Peace, Poverty, and Women’s Work
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
It’s Blog Action Day 08! This year’s topic is poverty—and that gives us 72 hours (or fewer, depending on where in the world you’re located and when you start reading this blog) to do our part before the 2008 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Friday, October 17th. On this day every year we have the opportunity to raise awareness about world poverty issues, and especially to recognize the actions people living in poverty are taking to overcome it.
The Blog Action Day campaign has a massive list of activities so each of us, wherever we are, can make a concrete contribution towards eradicating poverty. One theme throughout the list will come as no surprise to the readers of this blog: empower women. According to World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, “Investing in young women is one way to break the intergenerational pattern of poverty . . . It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also going to be smart economics.”
This year marks the midway point to 2015, our target date for accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). And how much progress have we made? Gender equality is an essential determining factor for each MDG, yet UNIFEM reports: “the areas where progress has been slowest are women’s empowerment and gender equality.” The holdup comes not from a lack of well-intentioned language, but in the implementation of orders and resolutions related to women’s rights—something we’ve seen in the peace and security field as well as in economic development.
The 455th session of the Salzburg Global Seminar met last month with exactly this goal: to narrow the gap between policy and implementation on the full and equal participation of women and civil society in peace processes. This week, their final list of recommendations for more inclusive peace processes at all levels, from grassroots to the highest levels of the UN, was released. One practical step we can all take today is passing on that list of women’s empowerment recommendations to another person we know we works in, or cares about, women’s rights and development.
The alternative to implementing just policies that recognize women’s equal rights is a tragic and all too familiar story: another teenage girl from an impoverished family is violated by a man close to her family, and they can’t decide whether to defend or abandon their daughter. Now is the time for us to learn from these stories and put into action the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women’s contribution to peace-building, just as the Open Cage drama series is doing on Ugandan radio stations. Let’s stop the cycle of violence, stop the cycle of poverty, and put those good intentions into action.
When girls are educated, they marry later and have fewer, healthier children. This changes the shape of the population curve and, with fewer dependents per worker, facilitates economic growth. This is the Girl Effect. Girls’ education provides perhaps the single highest return on investment in the developing world.
This week the 2008 Global Hunger Index was released, counting more than 920 million who go hungry every day. To address this, and to deliver the core public services that will meet the Millennium Development Goals, we need an adequate cadre of health workers, teachers, engineers, planners, and law enforcement officials. Girls as well as boys must be adequately educated and trained today to prepare them for later economic and civic life—and young women must be given adequate opportunities to contribute to and participate in public life.
In another view of our progress toward the MDGs, a report out this week from the Brookings Institution calls the goals unfair to Africa, arguing that “the MDGs are poorly and arbitrarily designed to measure progress against poverty and deprivation, and that their design makes Africa look worse than it really is.” At the very least that leaves us all with ample food for thought.
For a few other great (and small) things people like us are doing to help eradicate poverty, check out the profiles of these young social innovators. Maybe you’ll find the inspiration you need to make poverty history. Don’t forget to give us your feedback in the comments section of this blog!