OPINION

Empowering Women to Empower Communities

By Lauren Rowley

Women are the most underutilized resource in the world when it comes to uplifting communities.

Throughout history, women have been excluded from basic cultural rights, practices, and opportunities that would allow them to invest more influentially into their communities. Because of this, communities across the globe are suffering.

There are few culturally defined structures that are more influential than gender. Beyond the basic differences that define biological sex, male or female, there are numerous economic, cultural, and social structures and opportunities that shape what it means to be a woman or man across the globe. Gender helps define how individual societies distribute available opportunities and resources– so it is interwoven to larger communal issues like poverty, development, and overall flourishing.

To fully grasp the overall landscape of female empowerment and how it leads to communal flourishing, there are 3 main areas – education, healthcare, and labor. When women are granted opportunities and equal rights in these core areas, they are able to uplift their communities in ways that would be impossible without them.

Lack of Education

At this moment, 130 million primary school-aged girls are not enrolled in an education system. And despite the many global efforts to increase education for all children, 15 million girls will never step foot into a classroom. This is a truly horrific example of sexism and discrimination that must not be tolerated in the 21st century. Education for girls not only gives them more rights and opportunities as an individual but uplifts their families and communities as well.

Research has shown that education can improve agricultural productivity, enhance the cultural status of girls and women, reduce population growth rates, increase environmental protection, and widely raise the standard of living.

In terms of income, each extra year of primary education that a girl receives boosts her wages later in life by 10 to 30 percent. This can significantly impact the economic sustainability of their families as they will have the opportunity for a more secure income. Research also shows that women are using this additional income to develop those around them. In developing countries, women are reinvesting 90 percent of their income in their families and communities, compared to men who reinvest only 30 to 40 percent of their income.

Equal access to education also helps give women the awareness of manipulation and coercion into dangerous situations or industries like child marriage and human trafficking. According to Girls Not Brides, an estimated 15 million girls each year are married before the age of 18. Estimates show that if girls have access to secondary education, the child marriage rate globally will go down 64 percent.

Poor Access to Healthcare

In addition to childhood education, the effect of a mother’s education on her children’s health and nutrition is so significant that each extra year of maternal education reduces the rate of mortality for children under the age of five by five and 10 percent, according to a review of the developing world.

There is also an unmet need for proper forms of contraception in many developing nations. The Gattmacher Institute did a study in 52 developing countries that showed over 59 percent of sexually active women cited a level of need for some form of contraception. This study showed that by helping women prevent unintended pregnancies, the number of unwanted births and unsafe abortions is reduced, and maternal and child health is improved. These gains can also contribute to other global development objectives, such as curbing poverty and slowing population growth.

Exploitive Labor

This year, girls and women perform will 66 percent of the work and produce 50 percent of the world’s food. But unfortunately, they will only earn a mere 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 percent of its property. For instance, statistics show that across Africa, 80 percent of agricultural production comes from small farmers, most of whom are rural women. It’s widely accepted that agriculture can be the primary engine of growth and poverty reduction in developing nations, yet women are not being compensated fairly for this work.

The UN study on women showed that when women are granted equal access to agricultural resources, 100 million to 150 million fewer people will go hungry each year. When women are encouraged to own land and run businesses in rural developing communities, these endeavors can serve as a family’s lifeline and can form an economic foundation for future generations.

Who Cares?

Empowering women and advocating for equal rights is among the most efficient things any nation can do to develop society. Women make up half of society, and it should be evident that communities will develop better and faster if everyone is able to work together rather than if half the population is relegated to the sidelines.

Leaders across the globe need to start viewing women as change agents who drive solutions and progress, not merely as recipients who benefit from their results. It is time for a change in strategy that helps reevaluate how women are mobilized to impact their communities.

Global leaders can look to the approach taken by the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues in the U.S. State Department, which is integrating initiatives for women’s advancement into the United States’ foreign policy and the duties of every U.S. diplomat abroad.

Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women said it well,

“When women are empowered and can claim their rights and access to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, economies grow, food security is enhanced and prospects are improved for current and future generations.”

No one in a society can truly thrive until women are part of the developmental tipping point too, leading to greater justice for women worldwide.