Gender equality is one of Switzerland's main international cooperation objectives. 2017 saw major steps towards gender equality in the areas of financial inclusion, reducing unpaid labour, empowering women in local politics and fighting sexual violence.
Achieving gender equality
Without gender equality: no sustainable development, no peace and security
Although some progress has been made, no country in the world has yet achieved gender equality: women and girls still enjoy fewer rights, economic prospects and political influence than men. They are also subjected to various forms of sexual and domestic violence. In line with the 2030 Agenda and the FDFA's new strategy on gender equality, the SDC is helping in numerous countries to fight gender-based violence and to empower women politically and financially, especially those living in rural areas.
Unpaid domestic labour: an obstacle to women's economic empowerment
Raising children, caring for elderly and infirm relatives, cooking and cleaning, fetching water and firewood – it is still primarily women and girls who are doing all of this unpaid labour. Worldwide, they spend 200 million hours each day fetching water: time not spent in paid work. The SDC is involved in rural development and infrastructure projects such as improving access to water. In the Rasht Valley in Tajikistan, newly installed water collection points and pipes to village households both improved residents' health and reduced the amount of time spent fetching water: 30 minutes instead of four to six hours. The time saved has enabled girls to go to school more regularly and for longer. Women are free to concentrate on income-generating activities. What they earn from milk produced by their herds they invest in their children's education and the upkeep of their homes. These incomes improve women's standing in their families and villages, and their influence grows in the local committees that manage water resources.
Women in local politics: making a difference in the face of social norms
In Pakistan the SDC is supporting the women’s caucus of a provincial assembly in collaboration with UN Women. Out of 124 seats on this assembly, 22 are allocated for women and three for minorities. Those not elected to political office still have an influence on legislative affairs via this network without political affiliation.
In Benin, negative attitudes towards women who engage in politics is one of the main obstacles to their participation. Politics is considered a man's game: a dirty, corrupt world. Women in politics become ostracised in public and in their own social circles. One of the key elements of the SDC-backed project in Benin is to raise the awareness of husbands, families and communities: "Without their support, it is almost impossible for a woman to assert herself in politics" stresses SDC gender expert Ursula Keller. Women's political participation at communal level is essential because it has a direct impact on families' daily lives. The SDC encourages women to get involved in public finance, budget planning and communal public spending strategies. For Ursula Keller "to bring about lasting change in gender relations, women need to be more involved in politics, and men need to be more involved in looking after their children".
More financing options for women entrepreneurs
The SECO-backed Women Banking Champions Programme is helping women in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia gain access to financial services.
About a third of the more than one million SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa are run by women. However, women are able to use less than 10% of the existing financing options. Legal and cultural barriers stand in the way, and there is a lack of trust between banks and their women customers.
Loans for women entrepreneurs
To address this inequality, SECO and the International Finance Corporation launched the Women Banking Champions Programme in September 2017. The programme seeks to give women entrepreneurs in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia access to financial services such as loans and business accounts. It raises awareness of their options and provides training in business and financial planning and management. Networking platforms promote dialogue between the different actors.
'Women Banking Champions' as model financial institutions
The programme helps the financial institutions to tailor their products to the needs of women. These model institutions are being encouraged to position themselves as 'Women Banking Champions' to make other banks aware that lending to women entrepreneurs makes good business sense. Through the Women Banking Champions Programme, SECO is promoting economic growth in the region, which benefits men and women in equal measure.
Assistance for migrants who have suffered sexual violence
Many sub-Saharan African women living in Morocco have suffered sexual violence along their journey. The SDC is supporting an NGO providing medical assistance, social aid and psychological support to these women.
Morocco has become a country of both transit and destination for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, many of whom have been subjected to physical and sexual violence.
The SDC supports the leading Moroccan NGO fighting sexual violence: the Association for the Fight against AIDS (ALCS). The organisation provides assistance to Moroccans and also to refugees and migrants. Young women from sub-Saharan Africa aged 16 to 30 make up the majority of ALCS’s beneficiaries. Many of them have been raped or forced into prostitution. Others have managed to escape the trafficking networks.
ALCS provides them with individual psychological, medical and social support, organising group and one-to-one sessions to help them deal with their traumatic experiences. For the women who may be at risk of HIV, an emergency test (within 72 hours) is carried out. ALCS helps them access specialised services such as treatment for HIV and TB, or vaccinations against hepatitis B. Special care is given to HIV-positive mothers. Women in acute need receive housing assistance, food vouchers and hygiene packs.
ALCS also looks after young men who have been abused and suffer in silence because the subject is taboo. It works within the migrant communities to identify such cases and offer these men the treatment they need.
One of the most encouraging results is the number of healthy babies being born to mothers who are infected with HIV.