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Empowered Women, Empowered Children: Examining the relationship between women's empowerment and the well-being of children in transitioning economies

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World Vision
Date de publication
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Executive Summary

Gender equality and the well-being of children go hand in hand. When women are empowered to live up to their full potential, their children prosper, but when women are restrained and denied equal opportunities within a society, their children suffer. Child vulnerability is greatly exacerbated by gender inequality and assuring the well-being of children when the gender gap is high remains a global challenge.

In the so-called ‘transitioning economies’, the transition process has affected men and women differently and the growing gender inequalities have important social and economic costs. On the 2021 Global Gender Gap Index, Albania ranks 25th1, Bosnia and Herzegovina 76th, Romania 88th, and Armenia 114th.

The costs associated with restructuring the economies of these countries has had a further impact on children. The risk of falling into child poverty has increased substantially and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the social and economic vulnerabilities.

To explore the relationship between women’s empowerment and child well-being in transitioning economies in more depth, we designed a mixed methods research where we assessed the level of women’s empowerment through selected personal, environmental, and relational empowerment factors and looked at how these three empowerment dimensions in women are associated with the core well-being outcomes in children.

The findings showed that only 1% of the surveyed women in Albania, BiH and Armenia, and none of the women in Romania are empowered at a relational level. Many of the women surveyed in these transitioning economies have decision-making power in their households and control over assets; however, time poverty is a major limitation to their relational empowerment as the majority of these women continue to provide most of the unpaid care work and care activities, often leaving them with little or no discretionary time. Almost one-quarter of the surveyed women experience gender-based violence (GBV), especially emotional and verbal violence, undermining their health, dignity, security and autonomy.

Unlike empowerment through relational factors, up to half of the women surveyed are empowered through personal factors. The majority of these women have moderate-to-high self-esteem and a positive self-image, as well as being spiritually empowered through their faith. Most of them have good mental health, are resilient, and can cope with challenging situations in their lives. However, the challenges encountered in their patriarchal and traditional societies make it difficult for these women to break out of the traditional gender roles and consequently, the majority of them still conform to self-sabotaging discriminatory attitudes and beliefs.

In this region, patriarchal gender norms are deeply rooted, especially in the domain of time use. The majority of the surveyed women live in communities with restrictive gender norms and relations, leading to restraints on their behaviour and increased time poverty. Although significant efforts have been made in these countries to develop gender-responsive legal and policy frameworks, most women still lack an awareness of their own civic rights, with some still lacking access to much needed legal services. Consequently, 2 per cent of surveyed women in BiH, 1 per cent in Albania and Armenia, and none in Romania are empowered through environmental factors.

The vast majority of the surveyed children in these countries are enrolled in schools and willing to learn. Furthermore, most have good or moderately diverse and adequate nutrition and have developed psychosocial skills to protect themselves; they are resilient, empathic, self-confident, with good mental health and a strong sense of spirituality. Despite these positive outcomes, there are still many factors that hinder the total well-being of these children. Among these factors, functional literacy and positive health-related behaviour are very important, with the majority of the surveyed children not considering themselves as functionally literate in the three domains of language, digital and numeric skills, and many that haven’t developed positive health-related behaviour. In addition to this, many of the girls and boys experience violence at home, school and in their communities, especially emotional and verbal violence which affects their total well-being.

When studying correlations between the empowerment of mothers and children and their well-being, a number of significant associations were identified. These include factors such as the poor education of mothers, living in an extended family, and marriage at a young age – all of which limit women’s empowerment and are negatively associated with child well-being outcomes. The study confirmed that domestic and gender-based violence shapes the physical and mental health of children, while the participation of mothers in power structures and decision-making enables women to better protect their children from abuse. Finally, the research identified a strong connection between women’s mental health and children’s mental health and resilience. The children of mothers with poor mental health do not generally reach their emotional milestones and struggle to cope with challenging life situations.