How research can improve the lives of women in the developing world

How research can improve the lives of women in the developing world

developing world

Women across the world share many of the same challenges on the path to gender equality, but for those in the developing world, progress can be hindered by many unique roadblocks.

On the latest episode of the Women are the Business podcast, two experts address the power of research in understanding the lived experiences of these women.

For Sarah Boyd, Director of Advocacy at Data2X, improving the quality and availability of gender data is essential to make practical differences in the lives of women and girls worldwide. It’s something she’s dedicated her career to and over the years, she’s come to understand just how powerful women can be in organising roles.

“I began to study and observe not just the often disproportionate impact of say conflict and humanitarian crises, but also just how powerful women’s roles were in organizing and civil society and the different kind of impact they had when they had access to power and making decisions,” she tells podcast host Sophie Thomas.

Boyd says you can’t look at issues of peace and conflict without considering questions of gender.

Violence against women and having more women in politics are the two biggest issues she sees as facing women all around the world, but especially in developing countries.

“Those two issues I think are critically related, violence can be a preventive for women to run for public office and stay in public office,” she says. “Also having more women and a diverse set of women in public office at every level enables different kinds of policymaking.”

For Dr Diana Contreras Suarez, a research fellow at the Melbourne Institute for Applied Economics and Social Research, one of the biggest challenges women in developing countries face is the reality that from them, work is often a tool of survival.

“If you are very poor, you need to work because you need to eat,” she tells Thomas.

Contreras Suarez points out how work is different for women in developing countries, who may still face major barriers to equality in the workforce, but often have more freedom to choose how and where they want to work.

The biggest factor that draws all women together though is having children. As research tells us, this is often the point in women’s lives where the inequalities between men and women widen significantly.

Contreras Suarez says Indonesia has seen rapid growth over the past 30 years, but labour market participation for women has remained stagnant. And this is a major barrier to improving the quality of women’s lives.

Her research has charted women in Indonesia over their life cycles and can estimate what happens to women after they have their first child.

“What we found was very surprising,” she says. “Most of these women were actually just leaving the labour market altogether.”

The provision of childcare is an area that could help improve this situation, according to Contreras Suarez. And in Indonesia, increasing women’s workforce participation would have many positive direct and indirect effects.

First, having more skilled people in the workforce would increase productivity and provide a boost to the overall economy. And importantly, when women are in the paid workforce, it increases their bargaining power at home, which has flow on positive effects for their children.

Policy solutions that may help women in Indonesia increase their workforce participation includes the potential to have more flexible work options.

“You can think of flexibility in terms of starting shifts at different times, so then it
accommodates better to when they need to drop off kids at school.”

Mentoring programs where women who are returning to work are paired with women who have children and are still working, along with retention bonuses and incentives for women to return to employment are also possible solutions.

On a global scale, the impact of conflict and displacement resulting from climate change and humanitarian emergencies is disproportionately born by women.

“We’re talking about tens of millions of people worldwide every year,” Boyd says.

And while women in the developing world face a myriad of daily and often dangerous struggles, it’s important we remember that women in developed countries have still not achieved gender equality. And sometimes, the consequences can be just as deadly.

As Boyd acknowledges, “we know that women are dying at the hands of their intimate partners every week in Australia.”

We’re featuring stories on all eight episodes of this podcast here on Women’s Agenda, thanks to our partnership with the Faculty of Business and Economics at The University of Melbourne. 

Subscribe to the series on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Click here to see the full: #WomenAreTheBusiness series

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