As some of you may have heard, March was International Women’s Month, a time to take note of the struggles women are facing around the world. Technically, actually, Women’s Month begins on March 8th and lasts until April 7th, so I thought I would dig in a bit further and ask the question that may have been on the minds of some cranky types: “Why dedicate a whole month to women?”
Indeed, it seems like more and more organizations and foundations are developing with the purpose of improving life for women around the world, particularly in the third world. Is this attention really warranted? Are we risking missing some of the problems men or children are facing by spending so much time worrying about women?
Why Invest in Women?
While researching this issue, I came upon an infographic from USAID called, Why invest in women? The accompanying description notes that, “a woman multiplies the impact of an investment made in her future by extending benefits to the world around her.”
In looking at the different issues that the infographic highlights and how different organizations are trying to treat or prevent those problems, one can gain a bit more clarity as to how removing a woman’s obstacles could indeed improve not just her life but the lives of those around her. Let’s take a deeper look.
According to the infographic, 99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world (although recent studies have indicated that frequency is increasing in the US). The ramifications of maternal mortality are not difficult to calculate. Children can be left without mothers, or perhaps without any parents at all.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that maternal deaths can be prevented with rather basic care protocols. For example, anemia can be controlled with proper amounts of iron. Hemorrhages can be prevented with careful care and close observations. Infection can be controlled with proper antibiotics. Of course, all of this care is easy enough when funded, but in many places in the world, there is a distinct lack of funding and/or available healthcare. Investing in these healthcare initiatives can keep more mothers alive and can allow children to grow up under the watchful gaze of a loving parent.
Women and Education
According to the infographic, 1 in 5 girls in developing countries never finish primary school. The amount of education girls receive can have major ramifications, and not just on their own lives but on their country as a whole. Women who stay in school for more than 7 years marry later and have fewer children, and when 10% more girls complete their education, the GDP increases by an average of 3%. Information like this drives home the importance of organizations like Room to Read, which supports education for women around the world.
Women and HIV
In 2008, according to the WHO, women comprised 50% of all HIV victims and 60% of HIV victims in Sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO concluded that gender inequality played a huge role in the spread of HIV. In many cultures, men are allowed to have as many female partners as they wish, and there is no restriction on how young a man’s partner can be. The infographic notes that efforts to educate men and women about the dangers of HIV and regarding how the disease is spread have been 98% effective. Again, of course, educating people and providing appropriate care requires medical personnel and plenty of funding. The positive ramifications of women not dying from HIV should be fairly obvious!
Women and Agriculture
The infographic notes that women comprise 43% of the agricultural workforce in the world, but in many cases women do not own the land and they are often left vulnerable when farming land on their own. The ICRW has been focusing on the issue of agriculture and food security for quite some time. Interestingly, when women have the same amount of land as men, crop yields increase by 10%. Again, this is an example of how if given a chance, women can positively impact the world around them.
Women and Leadership
The recent election of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar (formerly Burma) has drawn a lot of attention to the power and excitement a new woman leader can bring to her country. Sadly, though, only 18.9% of the world’s legislators are women. In a way, this could be considered a catch-22. Without proper healthcare, without proper education, and without gender equality, how could a woman hope to attain a position of leadership?
As an NPO, what can you do?
Given all of the issues discussed here, we can tell that there are numerous ways that NPOs can offer assistance to women around the world. Whether it’s fundraising efforts, extending efforts of your organization to cater specifically to women, or a combination of tactics to reach women, there are infinite ways that the lives of women can be improved. You may only need to alter your focus slightly to help incorporate women who need help, regardless of where they may be living.
Can you think of ways to use your organization’s resources to help women? We’d love to hear your thoughts!