I grew up in a culture where women’s voices were feared. I was told my worth was tied up in being a good mother and wife. Working outside the home, while legal, was a social taboo. I was fortunate to leave and pursue a career after years of darkness prolonged by lack of self confidence and of financial independence. When I think of my friends back home and their situations, of the ambitions they never dared to recognize or pursue, my heart mourns the loss of potential. When I think on the global scale of the billions of such women, my heart is on fire. When altruists ask me if gender equality is an impactful goal we should focus on and strive towards, I answer, “absolutely.”
One reason global women have fewer opportunities is that families may decide they can’t afford to send all their children to school so they send their sons, assuming that the daughter’s earning potential is less. The daughters therefore receive less schooling which makes them less likely to be employed or start a business. Even if they do, they will likely be paid less than a man.
Empowering women with legal and political protection allows them to have their voices heard in larger decisions affecting their communities. There is evidence that when women have the right to vote, spending on child welfare and public health increases. For example, in the US, within one year of women getting the right to vote, public health spending increased by 35%, contributing to a decrease in childhood diseases and a subsequent 8-15% drop in childhood mortality rates.
Providing equal opportunities to women can also make humanitarian aid more effective. In 2013, UN Women commissioned the Institute of Development Studies to undertake a research study to see if this were true.
Gender Equality Programming (GEP) is aid that recognizes that there are differences in the needs and vulnerabilities of women, men, and boys affected by crises. It ensures men and women have equal access to decisions and planning about humanitarian aid in their communities. Some examples of gender-informed aid are medical treatment for pregnant and breastfeeding women and the preparation of non-food items (such as clothing and hygiene kits) that take into account the special needs of women. Oxfam, one of The Life You Can Save’s top charities, incorporates gender mainstreaming into all their programs.
Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used to collect data on participants in different humanitarian programs with varying intensity of GEP in four case studies: Turkana and Dadaab in Kenya, Nepal, and the Philippines. The study showed that GEP contributes to improving access to and use of services, increasing the effectiveness of humanitarian outcomes and reducing gender inequalities.
Other main findings include:
1. GEP is strongly associated with improvements in access to education, and with positive education outcomes for boys and girls.
2- GEP improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene, particularly among women and girls.
3- GEP decreases the probability of women experiencing gender-based violence.
As a result of this and other research, The McKinsey Global Institute has found women’s equality to be a massively impactful area to focus on. In “a ‘best in region’ scenario in which all countries match the rate of improvement of the fastest-improving country in their region in measures of gender equality, they find this could add as much as $12 trillion, or 11 percent, in annual 2025 GDP.” That’s a conservative estimate: “In a “full potential” scenario in which women play an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.”
The indicators of gender equality used by McKinsey were: equality in work, essential services and enablers of economic opportunity such as loans, legal protection and political voice, and physical security and autonomy. In many countries, a woman cannot own land or inherit money, has no legal protection from domestic abuse, is prohibited from taking a job if her husband opposes the decision, and can only get access to credit, own a business, or apply for a passport if a male relative signs off.
McKinsey reported other global issues that disempower women such as: blocked economic potential, time spent in unpaid care work, fewer legal rights, political underrepresentation, and violence against women. In certain regions of the world, they also identified issues with low quality jobs, low maternal and reproductive health, unequal education levels, financial and digital exclusion, and the vulnerability of female children. Another study by McKinsey, Why Diversity Matters, shows strong evidence of the innovation and growth driven in large part by women.
The Life You Can Save uses a rigorous screening process to find charities involved in the critical interventions that we need to focus on to bridge the gender gap. These interventions may include financial incentives (e.g. encouraging women living in extreme poverty to have their children vaccinated or to give birth at a clinic), technology reach, economic opportunity, advocacy (e.g. using social technology to achieve shifts in cultural paradigms), and those designed to achieve the necessary changes in laws, policies, and regulations around the world.
What we really need is diversity of ideas and solutions. That’s the only way to solve the diversity of problems. We must come to see that gender equality is an essential component in global poverty relief. We must acknowledge that women and girls are an invaluable part of this world and empower them to realize their potential.