At World Jewish Relief we know that women are not inherently vulnerable, but across the world structures often leave them less visible and with limited access to resources. Investing in a woman’s livelihood is one of the most effective ways to strive for a better world in which human rights are realised, and women and girls can reach their potential and build independent and dignified lives.
For over a decade World Jewish Relief has assisted vulnerable individuals to generate a stable income and become independent. We have developed employment projects in Eastern Europe, agricultural livelihoods projects in East Africa, led livelihood recovery projects after disasters, and established the largest specialist training and employment programme for resettled refugees here in the UK.
Globally, groups including people living with disabilities, indigenous populations and people displaced by war and conflict face unique barriers to joining the workforce, and we prioritise these individuals within our projects. In particular, women are significantly underrepresented in the workforce. In 2019, before the pandemic, less than half (47.7%) of all women globally were in paid employment, compared to nearly three quarters (74.7%) of men.
A number of structural barriers exist which leave women underpaid, and vulnerable to workplace discrimination and unemployment. And we know that globally 20% of men and 14% of women surveyed believe it is unacceptable for a woman to have paid work outside the home. This is not just the case in low- and middle-income countries; high-income countries including the UK have a long way to go. Covid-19 has only worsened this inequality, as globally women are almost double as likely to lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic. In some regions women are disproportionately represented in industries such as retail, the arts and public administration which have taken a hit, and in others it is believed that men have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce.
Yet the evidence is clear: a global study conducted by ILO and Gallup found that 70% of women globally want to be in paid employment and are cognizant of the benefits to themselves and their households. And there are great economic advantages of closing this gender gap, including GDP growth. But economic justifications aside, on a fundamental level the right to work is a basic human right. Every woman deserves the choice and the freedom to enter any area of the workforce, to be treated with fairness and to work in safe conditions. Guaranteeing access to this right is an important goal in itself.
After Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique in 2019 World Jewish Relief and local partner ADPP supported local women to rebuild agricultural livelihoods (pictured) that had been destroyed.
In order to effectively support women into work, World Jewish Relief strives to be inclusive of women in all of our programming. Wherever we work, we cooperate with our local partner to ensure the programmes we run with them are designed through a gender lens and that both women’s and men’s needs are assessed and responded to. For example, we recently launched an agricultural livelihoods project in Northeast Kenya, in a region where very few women own land. We are initially targeting the small minority of women who are landowners, assisting them to generate an income and to set an example to others that women can and should have the opportunity to build agricultural livelihoods. We have successfully ensured that just under half of participants on the project are women; due to local cultural norms, if we had not made a conscious effort to target women, this number would likely be much lower.
Of course, poverty, disasters and conflict affect people across gender. Furthermore, women do not exist in isolation, but rather within societies, families and marriages that include men. We know that in a lot of places that we work, power structures are determined by men, so for cultural and structural change to happen men must go through a learning process and increase their incomes too, to become better partners and allies to women. We always strive to engage men in our programmes, and to help them recognise that investing in women’s livelihoods will benefit them too.
To mark International Women's Day we will be sharing the stories of a few women who, having faced immense challenges, from displacement and conflict to disasters, have successfully built or rebuilt their livelihoods, found employment and become independent.
After an earthquake struck West Sulawesi, Indonesia in January World Jewish Relief and local partner IBU Foundation embarked on an livelihoods recovery project. Pictured: members of a women's collective create a kitchen garden for sustainance and to generate income.