Focusing on girls and women to reduce poverty
Many of the world’s poorest people are women who must, as the primary family caretakers and producers of food, shoulder the burden of tilling land, grinding grain, carrying water and cooking. This is no easy burden. In Kenya, women can burn up to 85 percent of their daily calorie intake just fetching water. We live in a world in which women living in poverty face gross inequalities and injustice from birth to death. From poor education to poor nutrition to vulnerable and low pay employment, the sequence of discrimination that a woman may suffer during her entire life is unacceptable but all too common.
Women earn only 10% of the world’s income and half of what men earn. This leads to greater poverty, slower economic growth and a lower standard of living. In developing countries, millions of women also die each year as a result of gender-based violence. This deep-rooted gender discrimination creates a bleak outlook for women in developing countries.
For millions of girls who are living in poverty, it is shockingly often those closest to them who work against the child’s interests and their immediate environment is often dysfunctional and sometimes, downright harmful.
Several factors are preventing girls from studying, such as the cost of education, violence in schools, or families that prefer to send their sons to school instead of their daughters. Parents arrange marriages when their daughters are children. Neighbours say, if you are a girl, you must limit your activities to your home. Friends say, it is OK not to go to school. Early marriage and pregnancy is crucial reason for girls dropping out of school. In countries such as Niger, Chad and Mali, two-thirds of girls are married by age 18.
So what is the solution? The World Bank believes that ‘putting resources into poor women’s hands, while promoting gender equality in the household and in society results in large development payoffs’. It is therefore fundamental to nurture their self confidence and empower girls and young women living in poverty to make informed choices about their own lives as well as those of their communities.
If we reach girls early enough in their lives, we can transform their life chances. Giving girls greater choice and control over decisions that affect them helps break the cycle of poverty between one generation and the next. It enables us to stop poverty before it starts.
When women have equal access to education, and go on to participate fully in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty. Women with equal rights are better educated, healthier, and have greater access to land, jobs and financial resources. Their increased earning power in turn raises household incomes. By enhancing women’s control over decision-making in the household, gender equality also translates into better prospects and greater well-being of children, reducing poverty of future generations.
By Dina Mouhandes