Why empowering women is so powerful

The saying goes "empower a woman, empower a village" and there is evidence to back this multiplier effect up.  Not only is UN Women president Mlambo-Ngcuka focussed on the economic empowerment of women, the World Bank and the IMF both concur that empowering women is smart economics.  Former World Bank president Zoellick noted in his 2010 speech at MDG3 that a Brazilian study found "that the likelihood of a child’s survival increased by 20% when the mother controlled household income" and the IMF recently reported that, "In India, giving power to women at the local level led to greater provision of public goods, such as water and sanitation" (Beaman and others, 2011).  Clearly, empowering women to make financial decisions within their own homes and at governing levels enhances the health, well-being and economic development of the community around them.

Jon Lomøy of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate lays out four areas where investments, either by governments or international organisations, should be made to achieve this multiplier effect: 1) Keep girls in school, 2) improve reproductive health, 3) increase women's control over productive and financial assets, and 4) identify and support women leaders at all levels (http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/newfunct/pdf/lomoy.pdf).  We have seen the young girls of the Shining Hope for Communities school exemplify the power of keeping girls in school when they sang "I Can" on the streets of Nairobi and Amartya Sen's article on the Missing Women described in detail the rippling effects of giving women reproductive control.  With these ideas in mind, I want to turn my attention to numbers 3 and 4.

One could argue that one of the failings of the American feminist movement from the 1970s was that they demanded entry into the workforce without demanding financial recognition for the work already being done by women within the home.  Although it is great news that between 1980 and 2008, 552 million women joined the workforce, often this means that women now work all day in the office, while paying for childcare, then come home and cook, clean, etc.  Work within the home is overwhelmingly done by women and millions of women who are not officially in the 'workforce' do work all day, they just don't get paid for it.  UN Women recently partnered with the Bolivian government to include 'unpaid care work' within the national budget, thus empowering women by creating an economic value for the work they already do (http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/macroeconomics-policies-and-social-protect...).  This allows Bolivian women some amount of financial independence, which ripples out into the community.

It may be surprising to learn that the country ranked first in the world for women's representation in an elected lower house of parliament is Rwanda - but it's true (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141075/swanee-hunt/the-rise-of-rwandas-women).  Half of the country's supreme court justices are women, gender equality is even in schools, and women can inherit property.  The context in which women gained such high representation and equality has its foundations in the genocide of 1994, which left the country and population in ruins.  From the ashes, women rose up to rebuild and, supported by President Kagame, led Rwanda to where it is now - with GDP growth averaging 8% over the last five years and at the top of the list of African countries progressing towards achievement of the MDGs.  Although the catalyst for this change was a tragic and bloody event that ideally would never happen again, Rwanda could be held up as an inspiration to war-torn, and indeed all, countries today.

Kaia RoseComment