The term women empowerment mentions to independences and prerogatives of women and girls of all ages. These rights may or may not be institutionalized. Women's empowerment is not a new idea in any manner but the term itself is relatively new. Women have been challenging the gender disparities since the beginnings of history across the globe. The term gained extensive popularity in the context of the US Civil Rights and Women's Movements as a leeway of earlier notions of fairness, impartiality and autonomy which were uttered in many anti-imperialist and political struggles. Such Struggle for women’s empowerment is not the females only process rather has been reinforced by many men who have been annoyed at prejudices against women and the significances for society as a whole.
The rights of women are also protected in religious principles of all religions and many international agreements.
International Women's Rights Agreements
One comprehensive charter about women’s rights is the international Convention on Eradication of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This convention unambiguously includes women within the classification of 'human' and hence in all International Human Rights Conventions. CEDAW has been sanctioned by most governments and underprops official gender policies of all major development agencies.
Barriers of women empowerment
Gender-based disparity is a worldwide human rights issue that surpasses culture, religion and socio-economic status. Social evils or incidents like domestic violence, insufficient access to knowledge, poor learning, and lack of economic opportunity are few of major barriers to women empowerment.
Women's rights in Islam
It is often contended that Islam does not guarantee any rights to women and a source of suppression for them. Many argue that International Rights agreements stating the rights of women do not accord with Islamic principles and are somehow 'unislamic' in nature. Such a viewpoint is counter factual as Islam as given every right to women which can be conceived today. The matter of fact is that if any excess is committed towards women that act is against the religious values and should be taken as social anomaly with an aim to rectify. Muslim women usually face gender based discriminations and inequality. As a matter of fact 20 of the 25 lowest-rank countries on Gender Gap Index happen to be Muslim dominant societies. This is a very sorry state of affairs and needs immediate attention of governments and civil society. Which ranks women’s participation in society, are Muslim-majority countries. This certainly requires reframing of women’s rights within an Islamic framework and raising awareness in this regard apart from addressing the numerous other factors that disempower women must be addressed directly and collectively.
Tools to enhance women Empowerment-Case of Micro-finance:
When we talk about women empowerment than the concept of economic empowerment is more important. Economic Empowerment enables women to take independent decisions. Microfinance and Women empowerment are tow concepts which go hand in hand. Microfinance is considered to be an effective tool in war against poverty and improves access to finance for all especially for females. Many women's establishments’ globally set up micro credit and savings mechanisms as a tool for enabling women to increase their incomes and to address gender problems as well. Usually micro-finance program places empowerment vision firmly in layout of their policies and strategies to achieve gender equality in rights, power and resources.
Case of Islamic Microfinance
Use of Microfinance as tool for women empowerment is not without issues as Islam prohibits dealing in Usury. Islam clearly declares usury as unlawful and haram. In fact Bank Interest/Usury is one and same thing and is declared unlawful in all the divine religions including Christianity. So what is the alternative for women? Well, we have not run out of options and there is still a source of alternative finance available i.e. Islamic Microfinance. Muslim women can be empowered through participation in Islamic finance programs.
There is a misconception that Islamic finance is somehow disadvantageous or inaccessible to women. This is a gross misrepresentation of facts. As a matter of truth Islam recognizes women's independent property rights, encouraged them to save, invest, and improve their condition. Islamic microfinance provides women an opportunity to participate in business activities and improve their economic conditions. We can quote here the example of Khadija bint Khuwailid (R.A) who is mother of all Muslims and is first known women entrepreneur in the history. She was a known business lady of pre-Islam era and was known for her business dealings. Khadija (R.A) did not travel with her trade caravans rather she relied on others to trade on her behalf, which she compensated with commissions. In 595, Khadija (R.A) needed an agent for a transaction in Syria and hired prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H), who was then 25 years old. The profit that Muhammad (P.B.U.H) returned to Khadija (R.A) was the double of what she had anticipated. The trip's measure of success encouraged Khadija (R.A) to employ Muhammad again on a winter trip to Yemen. Prophet Muhammad's (P.B.U.H) second trip was equally profitable, and earned him profit more than his 1st trip. From above we can safely say that Islam does not discourage women from taking business initiatives. From here we can also say that entering into business partnerships is more profitable for all as prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) was himself involved in business partnerships.
Economic Benefits of Islamic Microfinance
Women are a significant portion of labor force and generally engaged in informal sector for income generation across the globe. If they are not allowed to work then abolishing a significant part of a nation’s work force on the only basis of gender can have disadvantageous effects on the economy of that nation. Other than economic loss, female involvement in counsels, groups, and businesses is vital to increase efficiency. This was substantiated in the study of fortune 500 companies, “those with more women board directors had significantly higher financial returns, including 53 percent higher returns on equity, 24 percent higher returns on sales and 67 percent higher returns on invested capital (OECD, 2008).” Inclusion of women in global workforce can increase the economic output of a nation significantly.