Some of you have asked, “Why should we focus on women and girls? Why shouldn’t we focus on empowering everyone — women and girls, men and boys?” It’s a good question. The answer is because a gap exists between the opportunities and resources available to men and boys and those available to women and girls.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), 1 in 3 girls around the world will experience gender-based violence in their lifetimes, 1 in 5 girls in the developing world who enroll in primary school never finish, and 1 in 7 girls in the developing world are forced into marriage before their 15th birthdays.
A girl’s situation does not improve with age. According to the World Health Organization, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for girls aged 15–19 globally. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women own just between 10 and 20 percent of the world’s land, despite making up more than 40 percent of its agricultural labor force. And according to USAID, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses in Africa.
Whether in the classroom, the hospital or the office, women and girls face challenges unique to their gender. The good news is that even a small investment in a woman or a girl can have a huge return.
When Women Succeed, Society Succeeds
Investing in women and girls means taking actions — big and small — to bring about gender equality. It means changing society’s attitudes and behaviors toward women and girls. It means rethinking the roles and responsibilities of women and girls. It means creating a world where women and girls enjoy the same human rights and have access to the same opportunities as men and boys.
Investing in women and girls isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Here are some benefits investing in women and girls can have:
Stronger democracies. Women’s participation in politics has tangible gains for democracy. According to USAID, countries where women hold at least 30 percent of political seats are more inclusive, egalitarian and democratic. Not only that, it also found that higher rates of women’s political participation are associated with lower levels of government corruption.
Improved public service delivery. Including women in the political space has benefits for citizens, too, because women are more likely to invest in the public good than their male counterparts. In India, for example, USAID found that political districts with more female representatives enjoyed greater community benefits such as investments in drinking water facilities and roadways.
Enhanced food security. The FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent. That would be enough to feed an additional 150 million people.
More lasting peace. When women play a role in conflict situations, they become drivers of reconciliation and reconstruction. Evidence shows that including women in conflict-related decisionmaking and peace-building efforts can lead to more durable, comprehensive and widely accepted peace agreements.
Greater economic growth. According to USAID, when 10 percent more girls go to school, a country’s GDP will grow on average by 3 percent. And a girl’s individual earning power increases by 15–25 percent for every year of secondary schooling she receives.
These are just a few ways investing in women and girls enables a community, a country and a continent to flourish.
As Secretary Kerry said, “No country can succeed unless every citizen is empowered to contribute to its future. And no peace can endure if women are not afforded a central role.”
So over the next month, commit to investing in women and girls. It can be something as simple as reading a book to your younger sister or as elaborate as hosting a series of financial literacy workshops for women in your community. The goal is to act and, through your actions, bring about a more equal, prosperous and secure world for everyone.
Think of the impact the YALI Network could make if all 130,000 of you act.