There is a growing movement around the world, especially in under-developed and developing nations, that recognizes the importance of female empowerment on the economy. Studies show that with increased participation in the workforce, women who are financially independent are contributing to the GDP and helping to lift communities and families out of poverty.
The United Nations‘ Sustainable Development Goals launched in 2015 placed emphasis on the financial empowerment and gender equality measure in their mission to eradicate global poverty by 2030. It will take concerted efforts on behalf of world leaders and global economists to ensure legislation enables the greater participation of women in the workforce, but where it will be most apparent is in local advocacy initiatives.
One such example is the Women On Wheels project in Tanzania, started by a local organization called Africa International whose mission is to empower women economically. In the city of Dar-Es-Salaam where this initiative is taking place, hundreds of women are becoming taxi drivers, thanks to Africa International, and are infiltrating a male-dominated market in order to create sustainable economic opportunities for themselves. The hope is that this opportunity with enable women to stop the cycle of poverty.
In Tanzania, while there have been some progressive gains for equal rights legislatively, the illiteracy and poverty rates for women remain much higher than that of men. According to a report on the Women On Wheels program by Kizito Makoye Shigela, the initiative was inspired by a micro-lending program in Bangladesh started by Prof. Mohammed Yunus to help poor people escape from poverty. The Grameen Bank initiative is now a Nobel Peace Prize-winning initiative.
Africa International is working with the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) to provide training for the women, and so far they have seen hundreds of women sign up. Africa International then acts as the guarantor for the women in order to get a loan to purchase a motor vehicle for their new job.
“We will ensure that every woman who meets the criteria gets access to these empowerment loans and establishes her own business,” said Martine Gabone, Africa International’s Executive Director.
The training will take 6 months in total, but the benefits will continue to be seen for much longer.
“Training women in commercial driving will give them the minimum tool required to participate in transportation activities for their economic well-being. The role of women goes beyond cooking and caring for the family, they deserve a better income,” said Martine.
A consultant on the project, Richard Kivura, said women will also receive self-defense classes in order to keep the women safe as they embark on their work, as well as classes on gender equality, the legal rights of women and effective communication. He believes by Women On Wheels addressing the gender gap in the transportation sector, it could also improve the number of road accidents.
“Women are good drivers who always observe traffic regulations and are less likely to cause accidents,” he said.
He noted a similar initiative being offered in Nigeria, where low-income women are being empowered to enter the transport sector as commercial drivers, which is considered a lucrative area. Women On Wheels is also the name of a similar taxi driving program in India, started by Canadian-based Planeterra Foundation (which connects social enterprises to the tourism marketplace by providing funding for small businesses supporting women, indigenous communities, and at-risk youth) in conjunction with Azad Foundation on the ground in India.
In fact we are seeing the taxi and public transportation industry become a place of incredible growth for women, especially in countries where public safety is a continuing concern, such as India, Pakistan and Palestine. This emerging market for women has plenty of opportunity for growth and is now becoming a viable way for women to become indispensable members of the workforce and global economy.
“The idea was to empower women to be a part of a driver ecosystem by developing a sustainable model and also helping these women grow as entrepreneurs themselves,” said Richard Kivura of the Tanzanian Women On Wheels program.
When it comes to initiatives and programs aimed at tackling poverty need to include specific measures addressing female economic empowerment.