Shining a Light on Women’s Empowerment (Times of India, Jun. 20, 2022)
Amidst mounting global challenges such as increasingly severe climate change and the COVID pandemic since 2020, it is urgent to restart and accelerate the progress towards a society that leaves no one behind, the core spirit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While this will not be an easy task, I strongly believe that women’s empowerment can become a driving force towards such a society.
When I think about the abundant possibilities that the empowerment of women has to offer the world, I am reminded of an analogy that appears in one of the Mahayana Sutras regarding the light of the stars during daytime. Despite the fact that countless stars exist in the heavens, each emitting its own bright light as visible at night, we tend to be unaware of them during the day.
Similarly, we need to ensure that we perceive and appreciate the significance of the extraordinary efforts and achievements of women that shine throughout the world and form the bedrock of our societies, regardless of whether they are seen or unseen.
Mahayana Sutras also repeatedly depict women who not only pray for their own happiness and peace, but also dedicate themselves to helping those who are facing adversity. In the Shrimala Sutra, for example, a woman makes a vow in the presence of the Buddha: “If I see lonely people, people who . . . have lost their freedom, people who are suffering from illness, disaster or poverty, I will not abandon them. I will bring them spiritual and material comfort.”
This sutra is also known as the “Lion’s Roar of Queen Shrimala.” I feel the Lion’s Roar here embodied the unlimited strength and potential of women determined to use their voices and actions to help people and their society tackle difficulties. Today too, women play a crucial role, generating networks of mutual support within their communities, whether in the course of daily life or in times of disaster.
The UN considers gender equality to play an essential role in the Nexus Approach for promoting all the SDGs in an integrated fashion.
The Generation Equality Forum convened by UN Women last year led to the unveiling of a five-year Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality. Noting such issues as income disparity between women and men, it addresses reforms to reduce the number of women living in poverty and places particular emphasis on improving conditions for women working in the care economy to reduce their burden.
Based on the spirit of Buddhism, a philosophy that places utmost importance on the happiness and dignity of all, the SGI has been steadfast in efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In 2020, when UN Women launched the Generation Equality campaign, the SGI and other faith-based organizations held a symposium in New York, in collaboration with UN agencies, where they discussed ways faith communities can better contribute to advancing gender equality. The SGI is also currently supporting efforts to empower women living in impoverished communities in Togo through reforestation.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only issues of human rights and social disparity. Reflecting the unique voices of women in every step of the process of tackling any social challenge will be the key to building societies that are sustainable and resilient in the face of the complex problems that confront our world.