Around the world, girls and women continue to suffer from a lack of economic opportunity, inadequate health care and education, early marriage, sexual violence, and discrimination. The good news is that empowering girls and women yields undeniable returns — for everyone in the community. In some countries greater investments in female education could raise GDP growth by 0.2 percent per year. By focusing on girls and women, innovative businesses and organizations can spur economic progress, expand markets, and improve health and education outcomes for everyone.
Opening Plenary participants on stage: President Bill Clinton, Founding Chairman, Clinton Global Initiative; 42nd President of the United States, Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland, and Eric Schmidt, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Google Inc. | Copyright: All rights reserved by Clinton Global Initiative (via Flickr)
In the day's kick-off opening plenary discussion, Finnish President Tarja Halonen shined as an example of a charismatic, intelligent and thoughtful female leader. President Clinton praised President Halonen for her excellent leadership, and cited Finland as an example to all countries for its success in having both a strong government and strong private sector. My personal favorite moment from President Halonen's time on stage came when she said something to the effect of "We cannot change the world just this morning, but we should start today." Yes.
Plenary: Girls and Women
While the opening plenary served to introduce all four action areas of this week's annual meeting, there was a special plenary session in the afternoon that focused only on women and girls. The Girl Effect premiered its excellent new video "The Clock is Ticking" to start the proceedings:
The plenary panel jumped right in to why it is so important to educate women. As Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan said, "Women who work inject 90% of their earnings back into their families. When you educate a woman you really do lift society." We need to "unleash the power of women to stimulate the economy; it’s as simple as that. You don’t need big infrastructure projects."
Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, also said that women’s empowerment is critical to creating sustainable communities. After all, "if we don’t support that empowerment and entrepreneurship, then how do we support our markets in those communities?" As an example of Coca-Cola's work, he spoke of their water harvesting program in India, which "liberates women" from the time and energy of carrying clean water miles to their homes and villages and allows them to build businesses. Sounds good, but does it work? Ellen Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, turned to Kent on stage and said "You've got a plant in Liberia and I'm going to make sure it works." Let's hear it for another woman president!
Plenary: Girls and Women participants on stage: Katie Couric, Anchor and Managing Editor, CBS Evening News, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, Muhtar Kent, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company | Copyright: All rights reserved by Clinton Global Initiative (via Flickr)
Preparing Girls for the World
There were three concurrent breakout sessions on empowering women and girls, and I chose to attend the "Preparing Girls for the World" session where Nicholas Kristof, of The New York Times moderated a panel including Shelly Esque, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and President of Intel Foundation, Intel Corporation, Helene D. Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA, Tanvi Girotra, Founder of Becoming I - The Foundation and G(irls) 20 2010 Delegate, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of The World Bank and former Finance Minister of Nigeria. The panel explored the need for culturally sensitive approaches that address the fact that:
In many parts of the world, adolescent girls are the most vulnerable demographic group. They are more likely than boys to be forced out of school, face alarming risk of sexual violence and exposure to HIV/AIDS, and often are pressed into early marriage. Moreover, cultural practices highly constrain adolescent girls' mobility and relationships, making it hard to reach them with important messages and support.
Breakout: Preparing Girls for the World participants on stage: Nicholas Kristof, Columnist, The New York Times, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, The World Bank, Tanvi Girotra, Founder, Becoming I - The Foundation; G(irls)20 2010 Delegate, Helene D. Gayle, President and Shelly Esque, Vice President, Corporate Affairs , CARE USA, and Shelly Esque, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and President, Intel Foundation, Intel Corporation. | Copyright: All rights reserved by Clinton Global Initiative (via Flickr)
Once again education was the big focus of the group. Ms. Esque said that Intel focuses on educating girls because "education is a long-term focus for business innovation and economic development." Ms. Gayle said that CARE focuses its investments in poverty on girls because "Girls and women make up the largest portion of those that are poor in the world; from a numerical standpoint that’s where we’ll make the greatest impact." Furthermore, educating girls creates an opportunity for lasting impact: "if you educate a girl you have lasting impact; you break the chain of inter-generational poverty. They’re likely to marry and child bare later, start a business..." etc.
In response to a question about the economic returns of investing in girls, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala cited a World Bank study in Kenya that showed that if you give men and women the same inputs for farming, the women were 40% more productive than men. However, she said that these statistics and others really shouldn't be the focus of the conversation as the time is past needing to justify the need for focusing on women, now we need to "focus on the how." During the Q & A, she stressed that "we have solutions" for addressing the global challenges faced by women and girls, and for addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we don't need to look for more answers. The key question, according to Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, should be "how do we scale things up?" especially when there is no money. This was the most intriguing point of the day for me, and I would have liked to hear more about when and where that conversation would take place!
Another great point from the panel was that boys and men are important to the success of empowering girls and women. As Ms. Gayle noted, "changing the lives of girls and women includes changing the lives of boys and men. A lot of the most successful work includes benefits for both." One participant suggested that there seems to be a "suspicion of men" behind the low level of funding for MDGs that specifically affect girls and women, and asked how we move beyond that. Ms. Gayle responded: "We have to keep coming back to the fact that this isn’t just the “right” thing to do, but also the “essential” thing to do for our other long-term security and economic goals." Ms. Esque agreed on the importance of attracting men to the cause: "We’re not going to achieve success without enrolling the men in our lives and powerful men in corporations. This [funding women empowerment projects] is absolutely a ‘bottom line issue'." There was recognition that more men are on board now than five years ago, as Ms. Gayle noted that there would have been only women in the room in the past, but now there were a number of men in the audience.
The most touching and disturbing account of the misfortune many women face in sex trafficking came from Ms. Girotra. She founded Becoming I - The Foundation in order to try to move girls out of the cycle of prostitution into education. She stressed that when she meets and works with women forced into prostitution in her home town in India, she always tries "to look at all the stories as personal stories; that it could have happened to me, but I was lucky." Because she was lucky enough to be born from educated parents who sent her to school she was lucky and didn't end up needing to sell her body. This small difference is what inspired her to work on educating girls over any number of other global and Indian issues. As she said: "I understand poverty, illiteracy, oppression, but I really don’t understand the need for a women to sell her body in order to send her children to school; that her only asset is her body."
Many of the speakers today talked about how for a lot of CGI attendees, perhaps, there isn't much of a need to convince them of the value in investing in and empowering girls and women, but that there is still an upward battle in making the idea mainstream. To that end they encouraged attendees to make the personal commitment to share the facts they learned during the day with friends, family and colleagues. The hope is that as the information spreads this issue won't have to be an "action area" for CGI anymore, because it will already be such a high priority for organizations and governments around the world. As President Clinton said in the morning opening plenary: "We always talk about fixes, and policies, and I like that...but why in 2010 do we even have to have these sessions on women and girls?...[I'd] challenge people to think about what is going on in their minds and hearts that this is still a problem in the world."
I very much want to support outreach on this issue, and hope the post above provides inspiration to learn more about how investing in and empowering women and girls is important, and a great way to solve many global challenges. (some resources for further reading are linked below).
Here is a link to the recommended reading for this issue put out by CGI.
Below is a compilation of solutions-based stories on empowering girls and women in the Worldchanging archives:
In 2007, a group of oyster harvesters organized themselves into a producer association called TRY Women's Oyster Harvesting Association. The founding members decided to call the organization TRY because it was an effort to do just that-try to improve the situation for oyster harvesters without much certainty that their work would pay off. After some initial success raising funds to buy boats, membership in TRY grew rapidly from 14 women in just one village to 500 oyster harvesters from 15 communities across the Greater Banjul Area. [...] Two years after its founding, TRY became linked with the USAID-funded Sustainable Fisheries Project, Ba Nafaa.
Sheryl WuDunn is an author, lecturer and the first Asian-American to win a Pulitzer Prize. She leads the social investing consultancy TripleEdge. Her new book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” focuses on the challenges of women around the world. [...] If the central challenge of the 19th century was slavery, and of the 20th century was totalitarianism, the challenge of the 21st century, WuDunn tells is, is achieving gender equity. Demographers tell us that there are 100 million missing women in the global population.
Women are likely to be hit harder by climate change than men due their social roles and the simple fact that a majority—as much as 70 percent—of the world’s poor are women. As a result, they are much more devastated by natural disasters than men. One researcher concludes that women are 14 times more likely than men to die in a natural disaster such as a tsunami. Experts predict climate change will only exacerbate such inequities. ¶ But over the last few years the increasing portfolio of climate solutions is beginning to include gender-sensitive approaches and women’s involvement. Observers realize that women need to be protected, engaged, and empowered for climate solutions to truly succeed. They also see that a vulnerable segment of the population is in fact one with mass potential to bring positive change. ¶ Women are a largely untapped resource that we must use to effectively and justly combat climate change. They need to be harnessed to prepare communities for global warming’s effects, particularly in developing countries where warming will have the most severe consequences.
I'd like to give my attention grant to Women's Earth Alliance. Three years ago I posted an interview on Worldchanging with Melinda Kramer about Women's Global Green Action Network. Since then, the organization has transformed into Women's Earth Alliance (WEA), and is being led by Co-Directors, Kramer and Amira Diamond. ¶ After interviewing Kramer and Diamond recently for the Big Vision Podcast (transcript available here), and going to their Women and Water event in March, I've become increasingly impressed with how they are trying to do international development work differently.
The organization I would suggest is called PROGRESS: "The Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society (PROGRESS) was established by Dr. Linda C. Babcock in 2006 to teach women and girls the value of negotiation." ¶ This skill would have changed my professional life dramatically. Their vision "to pursue gender equity and foster positive societal change for all women and girls through education, partnerships and research" is worldchanging.
Although women farmers produce more than half of the food grown in the world-and roughly 1.6 billion women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods-they are often not able to benefit from general agriculture funding because of the institutional and cultural barriers they face-including lack of access to land, lack of access to credit, and lack of access to education. Worldwide, women receive only about 5 percent of agriculture extension services and own about 2 percent of land worldwide. ¶ But research has shown that when women's incomes are improved, when they have better access to resources like education, infrastructure, credit, and health care, they tend to invest more in the nutrition, education, and health of their family, causing a ripple effect of benefits that can extend to the entire community.
Not only are women's rights essential to a vibrant society, but they are also essential to a healthy, viable environment. This week's cartoon describes why women's rights and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. Studies show that when given equal access to education and rights over their own bodies, women choose to have fewer children. Overpopulation is a serious issue, with huge implications for problems like climate change. By giving women rights we are investing in what Kim Stanley Robinson calls some of the best climate change technology available today. ¶ To get involved with the women's equal rights movement, check out the Global Fund for Women. This organization, led by the innovative Kavita Ramdas, is the largest independent foundation working to advance international women's human rights today. [image]
A group of people in Darlington, United Kingdom, decided to approach the problem of getting women on bikes by getting girls on bikes. The result is Beauty and the Bike, a multifaceted project -- a book, a documentary, and perhaps most excitingly, a bike-share program. Watch the short version of the film below. It's so wonderful to see how the girls move from skepticism about cycling to exhilaration about how "liberating" it is.
BB: You said that the advisers you have are always giving you the lay of the land to tell you what are the issues that are most pressing, or which areas need the most assistance. What are those issues or areas right now that you are seeing really need the most help?
KR: I think a major concern, from the very founding of the Global Fund, has remained a concern despite the fact that this year we celebrate our 20th anniversary of grant making, and that is access to the financial resources necessary to take the work that women do on a daily basis in their communities to the next level of impact. ¶ One example of that I could give is that the organizations that we fund, collectively in the last 20 years have access to maybe annually something like 75 million dollars (philanthropic dollars) that they have the ability to use and pour into the work that they are doing. ¶ If you compare that to the budgets that we spend in just one day on fighting a war in Iraq, or the cost of an F16 fighter jet, you get some sense of how inordinately skewed those are. But even if you don't compare it to those kinds of investments, but simply investments in philanthropy, a recent study that just came out from the Foundation Center showed that it is about 5.8 to 5.9% of total philanthropic resources each year that actually directly go to benefit women and girls, and that includes both domestic and international grant making. ¶ When you think about the 90 billion odd dollars that go each year in support of philanthropy, you can see that there is still a lot of work to be done. So that is one critical area, just simply access to the resources themselves.
Right now, thousands of girls are being forced to choose between humiliation and health risks at school or a lifetime of poverty, illiteracy, and diminished choices. Yes, in an ideal world, it would be better for women to rely on local sources for sanitation and toilet facilities. In an ideal world, it would be better for women to use sanitary napkins made of local materials that could be reused. In an ideal world, there would be no stigma associated with menstruation in Africa, and girls wouldn't have to hide in shame when they hit puberty. But at the moment, campaigns to hand out free, Western-made sanitary supplies and build toilets and water pipes with Western money offer girls opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have had--to finish school, learn to read, and maybe live better lives than those of their parents. With those opportunities, perhaps they can design sustainable, local systems to help girls get through school without the involvement of Western corporations like Proctor & Gamble. But raising awareness, eliminating stigmas, and providing desperately needed supplies isn't a bad start.
Experts attribute female feticide and sex-selective abortion to the poor status of women in India, the high cost of paying a dowry when a woman is married, and the fact that the Hindu, Muslim, and Christian cultures in India regard the birth of a boy as especially auspicious. ¶ The latest proposal to eliminate sex-selective abortions, made by India's Minister of Women and Health a few weeks before President Patil took office, is a misguided attempt to require every pregnant woman in India to register their pregnancy in a massive database. Thereafter, a woman could only get an abortion for a "valid and acceptable" reason. Indian reproductive rights activists are hopeful that Patil -- who has cited "empowering women" as crucial to empowering the nation -- will look at holistic solutions that empower women to take control of their own reproductive health... ¶ In Uganda, Population Service International, a nonprofit that works to address health issues faced by low-income and vulnerable populations in developing nations, recently launched a campaign against cross-generational sex in Kampala, with the goal of fighting the spread of HIV in young girls and women. The campaign will focus on universities and secondary schools across Uganda.
GirlGuiding UK--the largest organization for girls in the UK, with more than half a million members--recently conducted a survey of more than 1,000 Senior Guides (age 16 to 25) to find out what skills they most wanted to master as part of their Guide experience. ¶ The results? The Girl Guides' top concerns were money management (named by 93 percent of Guides), learning to perform CPR (named by 85 percent), and practicing safe sex (named by 80 percent.) Also on the Guides’ agenda: Producing a high-quality resume (66 percent) and learning to assemble flat-pack furniture (55 percent).
In 1996, President Clinton convened a meeting of labor, manufacturers, consumer groups and activists and challenged those assembled to ensure that globalization didn’t mean a race to the bottom. Companies didn’t feel it was their responsibility for labor standards in the supply chain – everyone else felt that they couldn’t shirk that responsibility. Eventually, they agreed on a common set of standards, a code of conduct, and made it part of the supply contracts. “They harnessed the power of the contract – private power – to make public goods.” ¶ Van Heerden points out that the contract from a major manufacturer is much more powerful than local authority. Most of these manufacturers never see an inspector. If they did, they’d bribe him. If they got fined, the fine would be tiny in comparison to profits. ¶ This method doesn’t come naturally to multinational companies – their goal is profit. But they’re very efficient, and if they can get this right, it’s an incredibly powerful model. The best chance that a 15 year old girl in Bangladesh isn’t abused by her employer – we hope she’s working for a major multinational corporation that’s signed a code of conduct. And we don’t just trust – we trust, but verify, and we inspect the facility of organizations that sign onto these codes of conduct. “You don’t need to believe me, you shouldn’t believe me, you should go to the website, read the audit” and see for yourself.
Women will bear the greatest burden of a changing climate but so far have received little attention from negotiators working toward a new global climate deal, according to the 2009 edition of the United Nations Population Fund's State of World Population..."This is the first report in which a United Nations agency has connected climate change to human population and the status of women," Engelman said. "Its main finding-that investing in women and erasing the constraints on their achievement will slow climate change and build social resilience-is powerful and hopeful." [...] "We can't successfully confront climate change if we neglect the needs, challenges, and potential of half the people on this planet," said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid in a UNFPA release announcing the State of the World Population report. "If we are really serious about halting climate change, then we must get serious about eliminating inequalities between the sexes and empowering women to persevere in our warming world."
The Girl Effect: This beautiful video elaborates on the one solution that could turn our sinking ship around. We couldn't agree more. (JL)
In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has mobilized women across Kenya to plant trees – and has paid them to do so. The Movement has since planted more than 30 million trees, and was recently depicted in the documentary Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai. Maathai has been a fearless activist and spokesperson for issues including women's economic rights, poverty and education. She was elected to Kenya's parliament by an overwhelming majority vote in December 2002, and served as Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife from 2003 until 2007. ¶ Earlier this year, she released her third book, The Challenge for Africa, in which she puts forth realistic but ambitious strategies for Africans to end a decades-long cycle of corruption, poverty, ignorance, environmental degradation and other deep-rooted problems.
There are no simple steps worth caring about. We'll only head off disaster by taking steps -- together -- that are massive, societal and thorough. Most of what needs to be done involves political engagement, systems redesign, and cultural change. It can't be done in an afternoon and then forgotten about. ¶ So screw the little things. Here are 10 big, difficult, world-changing concepts we can get behind. [...] 5. EMPOWER WOMEN: Equality for women is more than a justice issue. By giving women equal rights we also help create a more sustainable world. Research shows that women who have access to education and rights over their own bodies choose to have fewer children, who they can give more to. Overpopulation is a serious issue, with huge implications for problems like climate change. By giving women rights we are investing in what Kim Stanley Robinson calls the some of the best climate change technology available today. ¶ Problems This Helps Solve: Empowering women through education, health care and economic opportunity is the number one way to stabilize and eventually decrease overpopulation, a “driving force behind some of today's most serious problems, including climate change and rising food prices," according to Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin. Having the human numbers stop growing -- reaching peak population -- at the earliest humanely possible moment will make nearly every other problem we face easier to solve.
"It makes sense that those who bear children and do most of the work in raising them should have the final say in when, and when not, to do so," Engelman said. "By making their own decisions based on what's best for themselves and their children, women ultimately bring about a global good that governments could never deliver through regulation or control: a population in balance with nature's resources."
The annual mobilisation of women around the world around the theme of "16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence" from 25 November - 10 December 2007 represents a tremendous global effort to increase awareness of violence against women in all its forms. In light of the 2007 theme - demanding implementation, challenging obstacles - this article looks at the issue of domestic violence from the perspective of African experience, and examines the impact of attempts to address it by legal means. It poses three questions: [...] 1) What are the similarities and differences in the experiences of African countries that have attempted to pass domestic-violence legislation? 2) What lessons have been learned in the process? 3) How do attempts to pass such laws connect to the lived realities of ordinary women?
Maternal mortality -- death due or related to childbirth or pregnancy -- is the leading cause of death among women in Afghanistan. The maternal death rate in Afghanistan is the second-highest in the world; only Sierra Leone's is higher. For every 100,000 women who go into labor in Afghanistan, about 1,900 die. According to UNICEF, one in nine women in Afghanistan will die during or shortly after pregnancy at some point in her lifetime. (By comparison, the maternal mortality rate in the US and Japan is eight per 100,000 births.) Infants whose mothers die in childbirth have only a one in four chance of surviving, so the high maternal death rate threatens women and children alike. ¶ Most of these deaths are preventable, the product of unsanitary conditions, poorly maintained roads, limited access to health care, forced marriages, lack of education, poor nutrition and sanitation, and a fundamentalist religious regime that, even in the post-Taliban era, prohibits women from seeing a male doctor or health care practitioner and limits them largely to the home. ¶ One glimmer of hope can be found in recent efforts to train hundreds of Afghan midwives.
As its name suggests, there’s something missing from the logo for NEED, a Minneapolis-based global magazine debuting this week. The word’s first E is gone, and the negative space left behind looks a bit like an electrical plug. Given the publication’s mission of showcasing organizations addressing human need worldwide and offering a way for readers to plug into great causes, it’s smart design. [...] The 120-page first issue is packed with stories, conveyed mainly through images...[including one about] the International Justice Mission’s work rescuing Southeast Asian girls forced into prostitution.
Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the sort of visionary African leader everyone on stage and in the crowd would wish for Africa. [...] The Chinese are so popular in Africa, she tells us, because they don’t shy away from infrastructure. She talked with the Chinese ambassador, who told her that to develop, “You need infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure and discipline.” Okonjo-Iweala wants this infrastructure and discipline to create jobs, especially for women, who will use this support to support their families and their societies.