The 8th March marks International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Celebrating this important day every year provides us with a reminder that although women make up half of the world’s workforce, they still often earn less from their efforts than men. Beyond the gender wage gap, women continue to be mainly responsible for household work and care.
At SNV we know that increasing household income alone is not enough to address gender inequality. Reducing inequality requires changing the structures that underpin gender norms. Women and girls should be empowered to expand their economic opportunities, have access to resources and participate in decision-making. We have learned that dialogue between men and women can help to ensure that men play their part in the home and is an important step in order for men to see women as equals. When there is parity at home and at the workplace – incomes do not only increase but relationships improve - everyone wins. Based on this rationale, SNV has created our women’s economic balancing benefits approach. The strength of our gender programme is that it leverages our livelihood programmes. When gender empowerment is directly linked to increased income, women and men often see immediate benefits of changing their behaviour.
Last year, I saw the strength of our balancing benefits approach first-hand when I visited northern Vietnam. In household dialogue sessions with cinnamon farmers, I heard couples reflect on gender norms and challenges in their households. They explored topics like the division of labour and decision-making. These dialogues were part of our ‘Women's Economic Empowerment through Agricultural Value Chain Enhancement’ (WEAVE) project, funded by the Australian Government. WEAVE supports ethnic minority women's economic empowerment in pork, cinnamon and banana value chains. It achieves this by promoting equality between women and men within households and producer groups, strengthening women and men producers’ skills and bargaining power, and working with businesses and government decision-makers to improve the policy environment to support producers. It was clear to see the value that the participants found from attending these sessions. One participant explained to me that “Since participating in the Weave project my wife and I have changed the way we deal with household tasks. We now openly discuss how we share the workload in our household.”
In Quang Binh province I saw how SNV is boosting women’s entrepreneurship under the ‘Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises’ (EOWE) programme, which is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands. Here I visited an agriculture cooperative which we support in introducing System of Rice Intensification. This is an advanced farming technique to increase yields while reducing costs. At the same time, we work with the women and men of the cooperative on evolving gender norms and the promotion of women in leadership positions. Again, I saw the power of linking gender empowerment to increased income generation. When a household sees an increase in income, women and men often see the immediate benefits of changing their behaviour. In other words, it is easier to divide the pie more equitably if the pie is growing.
Gender attitude can be deeply rooted in people value systems and ingrained in their belief systems. At SNV, we speak the local language and have worked with local communities for years, sometimes decades. It is that local know-how that enables us to contribute to nudging believes and behaviours. It is only through using our extensive on-the-ground track record to apply and adapt our expertise to a local context that we will create lasting change and truly achieve balance. To reiterate the International Women’s Day battle cry - better the balance, better the world!