Women living in poverty in the developing world face many challenges. The statistics are grim across many issues. Women face physical violence — women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from violence inflicted by men than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. There are serious gaps in health care — 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in poor countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. And women are poorer than men — women account for 70 percent of people living below the poverty line.
There are many solutions that can change this dynamic. In fact, according to the World Bank one is already having an effect — increasing the level of education. Gender parity in education has been reached in 117 of the 173 countries surveyed for the 2011 Gender Equality and Development report. Female education is a key source of support for long-term economic growth. It has been linked to higher productivity, higher returns on investment and higher agricultural yields. The link between economic development and education are clear.
If we add another solution to the mix, women have an even better chance to move from oppression to opportunity — economic empowerment. If women are to have a voice in the direction of their lives, they need basic financial services, including savings and insurance. They need a way to save for school fees and to reduce the economic shocks that can remove a child from school in order to add to the family income. They need access to health care for the whole family because a woman will make sure everyone else in the family is healthy before tending to her own needs. Women also need access to the means of production — loans for small businesses or the ability to save for building a business. For women who have been shut out of the formal economy, the opportunity and the tools and means of production allow them to become economic agents for the first time.
At Women’s World Banking we are committed to ensuring that we close the economic access gap; currently more than 2.5 million people are excluded from the financial system. We work with institutions to create and design products that work for women and have the greatest financial and social impact. Women want confidential savings accounts that allow them to save without the whole family knowing how much she has and making demands on that money. Poor women value convenience – they want to make frequent deposits without taking time away from the family or business. They also value the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they can take care of basic health needs because they have insurance.
This is what we mean by economic empowerment — a solution to problems that doesn’t involve charity, but is truly sustainable. If we can ensure that women have access to a full suite of financial products and services, we can have a multiplier effect for improving the well-being of the whole family for generations.
If we are looking for ways to improve the lives of millions of women and girls, increasing levels of education and financial inclusion is the most logical solution.
This post originally appeared on the Half the Sky Movement blog.