Enhancing Opportunities for Female Empowerment

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

May 2, 2024

In the pursuit of gender equality, it is imperative to address the systemic barriers hindering women’s full economic participation. Despite international agreements promoting equal opportunities, many countries still grapple with legal and cultural obstacles.

Gender equality and female empowerment are critical components of sustainable development. The UN recognizes it as the 5th SDG to achieve by 2030. However, the latest report from the global multilateral organization in 2023 presents a sobering reality. It highlights that progress towards these goals is alarmingly slow, indicating that if current trends persist, it will take an estimated 300 years to eradicate child marriage, 286 years to bridge legal disparities and eliminate discriminatory laws, and 140 years to attain gender parity in leadership positions within the workplace.

Nevertheless, in countries like China and Vietnam, significant strides have been made, particularly in enhancing girls’ education and tapping into the potential of female executives. China and Vietnam, both characterized by significant rural populations, have undergone transformative shifts in their approach to girls’ education. Recognizing the pivotal role education plays in empowerment, these nations have implemented policies aimed at ensuring girls have access to education from childhood through adulthood, even as rural populations decline.

Girls’ Education in China and Vietnam

In China, the implementation of the “Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China” in 1986 marked a significant shift towards prioritizing girls’ education. In 2006, China’s new five-year plan underscored the importance of education by increasing investments in this sector. Concurrently, revisions to the compulsory education law targeted improvements in the quality of education for rural students. These measures included the elimination of tuition and miscellaneous fees for rural students, as well as provisions for free textbooks and subsidies for room and board.

The China Children and Teenagers’ Fund, established in 1981, received recognition for its Spring Bud Project, which champions equitable and quality education for girls since 1989. This initiative provides financial assistance to girls from low-income families, spanning primary to higher education. Additionally, it encompasses extensive advocacy efforts, skill-building programs, including digital literacy, aimed at empowering adolescent girls for income generation and employment. By the end of 2022, the Spring Bud Project had extended its reach to 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, benefiting over 4 million girls from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

The landscape of higher education enrollment in China has experienced remarkable progress in recent years, with women constituting 55% of first-time entrants to tertiary education, aligning closely with the OECD average.

Chinese women have made significant contributions to various fields, playing pivotal roles in public health, vaccine development and medical care. Moreover, women have been at the forefront of entrepreneurship, with over half of internet companies in China being founded by women, as reported by the UNDP. Additionally, women represent a significant portion of inventors applying for patents in the country, demonstrating their increasing presence and influence in innovation-driven sectors. High-profile female figures have also shattered gender barriers in STEM fields, paving the way for greater gender equality and representation.

Similarly, Vietnam has made significant strides in improving girls’ access to education. Vietnam is among the four countries demonstrating gender parity in digital skills. While gender parity in internet use among youth has been achieved in only 8 out of 54 countries, Vietnam stands out as a positive example in this regard.

Both China and Vietnam have a chance to leverage on the opportunities that gender inclusion can bring. This was one of the topics discussed in the 2024 Horasis China Meeting at Binh Duong, Vietnam, held on 14-15 April 2024. The meeting brought together 300 of the most senior members of the Horasis Visions Community, including some of China’s and Vietnam’s best known business leaders, cooperating and collaborating in enabling better futures for their citizens.

Unique Perspective for Businesses

Female executives bring a unique perspective to businesses, offering insights and experiences that contribute to more inclusive decision-making processes. Their diverse viewpoints often lead to the identification of untapped markets, innovative solutions, and more effective strategies for engaging with diverse customer bases. Additionally, female leaders serve as role models and mentors, inspiring and empowering other women within the organization to pursue leadership positions and excel in their careers.

At the board level, female directors bring valuable perspectives on issues such as gender diversity, workplace culture, and social responsibility. Their presence can influence organizational policies and practices, leading to the implementation of initiatives that promote gender equality and create a supportive environment for women in the workforce. Moreover, female board members often prioritize issues such as work-life balance, family-friendly policies, and employee well-being, which contribute to a more inclusive and sustainable business model.

Research shows a clear correlation between women in top leadership roles and gender inclusion. Startups with at least one female founder hire 6 times more women than male-only founder teams. While parity remains elusive, female-founded firms demonstrate a commitment to gender diversity, fostering a more inclusive work environment.

Empowering women requires concerted efforts across education, leadership, and corporate governance. By addressing gender disparities in education, promoting female executives, and valuing board-level perspectives, we can create a more equitable and prosperous world for all.

Photo Caption: It is imperative that organizations attempt to break the glass ceiling at the earliest to achieve the UN’ SDG 5.