Those of us who follow gender issues related to livelihoods and economic growth, there are several important facts that deserve to be repeated:
Fact 1: It is calculated that women could increase their income globally by up to 76 percent if the employment participation gap and the wage gap between women and men were closed.
Fact 2: Certain fields of employment and entrepreneurship—particularly those involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)—are vastly dominated by men. Only 23 percent of workers in STEM are women, compared with 48 percent of workers in all occupations.
Fact 3: Women’s participation in “nontraditional” sectors—such as technical or mechanical fields—is constrained by low expectations, limited access to skills, inadequate advancement opportunities and unequal law and policy.
These and other facts will be addressed when I will join hundreds of gender equity champions at the 2017 Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Global Learning Forum May 23 to 25 in Bangkok, Thailand. Follow the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #WEEForum2017.
I will speak on panel called “Strengthening Opportunities for Women in Nontraditional Sectors: Applying Theory to Practice,” which will focus on Creative Associates International’s efforts to promoting women’s economic opportunities through enterprise development and job creation.
Creative believes that sustainable development depends on women and men having equal economic opportunities and an enabling environment to develop their full potential and contribute to their communities and societies.
Taking a Gender Transformative Approach in development is key because it helps to overcome restrictive gender norms, improve development impact and promote equitable progress that improves the lives of all.
Leveraging skills to create sustainable change
At the WEE Forum, I will discuss how two innovative programs in Nicaragua and Afghanistan are leveraging quality technical and vocational education and training to improve equitable access to nontraditional fields.
Through Creative’s Technical Vocational Education and Training Strengthening for At-Risk Youth program in Nicaragua and the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, Creative strengthens opportunities for women to enter non-traditional sectors of employment. The programs are funded by funded by the U.S. Agency of International Development.
An increase in female labor force participation—or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labor force participation—results in faster economic growth, according to UN Women.
The program in Nicaragua is working with eight technical vocational education and training facilities to improve their engagement with the private sector, their ability to attract students, and their delivery of quality training.
It also aligns the needs of employers with courses offered to young women, allowing for demand-driven learning with links to jobs in nontraditional sectors such as automotives, engineering, infrastructure, agribusiness, and aquaculture.
The program’s gender approach reflects good practice in general: To connect women to nontraditional fields, girls and their families must better understand the opportunities that are open to them. Then, young women must take math or learn fundamental skills that prepare them for traditionally male-dominated jobs.
With support from the program in Nicaragua, 55 women have successfully enrolled in technical education programs and connected to internship opportunities and future employers.
Now in its second year, the project expects over five years to provide technical vocational education and training scholarships for as many as 500 women, including indigenous and afro-descendant youth, with the goal of increasing their participation in nontraditional technical careers.
On the other side of the globe, the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program is addressing the country’s high unemployment by improving the quality and access to trainings in business and technical areas. The program has provided more women and men the chance to be transformative change agents within their families and communities.
The program has provided more than 32,000 unemployed workers, as well as mid-level employees, with training that aligns with market demands. To date, more than 36 percent of those trained have been women—exceeding an original target of 25 percent.
To reach that goal, the program created a “Women in Private Sector” grant especially for motivated businesswomen.
The program in Afghanistan provides more equitable access to education and job training, to women, overcoming barriers that would typically confine them to the home, and opening economic doors that lead to thriving careers and a steady income.
Creating opportunities for women pays off
Creative’s Gender Transformative Approach empowers all members of a community to create sustainable and equitable solutions to common challenges.
These programs are gender transformative because they empower individuals and communities to ultimately dismantle gender-based barriers, create enabling environments and develop new, more inclusive norms for the economic wellbeing of all.
It is important for all—women and men—to be engaged in any types of workforce development. Opportunities for employability or enterprise development must not be determined by one’s sex or societal expectations on gendered behavior and roles.
With improved conditions for women in nontraditional jobs, women’s lives—and the lives of their families and communities—are changing for the better.
Jackie Ogega, Senior Associate, Gender in Development, at Creative, provides strategic direction on gender in development approach and female empowerment, advises on gender integration in new business and proposal development, and provides technical support to ongoing programs. For more than 16 years, she has worked in international development, designing, implementing and directing large, complex projects in over 40 countries around the world.