Sunday, August 03, 2014

How To Change The World # 5: Empowered Girls and Women Improve Overall Wellbeing of their Families, Their Villages, and Their Countries

Image of young girl from petition site,

Q: Describe at least two examples from different parts of the world in which building capacity for women and girls has turned out to be an effective strategy of enhancing health and well-being for a society more generally.

A: According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of U.N. Women and former deputy president of South Africa in video on women's economic empowerment, a change that empowers women (such as education, where historically culture and religion made it unavailable for women, or providing her with small loans to start a busin
ess) leads to women (1) finding their voice, (2) gaining independence,  and (3) ascending to leadership roles, both in civil society and in government. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed that these, and especially the third point, gives women the power to make changes on the ground, resulting in benefits that affect both men and women: the eradication of hunger and poverty.

I saw two particular examples of this. One example is presented by Jasmine Shah, in his article on Policy Can Bridge Gender Gap (March 23, 2013). Professor Robert Jensen of the MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab conducted a randomized control test to see if seeding a community with job opportunities, particularly for women (business process outsourcing or BPO job, specifically) would result in better outcomes for girls. The study worked. Young qualified women were more likely to employed by the BPO (by 5 percentage points). School enrollment for girls increased significantly (closing out 60% of the boy-girl gap in education). The study also resulted in better nutrition and health for girls. The study also resulted in young women showing a desire to work for pay outside of their homes (by 12 percentage points) which resulted in these women not marrying or giving birth within the three-year period of the intervention. This phenomenon will most likely lead to better economic prospects for the entire village (more income going into families because both men and women are getting jobs) and better well-being for the family with both boys and girls getting health care and nutrition.

Another example is the phenomenon of how women influenced the economic growth of Brazil, leading to better health and well-being for all its citizens. This was not in our assigned readings but I was very much interested in what happened in Brazil as I was researching about the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill in the Philippines. In the article by Cynthia Gorney in National Geographic (September 2011), she traces how a mix of female empowerment and steamy soap operas led to lower fertility rates and created the foundation for a new vibrant economy. Women, even though they were mostly Catholic, flouted their own religion and started getting tubal ligations or other kinds of contraception. “Everyone was doing it,” said one interviewee. This led to smaller families and better health and nutrition among the fewer children that these women were raising. According to the article, within two generations, Brazil’s fertility dropped from 6 children per family in the 60s to 2.36 in 2000 and to only 1.9 per family in 2010. Smaller family size has been credited for boosting the economies rapidly developing countries such as Brazil.

I’m not even talking about Scandinavian countries where women form roughly half of the legislative bodies of their governments. These countries (like Sweden and Norway) have high social security nets and they have some of the highest rates of wellbeing across the globe. It is clear from these examples that when women are empowered, they improve not only the health and nutrition of their populations but they improve the overall wellbeing of their families, their villages, their communities, and their countries.

Note: I am currently taking up a course boldly called How To Change The World offered by Wesleyan University (offered for free through and taught by Wesleyan University President, Michael S. Roth. It tackles major issues facing humanity and it is based on discussions brought up during the 2013 Social Good Summit in NY. I am putting up all my assignments on my blog as well.

No comments:

Search This Blog