Fairly traded goods are often more expensive than things you can find in big chain stores, and there is a very good reason for this. These small producers ensure that the people sewing, weaving and felting your goods are paid fairly, and do not have to work 14-hour days just to live in poverty. Ethical spending is important to think about during March as we reflect on barriers to achieving gender equality. In North America and Europe, two of our hottest gender equality issues are equal pay and women’s unpaid work burden. In case you hadn’t heard: on average women make only 75% of what their male counterparts do, and in some EU countries women take on 70% of all unpaid work in the house, family and community. These same challenges can be found all around the world, including developing countries like Nepal. Men make and control far more money than women overall, and this is one of the mechanisms that keeps women dependent on male family members.
In 2018, only 22% of working-age women were formally employed in Nepal, not including subsistence farmers. This means only 22% of working age women were earning a stable income, with the rest depending on someone else. These working women can expect to earn almost 30% less than their male counterparts on average. These two factors combine to leave women with a very small share of overall wealth, and therefore very little influence or decision-making power in families, communities, or wider society.
Blocking women from financial independence is one of the oldest tricks in the patriarchy book. By creating financial dependence on fathers, brothers, husbands and sons, a trap is created that can be nearly impossible for girls and women to break. A father or husband with financial control can force his decisions on women of the family, including whether girls get to go to school or not. Financial control is also used by abusers to prevent their victims from fleeing. A woman with no job, or a job that doesn’t pay enough to support herself and her children, might feel it is impossible for her to leave an abusive home.
Buying from businesses and social enterprises that pay workers fairly helps women to break this cycle of dependency by putting more money in their hands. Handicrafts and textiles especially are traditionally women’s work, so production workshop jobs are very accessible to women. These are workplaces that women whose education and literacy skills prevent them from finding other kinds of work can still earn an income. This income directly impacts women’s positions in their households, giving them more decision-making power and freedom to leave abusive situations or take steps to improve gender equality for their children.
By paying fair prices for goods produced by women, you are also helping to re-enforce the value of this work. Many of us have experienced an expectation of doing some type of work for free, whether it’s cleaning, childcare, emotional labour, volunteering for school activities, etc. Every hour women spend on unpaid labour is an hour they don’t spend earning an income, practicing self-care, taking care of their physical and mental health, enjoying recreation, organizing political protests or accessing education. How we value, or undervalue the way women spend their time, translates directly into how women themselves are valued, or more commonly undervalued. So, each time you spend a little bit more on a beautiful bag, necklace or dress that you know women have been paid fairly to make, you impact and support the movement for gender equality in families and communities across the world.
At Battiayo, we are strong believers that income is a path to self-empowerment and that creating dignified work and collaborations with different women’s organizations leads to greater gender equality and healthier societies. When women thrive, communities thrive, and we are extremely honored to play a small role in creating opportunities for change. Opportunities to earn income and to therefore become more independent, develop a community of support and the chance to be role models to others in challenging the system to create a positive change.