Women’s empowerment essentials

UN Women Egypt has identified two cross-cutting areas that are essential pre-conditions for women’s empowerment and achieving equality between men and women. These areas are (1) education, and (2) the engagement of men and youth as partners for women’s empowerment.

Regarding education, gender-based discrimination is at the root of many of the challenges that girls and young women face in the education system and in their transition to employment and decent work. Negative gender stereotypes and discrimination in education laws and policies, learning content, teaching practices and attitudes, together with unsuitable and unsafe learning environments and school-related gender-based violence all compromise girls’ retention in school, their educational choices and achievement with lifetime implications for their economic empowerment.

Cross-sectoral discriminatory practices, cultural and social expectations, girls’ life cycle transitions, among others, often curtail the education of girls, steer them away from educational choices that would empower them, and limit opportunities for second chances in education. Early marriage and pregnancy, for example, often force adolescent girls to drop out of education leaving them with no options to acquire the skills required to become economically empowered. These are often aggravated by poverty and geography, with those living in rural areas facing some of the worst forms of gender-based discrimination in education.

The relevance and quality of education can also hinder the economic empowerment of young women and girls. Too often girls complete education that does not prepare them for the job market. ICTs are particularly relevant in this regard. ICTs are ubiquitous – 90% of all future jobs will require ICT skills. ICT skills can enhance young women’s employability, as well as their opportunities and for life-long learning. However, girls’ and young women’s access the even basic ICT is limited. In developing countries a women is about 20% less likely to a mobile phone than a man, and the divide is similar for internet access. The digital divide means that women and girls have less access, awareness, literacy, and technical skills than men and boys to ICTs. This means that the settings where the most formidable challenges to girls and women education and decent work exist, are also the very settings where we may be less able to apply technology solutions. Furthermore, the potential of educated women to fully leverage marketable skills for work is constrained by limited job searching skills and networks. This low return on education compounds harmful social norms that keep girls out of school.

The second cross-cutting area for UN Women Egypt is the engagement of men and youth as agents of change. UN Women encourages men and youth to take action against negative inequalities faced by women and girls. Grounded in the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically—it seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as "a struggle for women by women". Recognizing that gender is not binary, it is crucial to adopt and implement policies, resource programmes, and foster partnerships to economically empower all young women and girls, and sensitizing men and young men to embrace this and share decision-making space. Prioritizing marginalized voices requires the creation of space to ensure - beyond tokenism - full and meaningful participation of young people in all their diversities, in leadership and decision-making at all levels and across all sectors, including in governments, parliaments and the private sector.