other countries to extend such benefits to mothers. Chile's recent introduction of parental leave will hopefully be taken up by fathers and mothers and will get neighbors talking."
Participants emphasized that using the law to enable women’s employment and to change social norms is an important first step in promoting women’s economic empowerment, but obstacles to implementation must also be addressed and deeper cultural constraints must be challenged. They pointed to several obstacles to the implementation of laws, such as the lack of budget, the lack of female representation in decision-making positions, prominent gender stereotypes, the fact that women bear the brunt of unpaid care work, and the confinement of women to the informal sector.
Feedback from the e-discussion will feed into UN Women’s recommendation for the 58th annual Commission on the Status of Women, which will be held in New York City from March 10 to March 21, 2014. You can also find a summary of the e-discussion here. Moreover, you still have a chance to add your voice to the continuing discussion on women’s employment: On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, UN Women, UNDP and the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law will be holding their own Google+ Hangout at 9:30AM EST.
UN Women, UNDP and the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law would love to hear your questions and insights from personal or professional experience. Everyone is welcome to join. For more information, please go to www.empowerwomen.org. You can also find details about the Hangout on the Women, Business and the Law facebook page.