Highlight: Knowledge to Action: Improving Women’s Lives

April 18, 2016

Could childcare be the missing link to women’s economic empowerment in India, Kenya, and Canada? How does violence against women manifest in Colombia, Mexico, and Africa? How can we ensure that women who are victims of violence access justice and regain dignity?

These important issues were central at IDRC’s event “Knowledge to Action: Improving Women’s Lives,” an afternoon of panel discussions with top Canadian and international researchers on March 8, 2016. The seven speakers shared some of the results of important IDRC-funded research that can improve the lives of women around the world.

Childcare and Women’s Empowerment: Evidence from India, Kenya, and Canada

Women increasingly participate in economic activities around the world, but many mothers face a major constraint: how to balance childcare responsibilities with being breadwinners. The first panel explored the links between affordable, quality childcare and women’s enhanced decision-making, health, income, and job participation, as well as their children’s well-being.

Shelley Clark, founding Director of the Centre on Population Dynamics at McGill University, and Stella Muthuri, Post-doctoral Fellow at the African Population Health and Research Council in Kenya, shed light on the current landscape of childcare options in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. Early findings from their research show that mothers who send their kids to daycare are more likely to work, and are more likely to have greater autonomy. The children’s health also tends to be improved if they attend daycare, and they exhibit fewer signs of cognitive delay.

Arijit Nandi, Assistant Professor at McGill University, discussed how a holistic daycare program run by Seva Mandir, an Indian non-governmental organization, affects women in the region of Rajasthan. His research analyzes how the program impacts women’s empowerment, socioeconomic outcomes, and mental health, as well as nutrition and health among children. Evaluating Seva Mandir’s program is providing crucial and reliable data that Nandi hopes will inform policy discussions on how daycare could be a useful mechanism to empower women.

Watch the first panel video

View their PowerPoint presentations (PDF, 29 MB)

Overcoming Violence against Women: Strong Communities, Legal Protection, and Crime Prevention

The second panel’s speakers explored the nature of violence in different contexts, whether the result of armed conflict in Colombia, organized crime in Mexico, or lack of legal protection around domestic work in some African countries. They also presented strategies to ensure that women who are victims of violence access justice and regain dignity.

Adelle Blackett, Professor of Law and William Dawson Scholar at McGill University, spoke about the harsh conditions experienced by women domestic workers in South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, and Kenya. She highlighted commonalities across country contexts, including the isolation that domestic workers often face. This isolation facilitates prevalent and invisible violence ranging from sexual assault to verbal and psychological forms of assault in the workplace. Her research emphasized the role of state laws in protecting domestic workers while recognizing the limits of their effectiveness when domestic workers cross national borders.

Veronica Martinez Solares, Latin American Program Director at the International Organization for Victim Assistance, brought to the fore the high prevalence of violence against women in the context of organized crime in Mexico. She discussed how violence resulting from the drug trade overshadows, transforms, and worsens other forms of violence, such as violence against women. As a result, informal networks emerge to report the crimes and women establish their own conditions to survive, resist violence, and fight impunity. Her research looked at ways to institutionalize some of the victims’ responses to violence, and emphasized the importance of strong law enforcement institutions.

Donny Meertens, who recently retired as an Associate Professor at Javeriana University in Bogota, discussed IDRC-supported research examining violent land dispossession during armed conflicts in rural Colombia and the access to justice for indigenous women. The research generated important knowledge that will prove significant in Colombia’s peace agreement process, where thousands of women victims of unpunished sexual violence will return to the countryside. In this context, the access to formal and informal justice systems, the desire to fight impunity, and the many ways to rebuild communities and their social fabric will be key to Colombia’s future.

Watch the second panel video

Canada's contribution to women's empowerment

Anju Dhillon, Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, provided closing remarks at the event. Her comments shed light on Canada’s commitment to gender equality and the many ways Canada works to ensure that violence against women receives the attention it deserves from the international community.

Watch Anju Dhillon deliver her remarks

Read Parliamentary Secretary Anju Dhillon’s closing remarks (PDF, 22.5KB)