MURFREESBORO, Tennessee — A recent CNN report claimed that the rise of extremist groups such as Boko Haram is directly related to poverty and the gender gap in the developing world.
The report was written by Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive Religious Director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and president of the Islamic Society of North America, and Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide.
Magid and Sharma stated that extremist groups thrive in areas struck by poverty as desperation drives the population to provide for itself in any way it can.
“Boko Haram got its start in Maiduguri back in 2002, a place where most live on the equivalent of less than $2 a day. People here struggle constantly to find enough to feed, clothe, and house their families, and so it is little wonder that the local population is disillusioned, and in some cases tempted by misleading promises of something better.”
Tackling global poverty is a daunting task, but it is far from impossible. So how is it done? In their report, Magid and Sharma offered a solution: educate women and girls and reduce the gender gap.
Each additional year of education adds 10 percent to an individual’s lifetime earnings, allowing those individuals to provide for themselves and their families. An increase in literacy rates between 20 and 30 percent leads to an increase in GDP of 8 to 16 percent.
“In short, education expands economic and political stability, and leads to stronger democracies.”
The World Bank also suggested recently that closing the gender gap in both education and the workforce can help alleviate global poverty.
In the “Gender at Work” report, part of the World Development Report on Jobs, World Bank researchers estimated that adding more women to the workforce could potentially increase GDP in Egypt by 34 percent, in United Arab Emirates by 12 percent, in South Africa by 10 percent and in Japan by 9 percent.
“Jobs boost self-esteem and pull families out of poverty. Yet gender disparities persist in the world of work. Closing these gaps, while working to stimulate job creation more broadly, is a prerequisite for ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity,” stated Matthew Morton, a representative of the World Bank.
According to the report, nearly half of women’s productive potential goes unused, compared to about 22 percent of the productive potential for men. The participation of women between ages 15 and 64 in the labor force has decreased from 57 to 55 percent around the world. In some areas, such as the Middle East and North Africa, participation is as low as 25 percent.
A pay gap of between 10 and 30 percent exists between men and women, and is likely due to the fact that female workers around the world end up in lower-productivity jobs with less opportunity for advancement. Legal discrimination also prevents women from working or advancing in the workforce; of 143 surveyed countries in 2013, 128 had at least one legal differentiation, while 15 legally required that a woman possess her husband’s consent to work.
To combat gender inequality, the World Bank suggested a four part system of action. First, they acknowledged the need to include gender in jobs diagnostics to identify the challenges faced by women in or entering the workforce. They also noted the need for government support of women at all stages of life, both before working age to fight biases that develop early on, and after with social protection.
The World Bank is calling for innovation within the private sector to increase the number of women in the workforce, as it accounts for the vast majority of jobs in countries such as Brazil, Chile, Japan and South Africa. They recognized the need to increase awareness on the harms of gender inequality in the workforce and spread solutions for these problems.