The phrase, 'economic opportunity for women' keeps coming up, to the point where it is beginning to sound cliché. I actually know a few who mentally roll their eyes when the phrase comes up! I can't say that I blame them, when the phrase is thrown here and there only when people are looking for a cause to hang their coat onto. Purporting to support economic opportunity for women seems like a pretty low hanging fruit! The problem though, is that everyone seems to be picking it, but few are actually eating it. The mess which has been caused by the glutton of rotten fruit, is what is polluting the precious hemisphere of this cause...
Let's clear the clutter a bit and look at the reality of why and how this applies to us. In this instance, I will concentrate on Africa. The leading demographic in Africa is first young, and then women, in that order. It is estimated that out of every ten Africans you meet, 7 will be between the ages of 12 and 24, making Africa the youngest continent in the world! A country like Kenya has over 70% of its population falling into the bracket of youth. Women then follow; exceeding 50% of the population. Most countries on the continent have over 60% youth unemployment and women are highly marginalized. Averagely then, one could safely say within a reasonable margin of error, that Africa has an over 70% population inefficiency.
In a typical home therefore, the 26 year old son might be unemployed or under-employed and probably still living at home. The mother may not be working efficiently and focuses most of her time on the other three kids, even though she may have the capacity to work (and that's not saying that child caring is not work!). The father is therefore the sole efficient income earner, and that may not be saying much!
Her children may be under-nourished, which will affect their grades, which may then affect their ability go to high school. If they are lucky, maybe one of them will get to the university and he then, most likely (as the boy will be given the higher education if resources are scarce), has to take care of the others. Mind you, his likelihood of getting a job may be very slim. His best hope is to struggle to leave the country, even on a boat on dangerous seas to Italy! Should he survive, he will spend the rest of his life taking care of his huge family. The alternative is unthinkable for this family.
Imagine an alternative situation where the mother still takes care of the kids, with the dad helping when he can; and she actively works. Say she has a little shop or maybe she was lucky enough to be educated and so has a white-collar job. Let me not insult your intelligence by painting the picture that follows.
It is not rocket science to deduce that on a continent that has an abundance of natural resources, but highly challenged with human resources, the first focus of any development policy should be the economic empowerment of women! No, this is not a cliché. It is a life and death situation. No wonder we seem to be constantly scratching our heads and chasing our tails and wondering when the world fell and the ground turned blue and the sky green. The best any nation can do for itself is to develop its human resources. I argue that this is more essential than all the natural resources put together! (Talk about desert countries leading in food supply! And the list goes on...) as natural resources cannot multiply themselves without management, but humans can! And so, whiles we are in the business of plucking ripe fruits, this is the ripest, wouldn't you agree?
I will leave out the bit about women nurturing and applying every gain to the home and what the numbers say for when women are empowered. There is enough of that out there and in your own home for examples. I am just asking for the 'common sense equation' here...