Wealth in women

Published at Our World Today, October 22, 2012

When CARE Australia’s Jenny Clement recently travelled to a small and relatively unknown village in northern Cambodia, she came across a young woman whose life had been changed forever.

As CARE’s Country Programs Manager, Ms Clement was sent to this remote village in Cambodia’s impoverished north to assess how CARE’s projects were benefitting both men and women.

Ten years ago the village, home to one of the country’s indigenous ethnic minority groups, had few opportunities for its youth who, by no fault of their own, were born into a life of poverty and hardship.

With no school in the village and only being able to speak their indigenous language, the children were unable to attend mainstream schooling, where classes are taught in Khmer, the national language.

It was here that Ms Clement met a 19-year-old girl, who 10 years ago couldn’t speak one word of Khmer.

“CARE started targeting these communities, working with the local leaders to build the school in this village and select some of the local people who would teach in their own language but also spoke Khmer,” she said.

Within three years, she had learned how to speak Khmer and received a scholarship to study at a teachers training college.

It opened up a new world of possibilities for her – opportunities which had previously seemed so unreachable for a poor girl living in a community where young women often marry at an early age.

“When she finishes, she wants to come back to her own village and be a bilingual teacher for the next generation of kids at the same school,” Ms Clement told Our World Today.

“That’s a great success for her and it’s really great to see that after 10 years her and her classmates are graduating and getting jobs.”

CARE is just one of the many organisations working around the world to transform the lives of women and girls, and in doing so, lifting communities out of poverty.

Last year alone, CARE worldwide directly and indirectly supported 122 million people across the world – more than half of whom were women.

Several studies show that educating women and girls has the greatest impact in improving the lives of both women and men in the Third World.

Women in developing countries who earn a higher income are more likely to spend more money on health and education for their children, thereby breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Despite this, the Girl Effect reports that 70 per cent of the 130 million out-of-school youth are girls, and the majority of the world’s 1.3 billion people living in poverty are female.

The Girl Effect states less than two cents of every dollar for international development aid directly reaches females.

Ms Clement says aid organisation need to look at every project through a “gender lens” and ensure they are inclusive of women who are well-placed to fight poverty. 

The International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) is another aid agency focused on empowering women and girls.

“Focusing on women is about equity and rights, but also about effectiveness and impact,” IWDA communications coordinator Kelly Smith-Holbourn said.

“When women benefit, they share the benefits with their families and invest in their communities,” Ms Smith-Holbourn said.

According to the World Bank, women reinvest 90 per cent of their income in their families and communities.

Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation states women only need one-tenth of the increase to their income that men need to achieve the same level of improvement to a child’s nutrition and health.

It’s a long-term process, but research has highlighted its effectiveness that the UN describes the empowerment of women, particularly women in rural areas, as a “prerequisite for global food security.”

Despite producing up to 80 per cent of food in most developing nations, women own only one per cent of farmland.

CARE says rural women have the potential to bring 100 million people out of hunger if they were given the same access to resources – such as seeds, fertilizer and credit – as men.

Ms Smith-Holbourn says the inequalities and gender discrimination that women in developing countries face needs to be highlighted in order to demonstrate the positive effect that NGOs can deliver.

However, she also says she would like to see the media communicate the success stories of NGOs in a way that treats everybody involved with respect and as equals.

“I would love to see the media communicating success stories of NGOs, especially in a way that respects the rights and humanity of everyone involved,” she said.

“Disaster work is just one facet of what NGOs do … We are working to change the larger structures that have traditionally prevented women from reaching their full potential,” she said.

“So the work we are doing is changing the world.”

Ms Clement says NGOs often include their success stories on their website and social media because it’s important for donors to see how their money is making a difference to people’s lives.

However, she also says the positive stories of the millions of women whose lives have been transformed by aid are often forgotten by the mainstream media.

“From a media cycle perspective disaster is what makes the news,” she told Our World Today.

“The preparation for disaster or being able to have food security if there is a disaster probably doesn’t make the news as much, but I guess that’s just the nature of the media.”

As for the nine-year old girl in Cambodia, who is now 19 years old, Ms Clement says she will go on to have fewer children, and being educated, she is likely to invest more in their health and education.

“When I spoke to her she said she didn’t want to have as many children or get married early because she wanted to have the opportunity to earn her own income.”

That’s changing the world, one woman at a time.

Categories: human rights, news, women's issuesTags: , , , , , ,

Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.


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