Why is gender equality important?

The inspirational women behind our 'Empowering Women' series on gender equality.
The inspirational women behind our 'Empowering Women' series on gender equality.

As International Women’s Day approaches, we’re celebrating stories of empowerment for some of the inspirational women we work with. But we’re also asking why gender equality is so crucial to the elimination of poverty. Here are five reasons why.

1) Educating women and girls saves lives

Did you know that each extra year of schooling that a mother receives reduces the risk of infant mortality by 5 – 10%?

In fact, if all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives a year. And if all mother’s completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds, saving 98,000 lives.

The stats speak for themselves! And saving lives is really just the tip of the iceberg. A quality education for girls would also improve child nutrition, reduce child marriages and teen pregnancies, and reduce the pay gap between men and women. Not to mention offering women a pathway to financial independence.

Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa only 8% of girls finish secondary school! In Ireland that figure is 93%. Imagine what could be achieved if we could start to close that gap?

MAMY KATANGU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC)

Mamy Katangu is an accounting assistant for Concern in Democratic Republic of Congo. The thing she feels that has most empowered her is her diploma.

Mamy Katangu an accounting assistant for Concern in Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Concern Worldwide.
Mamy Katangu an accounting assistant for Concern in Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

The number of men attending school in the DRC is still much higher than the number of women. I am among the few Congolese women who continued to study... Thanks to my diploma, I am independent and I can buy everything that I need. I feel empowered as I do not depend on anyone financially.”

Mamy Katangu

2) When women can read, their children’s health improves

A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five.

Yet over 496 million women are illiterate – making up nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults.

We can, and simply must, do better. And not just for the sake of children’s health. The ability to read is a skill that can transform a woman’s life and help her to transform the lives of those around her.

AISHA, AFGHANISTAN

Aisha learned to read in a Concern literacy course and now she is teaching others.

Hadisa from Afghanisttan attended literacy classes with Concern, is secretary of a Concern-supported women's Self-Help Group and is now teaching other women to read. Photo: Concern Worldwide.
Hadisa from Afghanisttan attended literacy classes with Concern, is secretary of a Concern-supported women's Self-Help Group and is now teaching other women to read. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

I had so many hopes and dreams of going to school but my family could never afford the tuition fees. When Concern started a literacy course in my village, I was so eager to get started. I just wanted to learn more and more and now… I can read and write!"

Aisha

"When I heard that Concern were forming Self-Help Groups, I voiced my interest in getting involved. Because I am now literate, I was chosen by the group to act as the secretary! When Concern decided to run another literacy course in my village, I decided to apply for a teaching position. I had to do an exam and fortunately, I passed!

"Now, I can teach and advocate for girls who, like me, could not go to school. I can encourage them to change their lives through education. I am empowered to advocate for other women’s rights… through this… my pen."

3) When more women work, economies grow

Empowering women to work has benefits not just for the individuals, but also for the wider economy.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, if women were to play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

Yet around the world, women consistently face barriers to accessing labour markets. According to UNESCO, over 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. And women’s labour force participation rate is 48.5 % compared to a rate of 75% for men.

If we want to end extreme poverty, it is essential to address these barriers for women.

RINA, BANGLADESH

Rina received support from Concern to start a small vegetable business. She says it is her business that has most empowered her.

Rina from Bangladesh received support from Concern to start a small business. Photo: Concern Worldwide.
Rina from Bangladesh received support from Concern to start a small business. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

One year ago, when I started this vegetable business, to be honest, I did not expect that this would take my life in a different direction. I feel much empowered being the owner of this vegetable shop. This shop is very important for me."

Rina - Bangladesh

"Now, I am not dependent on anyone else. I earn my living, I earn my dignity. After bearing my family expense, I can save for the future too. I am expanding my business and reinvesting the profit. I want to continue investing in my daughters’ education and I want them to live a dignified life as well."

4) When women have a say in household finances, the whole family benefits

According to the Clinton Global Initiative, women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families, while men reinvest only 35%.

So, as well as providing a boost for the economy, supporting women to earn an income means better health and education outcomes for their children.

HAWA FOMAH, SIERRA LEONE

Hawa is a member of a Concern-supported Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). The loan she received empowered her to start a small business.

Hawa is a member of a Concern-supported Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in Sierra Leone. The loan she received empowered her to start a small business. Photo: Concern Worldwide.
Hawa is a member of a Concern-supported Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in Sierra Leone. The loan she received empowered her to start a small business. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

My children used to be kicked out of school for not paying fees and stayed at home until we harvested, sold our produce and got the money to send them back to school. I had never saved money in my life and that used to embarrass me and my husband because we would ask people to loan us money."

Hawa Fomah

"Then I obtained a loan to start petty trading. I sell clothes, fish, salt, pepper and other condiments. My children now attend school without interruption. My financial struggles have been eased because I have savings. My husband now sees me as a pillar in developing the family. VSLA has empowered me to be strong as a woman and handle responsibilities and that has earned me so much respect from my husband."

5) Gender inequality threatens the lives of women and children

Gender inequality is both a major cause of and an effect of poverty and hunger. It is a vicious cycle that threatens the lives of women and children and results in millions of deaths every year.

The World Food Programme estimates that 60% of chronically hungry people are women and girls.

And UN WOMEN say that 70% of the 1.3 billion people in poverty worldwide are women.

Globally about 303,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes every year. The global estimated risk of a woman dying from a maternity-related cause is one in 4,900, but that ratio rises to one in 180 in developing countries. And every year, 2.7 million newborns die. That is 7,000 newborn babies dying every day.

The tragic reality is that these deaths are nearly all preventable. But we need to break the vicious cycle of poverty hunger and gender inequality in order to prevent them.

HALIMA GODNA, KENYA

Halima is a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) trained by Concern in Kenya. She says that her volunteer guide book has empowered her to serve her community, improving the health of women and children.

Halima is a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) trained by Concern in Kenya. Photo: Concern Woeldwide.
Halima is a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) trained by Concern in Kenya. Photo: Concern Woeldwide.

As Community Health Volunteers, we visit each house in the village to monitor pregnant mothers and newborns as well as growth monitoring of children under five years. My ‘Community Health Volunteer Job Aid’ book helps me to do many things, like teaching hygienic practices such as boiling water, hand-washing, breast-feeding, and complimentary feeding, among others."

Halima Godna

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