Women and Men, Empowerment and Equality

Today, March 8, marks the annual celebration of International Women’s Day.  This year’s theme is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.”

Episcopal Relief & Development has historically been very focused on facilitating the development and empowerment of rural women through different initiatives, for example, micro finance, health and agriculture programs.  Why focus on women? In many contexts, women tend to be more vulnerable, which can be the result of longstanding cultural practices that tend to favor and focus on men. These traditions can include land rights being passed only through male heirs, or marriage customs like polygamy. Many of these practices leave women without access to resources, such as land, income or education.
Additionally, studies in many areas worldwide have shown that, compared to men, women tend to put almost all of their available resources towards family needs – for example, placing household meals as the top priority. Focusing on women’s empowerment and economic development improves well-being not just for the women, but also for children and the entire household. 
As we work with and learn from our partners, we now understand that empowering women is only one part of the process; we need to focus on the broader goal of gender equality, which includes men as well. By including men in the development process, the entire community embraces the changes that the program hopes to achieve, limiting the barriers and making success more likely. It also contributes to men’s growth and development as spouses and fathers. In many cases, men are just as eager to learn and develop themselves, something that no community member should be denied.
Grace Mazala, Executive Director of the Zambia Anglican Council (ZAC) and our partner, shared with us about ZAC’s experience in the field while implementing “women’s empowerment” programs. As we honor women worldwide and continue working to secure their rights and well-being, please take a minute to hear Grace describe the valuable lesson learned about men’s participation in this process:
Danielle Tirello Givens is a Program Officer with Episcopal Relief & Development.