Empowering Women: IKEA Joins Efforts With UNDP
"Empowered lives. Resilient nations." The heading on the homepage of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) website is inspiring a new effort designed to benefit the rural women of India. With a focus on empowering women, the UNDP has partnered with IKEA Foundation in a project that aims to help build the self-reliance and financial skills of over 50,000 women in 500 villages in three districts of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populated (almost 200 m) but least developed state.
The partnership programme, to which IKEA has pledged €30 million, aims to promote this target group's financial literacy, thereby "strengthening their technical, institutional, managerial and financial skills so that they are able to play a larger role in the social and economic development in the villages."
Including rural women in its undertakings is an apparent attempt to broaden IKEA Foundation’s mission, until now focused mainly on helping the children of developing countries.
A question emerges about whether this recent move might be linked to the Indian government’s decision to shed a rule against foreign single-brand retailers operating stores without a local partner, a motion affecting other foreign companies such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart or Carrefour. This shift in government policy, which took place in January, may well have spurred the recent commitment of the Swedish furniture retail giant with India's underprivileged female population.
Moreover, the move may be tied to the recent assembly elections held in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the governing Congress party suffered a major setback. It is in this pivotal area where investments in women’s leadership potential have been focused. Whatever the reasons behind the initiative may be, endeavours such as this are certainly welcome.
However, this does not mean, that more modest efforts such as the Women's Literacy Project of Gulabgarh should not continue striving to reach out to the women of other more isolated rural areas of the Asian giant, such as Paddar, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. There is still a great deal to be done in this emerging economy to empower women so that they become essential proactive members of the community.