Reflections on Gender Equality and Empowerment

From: Jane Doe , Posted Date: Jul 7th, 2017

In March 2017, I had the privilege of attending the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) at the United Nations in New York as a Delegate of Graduate Women International (GWI).  I presented at the Churches Centre of the United Nations and attended multiple sessions on a cross-section of themes. 

The main theme was: ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work’. Most of us can relate and resonate with the theme in some way.  The commission took place at a critical juncture in the changing global political landscape with strong advocacy in many countries around gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Established by UN council resolution in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

3,900 representatives from 580 civil society organizations came to New York from 138 countries to participate in CSW61, attesting to the growing strength and unity of women’s voices.

The focus on women’s economic empowerment and the changing world of work encompasses women's right to work and rights at work, as well as the commitment to decent work and full and productive employment. In the plenary sessions and side events, several issues emerged that are of fundamental importance to the empowerment of women. 

Pay gaps: Overall, women continue to earn significantly less than men during their entire careers as a result of caring responsibilities, clustering in low skilled and low paid work, less favourable access to educational opportunities for girls, and outright discrimination.  To address this issue, employers need to undertake periodic audits to review pay gaps, address unconscious bias and use targets to measure progress and focus minds. Even in developed countries, over 60% of those earning less than the living wage are women.

Indigenous and migrant women: Justice and change is needed at the societal level when reviewing issues relating to indigenous and migrant women.  We need laws that work for all.


Quality public education: Quality affordable public education gives girls a sustainable chance to be empowered.  Most often, women and girls are viewed less favourably and treated as a possession and do not have the same rights.

Violence against Women: Presenters lobbied to increase shelters and transition houses, capacity of workers and frontline practices for women victims of violence especially intimate partner violence. It is vital to challenge the acceptability of violence in a sensitive and contextual manner and Governments need to budget enough resources and time to overcome it. Violence against women and girls is one of the most persistent forms of gender inequality in society.   

Health, Education and Sport: Along with Professor Shirley Randell, I presented how education and sport can lead to women’s economic empowerment (WEE) and improve health for women and families. WEE allows women equal access to and control over economic resources, leads to increased investments in children’s education and health, and reduces household poverty. Women entrepreneurs and sportswomen, challenge gender norms, and act as role models. Sport builds leadership, self-esteem, and courage in women. The cascade effect of sport, continues off the field and women become physically stronger, and develop skills of teamwork.

In closing, the Commission acknowledged the important contribution of women and girls to sustainable development and reiterated that gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls and women’s full and equal participation in leadership and in the economy are vital for achieving sustainable development and promoting peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

The aim is to achieve gender parity by 2030 globally and governments, organisations, workplaces, civil societies and families will have to work together to advocate and make changes to achieve this.


Dr Jaya Dantas is Professor of International Health and Director of Graduate Studies in Health Sciences at Curtin University in Western Australia (WA). Her research and teaching focuses on the social and health consequences of adversity among refugees and migrants especially women and youth. She has worked for 30 years in India, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Australia, Timor Leste, Sri Lanka and Singapore. As a migrant woman, Jaya is a passionate advocate on refugee, gender, education and health issues and has been a foster carer with the Department of Child Protection since 2002.