Tap into your potential: Women's empowerment

There’s international consensus on the importance of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 also specifically mention gender equality and enhancing the empowerment of all women and girls. So what is the relationship between gender equality and women’s empowerment?

“Over time, factors such as structure, systems and culture have caused that some parts of our population are more empowered and others less. Compared to men, the economic participation rate of women is still relatively low. The inequality between men and women in employment still exists,” explains Hao Yang, Project Manager at the Asia Foundation, has over 10 years of experience in the field of gender equality. She cooperates with the Netherlands Embassy in Beijing on several projects regarding women's empowerment.

The Chinese word for empowerment -赋权- is relatively new, and the meaning can easily be misunderstood. After all, it refers to empowering someone, rather than empowering yourself. “Empowerment is about tapping into a power that everyone has, such as their self-awareness or their control over their own lives,” says Hao Yang. “The terminology women empowerment may give the impression that it’s something purely related to women. But it is a way to achieve gender equality, something men, women and sexual minorities need to do together. It’s about equally sharing and participating in social and family affairs for instance.”

Obstacles and challenges

Gender equality comes in many forms and with different levels. For instance, legal policies, laws or regulations sometimes (in)directly discriminate women. “For example, China has different retirement ages for men and women. Women have a lower retirement age, which offers them relatively less social security and less room for career development,” Hao Yang explains. Though legislation on domestic violence is being introduced and other laws are being updated, it often remains susceptible to multiple interpretations. Besides regulatory challenges, there are also social and cultural obstacles to gender equality. Hao Yang quotes Ms. Liu Bohong, Deputy DG of the Women’s Studies Institute of China: “The industries in which women work are often those which are the extension of women’s roles in their families. Examples are careers in nursing or teaching.”

To break the existing prejudice and truly achieve gender equality, we need to work together at all levels of society. Improving laws and regulations, cooperation of enterprises, awareness in the media and societal discussion. What society needs is to hear different voices. After all: “The more the truth is debated, the better.”