Investing in women is the smart thing to do

With the celebrations and messages of International Women’s Day last week still reverberating, I thought I would devote this blog to reminding us why it is so important that we devote time, energy and resources to developing opportunities for women throughout the world. Justine Greening, the UK Government Secretary of State for International Development recently gave a speech in which she covered, eloquently, all bases, and I quote from it below. The whole speech can be read here; I leave her words below to speak for themselves.

And I wish you an ongoing Happy International Women’s Day. Here’s to a brighter, fairer future for all women throughout the world.

Investing in girls and women is the smart thing to do.

By unleashing their potential, we see incredible returns for girls and women themselves, for their families and communities, and for their economies and countries.

Some people have called it the Girl Effect:

In education, we know that getting girls through primary and secondary school works.

An extra year of primary schooling for girls increases their wages by up to 20% and for secondary school it’s even higher.

More time in education means that girls face a lower risk of sexual violence, they marry later, have fewer children, and have better health outcomes for the children they do have.

It’s better for them and their families and communities.

We know that when a woman generates her own income she re-invests 90% of it in her family and community.

And it’s better for their economies and countries.

In India, the states with more women in work have seen faster economic growth and the largest reductions in poverty.

In Pakistan, women entering the national parliament on a gender quota were able to work successfully across party lines on legislation relating to honour killing and acid crime control.

Countries with higher civic engagement and stronger attitudes towards equality and fairness towards women have significantly higher levels of per capita income in the long run.

But of course investing in girls and women isn’t only the smart thing to do, but also the right thing to do.

This is a matter of universal, basic human rights. It is about girls’ and women’s right to have control over their own bodies, to have a voice in their community and country; to live a life free of the fear of violence; to choose who to marry and when; it’s about their right to be in education, which gives them a chance of productive work, and a chance to choose how they spend that money they earn.

Locking out women isn’t just bad for an economy, it’s bad for a society. It seems common sense, but it’s still happening.

From the very start girls lose out.

They lose out at school, with less than one in five girls in sub-Saharan Africa making it to secondary school.

They lose out when they are married, with one third of girls in the developing world marrying before the age of 18, some as young as seven years old.

And when they have their first child, in spite of dramatic progress, medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth are still the leading cause of death amongst 15 to 19 year old girls worldwide. 

Women perform two thirds of the world’s work, produce half of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property.

More broadly, all too often a women’s place in their community and society is downgraded:

In 11 countries, the testimony of a woman carries less evidentiary weight in a court than that of a man.

And although women make up more than half the population, they represent only 20% of political leaders in the world […]

Perhaps most unacceptably, how women are physically treated is often underpinned by violence.

Around the world one in three girls and women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime. Perhaps this statistic is so shocking that it simply overwhelms us.

But we urgently need irreversible gains in the rights for girls and women and an end to violence against girls and women.

[…] these issues represent the greatest unmet challenges of our time, not some sideline issue. And we cannot turn a blind eye. Nearly one hundred years after women in Britain got the vote, 180 years after the abolition of slavery, gaining the most basic human rights for women around our world right now, remains perhaps the most profound human challenge the world has.

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