Why is gender equity in impoverished communities so important? Because extreme poverty is sexist! Women in poor communities bear almost the entire responsibility for providing the basic needs for their families, yet are largely left without resources, freedom, and decision-making power required to fulfill these needs. CHOICE Humanitarian is committed to programs that empower women to take an active and equal role in community-level leadership that can break the cycle of poverty.
ONE, an international campaigning and advocacy organization focused on women, states that women are catalysts for positive change. Research shows that when women are fully included, society is more peaceful and stable. In many instances, women are the keepers of tradition and keep the family together. As the great Egyptian poet Hafez Ibrahim said, “When you educate a woman, you create a nation.”
Women and girls are agents of change. Therefore, gender equity, as it relates to health and education, is the first step to breaking the cycle of poverty.
According to The Girl Effect, when a girl turns 12 and lives in extreme poverty, a downward spiral can begin. She can get pregnant and, if she survives childbirth, she begins a family born into hard circumstances as well as possibly becoming the victim of sexual abuse. Due to her lack of education and earning potential she is unable to make changes necessary to improve her life and the lives of her children and the cycle of extreme poverty continue. But the story does not need to end that way.
There are many avenues to help eliminate the barriers girls and women face that live in extreme poverty. Education is one of them. For many families living in poverty, the long-term benefits of sending their daughters to school are overshadowed by the need for keeping them at home to help with daily tasks. However, if a girl goes to school and gets an education, she can then support her family and move out of extreme poverty.
Access to clean water and stove technologies can drastically reduce the amount of time women and girls spend collecting water and wood daily as well as improving health. On average, women and girls in developing countries spend half of every day collecting water – which is most likely contaminated. This leaves little time to for income generating opportunities and school.
Addressing maternal and child health reduces deaths from preventable or treatable causes. Women living in developing countries are nearly 300 times more likely to die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth than women living in developed countries. Many of these deaths are from entirely preventable and treatable causes, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutrition. And because children who lose their mothers are five times more likely to die in infancy than those who do not, maternal health and child health challenges are deeply intertwined.
In September 2000, world leaders came together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The Declaration committed nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty, and set out a series of eight time-bound targets – with a deadline of 2015 – that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The eight MDG are to:
- Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
- Achieve Universal Primary Education
- Promote Gender Equity and Empower Women
- Reduce Child Mortality
- Improve Maternal Health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases
- Ensure Environmental Susainability
- Develop Partnership for Development
To date, the MDGs have made a profound difference in people’s lives. Despite the success, the indignity of poverty has not been eradicated for all and gender equity has not been fully established in developing nations. Therefore, the post-2015 development agenda will continue to build on the Millennium Development Goals largely focusing on women and children.
The work of CHOICE Humanitarian is in sync with the MDG and we will continue working to eradicate extreme poverty and unlocking the potential of girls and women to transform communities in Guatemala and elsewhere.
*Some information from ONE and The Girl Effect