Empowering women

Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD)

"Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety", said Diana Rivington, a lead speaker at the joint United Nations-OECD workshop on Women’s Empowerment in the Context of Human Security, held in Bangkok last December.

The quote comes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, yet it expresses a sentiment very much felt across the world today. Safety and security are rare commodities where there is conflict or where regimes are oppressive. Violence, war and fear are no longer merely temporary and dysfunctional features of society that disappear once development takes place. Every day millions of women and young girls confront threats to their security, be it in their homes, at school, in the work place or on the streets. They even run the gauntlet of danger in prisons, from policemen or soldiers, even from the courts.

Freedom from want and freedom from fear are key to human security. Yet violent conflicts interfere with efforts to uphold these basic rights, exposing vulnerable groups such as women. Most conflicts take place within countries, rather than between them. They are caused in part by social and political exclusion, poverty, diminished rule of law and security. Most casualties are no longer among soldiers, but civilians.

Based on experience from the United Nations, bilateral donors, NGOs from developing countries, and international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, the Bangkok conference examined complex emergencies in places like Kosovo, East Timor, Bougainville, Sri Lanka and Burundi. The aim was to define strategic ways of achieving just and equitable societies where the contributions of women are placed centre stage. Women everywhere clearly have the potential, keen interest and the skills to contribute to complex security processes. They can act as economic agents, formal and informal negotiators, or as lobbyists and campaigners. But these security processes often preclude female participation, so women's voices go unheeded.

Women are already becoming players in armed conflict and reconciliation rather than simply victims, and examples of this were highlighted at the conference. Women can be found at the negotiating table for peace. They help in reconstruction efforts, including strategy and planning. Women also become involved in conflict, sometimes as instigators, but mostly in the struggle against conflict and for the right to protect themselves. But there remains much to be done. As a start, the UN Department for Peace Keeping Operations suggested ways of making gender perspectives integral components of mandates and activities under UN peace keeping operations.

The US speakers presented heartening examples of methods that are being used to empower women in Kosovo, such as supporting conciliation efforts of women’s groups at community level. By getting involved with local councils, women have been able to respond directly to the issues that affect them. Such initiatives have helped women from one village where husbands, fathers and brothers were all massacred, to begin their own businesses and support their families again.

Australian representatives at the conference shared the lessons learned from grappling with long-term security challenges in Bougainville, where devastated and fragile social, economic and political life has created special needs for healing and trust-building. It had been implicitly assumed that the positive role women played in the peace process would continue. Concerted efforts were required, however, to ensure women’s continued participation in decision-making, public policymaking and governance structures.

Bridging empowerment and security 

The Bangkok conference emphasised that human security interventions in today’s complex emergencies can present key opportunities to promote women’s empowerment and leadership. Development co-operation can build initiatives to reinforce women’s capacities and skills, as well as helping to reinforce institutions in developing countries, like NGOs, the judiciary and the media, which are key bridges between empowerment and security.

This begs the question of what to do when there is no functioning state to speak of. One solution is to promote women’s leadership through policy dialogue with NGOs and other civil society groups. Inter-governmental bodies like the OECD can play a role too, by ensuring that vital data collection, such as building lists of women’s associations, is carried out.  


Women’s Empowerment in the Context of Human Security, workshop held by the OECD DAC Working Party on Gender Equality and the United Nations Inter Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality, 7-8 December 1999, Bangkok.

©OECD Observer No 220, April 2000 

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q4 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.6% May 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.4% Mar 2018
Last update: 06 Jul 2018


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Watch the webcast of the final press conference of the OECD annual ministerial meeting 2018.
  • International co-operation, inclusive growth and digitalisation lead the themes of the 2018 OECD Forum in Paris on 29-30 May, under the banner of What brings us together www.oecd.org/forum. It is held alongside the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on 30-31 May, chaired this year by France with a focus on multilateralism www.oecd.org/mcm.
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • Ambassador Aleksander Surdej, Permanent Representative of Poland to the OECD, was a guest on France 24’s English-language show “The Debate”, where he discussed French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2018