Investing in Women for a Better World
Women of the World
Around the world, more and more governments and organizations have begun to recognize that women are not only more likely than men to suffer the effects of extreme poverty, they are also the key to ending poverty, for themselves, their families, their communities, and their countries.
Women make up 70% of the world's poorest citizens, 75% of the world's adult illiterates, and 2/3 of the children denied access to education. In some countries, women are more likely to die in childbirth than graduate from the sixth grade. It is estimated that women perform more than 2/3 of the world's unpaid labor - the equivalent of $11 trillion dollars, or roughly 50% of the planet's total GDP. They produce 2/3 of the world's food supply, yet own only 1% of its land.
Perhaps because of the hardships and inequality faced by poor women, they have also proven themselves far more likely than men to share the money and skills they possess with their children, their neighbors, and other members of their community. In particular, studies have shown that women are more likely than men to spend extra income on education, food, and health care for their families, helping to raise their entire family from poverty.
Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, founder of Grameen Bank, and one of the pioneers of the microfinance revolution, has spoken many times about his belief that women will play the key role in eradicating poverty worldwide. Of his own experience with Grameen, he has said:
"When we began 31 years back, in 1976, we wanted to make sure half of the borrowers in our program were women because - I'm criticizing the conventional banks in Bangladesh by saying that they are not doing justice to women because not even 1 percent of their borrowers happen to be women.
"So I wanted to correct this in my work and we concentrated on having that 50 percent as women. When we arrived at that position, 50 percent of our borrowers women, we started noticing that money going to the family through women brought so much more benefit to the family than the same amount of money going to the family through men.
"Seeing it repeatedly, we changed our policy. We said, "Why don't we focus on women, because they bring so much benefit to the family." And in fact, it's so much better. So we started focusing on women. As a result, we started going to 70 percent women, 80 percent women, and 90 percent women, and 97 percent women now."
Get Involved in the Microfinance Revolution
- Kiva - Loans that change lives
Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world. By choosing a loan on Kiva, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence.
- Grameen Foundation - Fighting poverty with microfinance
Grameen Foundation uses microfinance and innovative technology to fight global poverty and bring opportunities to the world's poorest people.
- Heifer International
Unlike Grameen, Kiva, and other microfinance institutions, Heifer provides direct aid to help families improve their lives in the form of livestock, not money.
More Organizations Working to Empower Women
The Indian-based Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) is another microcredit institution and a trade union, run by and for poor women, with the goal of organizing workers to achieve their goals of full employment and self reliance.
Women for Women International is a US-based organization that works with women in war-torn regions such as Afghanistan, Rwanda, Kosovo, Columbia, and the Sudan to provide direct financial assistance, job training, and support that enables them to rebuild their lives. Women for Women International is given a four star rating by Charity Navigator.
The Global Fund for Women provides grants to organizations devoted to universal issues such as reproductive health and choice, access to education, economic independence, political participation, the rights of sexual minorities and the prevention of violence against women and children. The Global Fund for Women is rated three stars by Charity Navigator.
CARE works to treat the underlying causes of poverty, and focuses its efforts on women and children to promote permanent social change. Along with emergency aid to survivors of war and disaster, CARE works with communities to improve basic education, prevent the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources. CARE is given a four star rating by Charity Navigator.
Women Thrive Worldwide (formerly the Women's Edge Coalition) focuses on changing policy in the US and worldwide to recognize the key role women play in eradicating global poverty. The Women's Edge Coalition is rated two stars by Charity Navigator.
The Green Belt Movement
As Wangari Maathai and the women of the Kenya-based Green Belt Movement have proven, women are themselves among the strongest voices for sustainable economic development and environmental conservation. The women and children of Kenya were suffering because the corrupt government was allowing the country's forests to be depleted. Women were having to walk further and further from home to gather wood for cooking fires, their primary means of energy, leaving them less time to cook, care for children, and work in the fields or in home businesses that brought extra income for their families. Maathai spearheaded a movement to plant trees in the country. The program not only benefits Kenyan families, it raises biodiversity and natural beauty, improves the soil, fights erosion, and many other benefits. Today, more than 40 million trees have been planted in Kenya by the program, and the movement has also become a powerful voice for democracy, social justice, and women's rights in the region.
Dr. Maathai was also one of the founding members of the leading women's environmental conservation and sustainable development organization Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), which focuses on influencing public policy.
If women are already responsible for 2/3 of the world's unpaid labor, 2/3 of it's food supply, 90% of its childcare and household duties, why add eradicating world poverty to their burdens?
Why? Because when it comes to saving the world, there is no short term. If children see their mothers respected and active in the community, confident and self-reliant at home, the boys will grow up respecting women, and the girls will grow into women deserving of respect. If women can raise their families from poverty, their children will be healthier and better educated, better able to suceed themselves, and escape the vicious cycles of generational poverty and its accompaniments: environmental degradation, human rights abuses, and conflict over resources.
There is no short term when it comes to saving the world. There is only work, and hope, and women are masters of both.
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