Wouldn’t it be great to find a magic bullet – a simple, easy, no fail solution – to end global poverty? If I had to pick one intervention – the greatest lever for social change – my professional recommendation would be to empower women.
I’m drawing on my 25 years’ experience as international development consultant, in which I’ve done 60+ assignments for the UN, aid agencies and international NGOs. I’m not the only one who recognises this: the International Finance Corporation (IFC) says that “women are the major catalyst for development”. The world has set an ambitious target of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2010 (SDG 5) and the UN secretary general recently set up the first High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
There are hundreds of reasons why empowering women is the key that can unlock global development. Here are my top five.
1. Empowering women develops nations. The benefits of implementing this solution go beyond the immediate effect on the lives of women; women’s incomes help improve their lives, those of their children, family, community, and lift the local and national economies through the multiplier effect. Women invest an average of 90% of their income in their families, communities and local economies. while men invest 10-30%. Higher investments lead to substantial improvements in education, nutrition, health, and social development indicators.
2. Women drive the global economy. “Forget China, India and the Internet: global economic growth is driven by women,” declared The Economist, back in 2006. Women control 70% of the global spend ($20 trillion in 2011, and this is growing). Women own more businesses worldwide and are starting up more businesses at a faster rate. And advancing women’s equality will add $12 trillion to global growth.
3. Women are resilient. A recent study found that male-led banks were 6-7 times more likely to fail than female-led ones in the US. The only bank in Iceland that didn’t fail during the 2008 economic crisis was run by women. And when a blizzard swept through Washington DC in January this year, only women turned up to run the United States’ Senate.
4. Women in political leadership leads to stronger democracies and peace. Countries with increased women’s participation and leadership in civil society and political parties tend to be more inclusive, responsive, egalitarian, and democratic. “When women meaningfully participate in peace processes, they can help to expand the scope of agreements and improve the prospects for durable peace,” reports USAID.
5. Women-led companies perform better. Numerous studies show that companies with gender diversity on boards and management experience improved performance and profitability. One study tracked performance of a period of five years, and revealed that companies with three or more women on their corporate boards outperformed those with no women on the board by 42% on return on sales, 66% on return on invested capital and 53% on return on equity.
Empowering women is not only the most logical thing to do to combat global poverty, it’s also the right thing to do. It is 2016 – well past the time when women should no longer be disproportionately marginalised, ignored, oppressed and subjected to violence. It’s time for change. That’s why I’m going to do all I can to empower women: you can join me in launching the Social Enterprise Sisterhood.
Juliet Le Breton is a global changemaker, empowering women to grow their enterprises and give back to help social change.