SAN FRANCISCO – Every March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. This year, in order to commemorate the day and incite positive action just before the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals are to be implemented, 36 women from across the entertainment world lent their voices to a letter asking world leaders to help address gender-based poverty.
The celebrities, including Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Meryl Streep, are partnering with Bono’s anti-poverty network, ONE, to put public pressure on two leading political figures: Angela Merkel and Nkoszana Dlamini-Zuma.
German Chancellor Merkel and South Africa’s Minister of Health Dlamini-Zuma are being sent a letter and petition bearing over 58,000 signatures. Add your name to the petition and help ONE reach their goal of 100,000 signatures here.
Merkel and Dlamini-Zuma are ideal partners in putting poverty and gender equality on the international agenda, as they have already shown a commitment to addressing these issues in their home governments. Both leaders are expected to host key summits this summer, just before participating in the global summit on Sustainable Development Goals.
The letter challenges these leaders to use their political platform to push policies that empower women who traditionally bear the brunt of extreme poverty. It then goes on to summarize some of the worst injustices women in developing regions face—including not having a say in when and how often they give birth, not having property rights to land they farm and even not existing legally because their families never register them with the government.
The letter asks these leaders to use their influence to put women’s rights at the forefront of all poverty eradication policies. “Poverty is sexist,” the letter asserts, but correctly formed policies can level the playing field for women. Gender-conscious policies made now can ensure that all women are out of extreme poverty by 2030—the first step in bringing everyone out of poverty.
A wealth of research shows that addressing women is a necessary step in confronting poverty. Women who stay in school past seventh grade have, on average, 2.2 fewer children than women who do not. Extra income accrued to women is also much more likely to be recycled back into the family—girls and women spend 90 percent of their earned income on their families, while men spend only 30 to 40 percent.
The well-being of girls is also directly linked to the economy—when the number of girls attending school increases by just 10 percent, a country’s GDP increases by an average of three percent. Educated women are better equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to seek health care for themselves and their children. Research shows that educated women are able to take on roles as community health advisers, thereby raising the standard of health for entire villages. Not only are healthier individuals more productive at work—they are happier and more hopeful about the future.
Unfortunately, while improvements have been seen in areas such as primary school enrollment rates, women around the world continue to experience deeply rooted forms of oppression. 35 percent of all women have experienced some form of sexual assault. In Africa, women are responsible for about 70 percent of crop production while owning less than two percent of the land—just one of many ways in which women are not credited or compensated for the often extreme amounts of labor they contribute.
The fact is that the nature of gender equality is largely determined by wider economic and political conditions—“persistent conflicts, financial and economic crises, volatile food and energy prices, and climate change” can all deepen gender inequalities and make the experience of poverty that much more difficult for women.
With their letter and the petition campaign, ONE and the 36 inspiring women lending their voice to the cause hope to bring greater awareness to the relationship between gender and poverty. In doing so, they stand to make a serious positive impact on the way our governments approach poverty alleviation.
– Janie Ryan