Putting money in the hands of women can have a positive long-term effect on the whole family, but women still suffer more from poverty than men.
Women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest people and own only 1 percent of the titled land, according to a U.N. report. They suffer not only from unequal access to education and training, but also from discrimination by their employers. The majority of women earn on average about three-fourths of the pay that men receive for doing the same work, outside of the agricultural sector, in both developed and developing countries.
But if greater income equality was achieved across gender lines, this could help decrease poverty through the generations. Studies have indicated that when women hold assets or gain income, the money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently their children are healthier. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family. Men, on the other hand, invest around 30 cents and are more likely to squander money on alcohol and other vices.
In order to gain access to better jobs and higher wages though, women need equal opportunities for education and skilled training. This isn’t always the case though. Take this example: Although African women produce around 70 percent of food crops, the U.N. reports that they receive about 5 percent less of the agricultural training and tools available to men. The U.N. suggests that women could produce 20 to 30 percent more crops if they had equal access.
Microfinance institutions are one economic resource for women, though they are an imperfect solution and have proven more successful in Asia than in Africa. In Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank is a widely imitated model that provides credit to people in extreme poverty. About 94 percent of those taking out loans are women, and the repayment rate is around 98 percent. Grameen claims that its loans have helped lift more than half of its borrowers out of extreme poverty.
Donor countries can also play a role in encouraging greater economic opportunities for women in poorer countries. Countries providing aid can nudge recipients to reform their laws to give more economic power to women. These laws should make it routine for a widow to inherit her husband’s property, for example, and it should be made easy for women to own property and have bank accounts.
To its credit, the U.S. government has pushed for these kinds of legal changes. But by voicing your concern over women’s economic empowerment, these types of policy moves can be reinforced and strengthened.
Watch the video highlighting how Women's World Banking Network member CECM in Burundi helps women to rebuild their lives with microfinance savings and microfinance loans after the 12-year civil war.
See how Heifer International's gifts of livestock and training have helped women in Nepal overcome extreme poverty in their short documentary 12 Stones.
Check out Half the Sky Movement's partners who are working toward the economic empowerment of women here.