Saving the world's womenHome » Blog » Annabel McAleer » Saving the world's women
The NY Times recently published a special issue on saving the world's women. Here's why it matters.
A lot of young women are reluctant to cop to being feminists. It seems there's a sense that feminism is done 'n' dusted—thanks very much for the vote, the reproductive rights and the payrise. But a recent article in the NY Times shows that while western women may feel they're treated (if not paid) equally, the rest of the world has a long way to go. Here are some horrifying facts from the story:
- 21 percent of young women surveyed in Ghana reported that their sexual initiation was by rape
- 1 percent of the world's landowners are women
- there are an estimated 5,000 honour killings an hour
- one woman dies in childbirth around the world every minute
- 130 million women have been subjected to genital cutting
Yeowch. But it gets worse.
The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
For those women who live, mistreatment is sometimes shockingly brutal. If you’re reading this article, the phrase “gender discrimination” might conjure thoughts of unequal pay, underfinanced sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In the developing world, meanwhile, millions of women and girls are actually enslaved.
The article, 'The women's crusade' by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is adapted from the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I highly recommend reading the whole lengthy article, but if you don't want to register on the NY Times website, here are a few excerpts.
“Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.
Critics of foreign aid argue that there's no correlation between aid and economic growth. The authors offer a more nuanced take.
Helping people is far harder than it looks. Aid experiments often go awry, or small successes turn out to be difficult to replicate or scale up. Yet we’ve also seen, anecdotally and in the statistics, evidence that some kinds of aid have been enormously effective.…
In general, aid appears to work best when it is focused on health, education and microfinance (although microfinance has been somewhat less successful in Africa than in Asia). And in each case, crucially, aid has often been most effective when aimed at women and girls; when policy wonks do the math, they often find that these investments have a net economic return. Only a small proportion of aid specifically targets women or girls, but increasingly donors are recognizing that that is where they often get the most bang for the buck.
The article also suggests that better educated and more powerful women can decrease extremism and terrorism.
It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room. That’s in part why the Joint Chiefs of Staff and international security specialists are puzzling over how to increase girls’ education in countries like Afghanistan … Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.
And finally, one of the article's most controversial passages. The writers have lived in developing countries and interviewed extensively for the book, so they're not just pulling this out of the air—although I've never before seen anyone write about their observations of poverty this frankly.
WHY DO MICROFINANCE organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks? One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men. Surprisingly frequently, we’ve come across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net; the mother says that the family couldn’t afford a bed net and she means it, but then we find the father at a nearby bar. He goes three evenings a week to the bar, spending $5 each week.
Our interviews and perusal of the data available suggest that the poorest families in the world spend approximately 10 times as much (20 percent of their incomes on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children (2 percent). If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects of poor countries.