Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day

This International Women's Day serves as a reminder on how much women can fight poverty, yet often they are not allowed to. Women can do much with just a little help. Poor women often put any food or money they receive back into their families, often neglecting themselves. They have proven over time to be a better investment than men.

Still many women are prevented from making any progress. Maternal health is still woefully inadequate throughout the globe. Women face the prospect of death from the natural process of childbirth. Also, many women are subjected to violence and rape. Many are can even smuggled across boarders to be bound into slavery.

A couple of stories that we found today examines this paradox for women. First from the Guardian, Caroline Harper of the Overseas Development Institute describes some of the challenges for women and also gives one sucess story.

But we have to be realistic about the patchy progress in embedding gender concerns into development initiatives, and in promoting women's and girls' economic, political and social empowerment. While there has been impressive progress on girls' access to education, maternal mortality rates remain shockingly high in much of sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia – representing the greatest global health disparity between industrialised and developing countries.

Similarly, while the recognition of rape as a weapon of war is a step towards ending impunity, the levels of violence against women, within and outside of conflict, remain appalling. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, rampant sexual violence against women is the norm in parts of the country. More than 32,000 cases of rape and sexual violence have been registered in South Kivu province alone since 2005. Violence in supposedly safe spaces for girls, including schools, is also a widespread problem, putting at risk girls' educational opportunities.

We urgently need political commitment to foster gender equity, backed by adequate and sustainable funding. Again, we have to be realistic. Such commitment and funding will be hard to secure in the wake of the global economic crises, with aid budgets in many donor countries being scaled back, and competing budget demands in developing countries exacerbated by the food and financial crisis. But it is essential to adequately finance initiatives for women and girls and pinpoint new ways to meet the MDGs by ensuring that gender is centre stage.

One major problem is that we still don't know enough. While there is plenty of information on what causes gender inequality in development, our collective knowledge on what works remains fragmented, under-researched and under-documented. What we do know is that progress on inequity around the globe is often spearheaded by civil society groups that are capitalising on their in-depth local knowledge and the creativity of local women, girls and their communities.

One example is the locally run Adolescent Girls' Adventure education programme in Bangladesh, which has increased employment, improved school enrolment, delayed early marriage, improved health knowledge and, very importantly, enhanced the mobility of teenage girls to reduce their social isolation. More than 250,000 girls in 58 districts in Bangladesh are now enrolled, and its success will start to be replicated across sub-Saharan Africa this year.

While local change is welcome, we also need change at the national and international levels, with a gender lens integrated systematically into policy and programme development.

Finally, commentator Don Cayo of the Vancouver Sun describes why women are a great investment in fighting poverty.

Give a poor woman a fish and odds are that, just like the man in the adage, she'll eat it -though she's also likely to share it with her family. But give her a loan, even a very small one, and she's apt to open a seafood restaurant. Or a cellphone kiosk. Or a market garden. Or ....

This economic reality -not just a donor's instinct to try to redress a gross imbalance of wealth and power -explains why women are the focus of so much international development work today. Simply put, they most often turn out to be a better investment than men.

This is not to say poor women are all inherent entrepreneurs. But a characteristic shared by the poor the world over is that they do work hard, very hard, in pursuit of what few opportunities come their way. And this willingness to work, plus the greater tendency of women to share with and spend on their families, also colours many other aspects of development.

For example, if you want to improve the quality of life in a really poor part of the world, few things will pay a better dividend over the medium or long term than educating girls, who, in virtually all developing countries, are certain to get far fewer learning opportunities than their brothers.

Not only is a society sorely handicapped in its efforts to progress when half of its potential workforce is marginalized, but, once again, women around the world have demonstrated that, when they get a little economic clout, they direct it toward more practical priorities.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Opinion+Investment+poor+women+good+health+pays/4400439/story.html#ixzz1G1c1YD1h

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