Empowering women to end worldwide poverty

By Shannon Keough
April 23, 2009

Zenebech Gashaw, like many other women in Ethiopia, gets up at 4:30 a.m., prepares breakfast for her husband and children, walks the children to school, which takes up to an hour and a half, and then works all day cooking, fetching water and cleaning. At dinner, women like Gashaw feed their husband first, children second and themselves last, which often leaves them with no food.

Women being a low priority is the condition of many women around the world. Women in countries all over the world, especially in Africa and Latin America, are often seen as unequal to men, are rarely educated and are often the targets of rape and abduction in unstable areas.

Finding ways to empower women is the focus of a world-wide movement now. Bridget Flynn, senior special education and Spanish major, experienced the empowerment of women firsthand as a 2008 CRS International Intern in Ethiopia. She explained that Ethiopia a very male-dominated country and Flynn saw women like Zenebech everyday.

Flynn said girls are often not educated because they are needed to stay home and help the women with chores. Even for girls who are able to attend school, it is an extremely dangerous journey.

“A girl would take a 10-mile walk to high school with fear of getting raped or abducted [along the way] or raped at school by her teacher, and she would still go. I complain that the line at the caf is so long, but really what am I complaining about? I have nothing in this world that I can complain about,” Flynn said.

Educating women allows them to live up to their full potential, help countries grow economically and improve the health and well-being of all people.

Women who are educated not only learn skills for various trades, but receive knowledge about diseases to improve the health of people living in developing countries.

Organizations working on women’s issues understand that one cannot fight poverty effectively unless women are educated and empowered.

“Every time someone makes that decision to say instead, ‘Today I’ll go to school,’ or instead, ‘Today I’ll feed my child first’ or instead ‘Today I won’t let my daughter be hurt by anybody,’ you know anytime that decision is made, it’s a step closer to empowerment for them [women],” Flynn said.

Education is the key, according to experts in women’s empowerment.

“I can’t give someone empowerment, but I can give them the tools to empower themselves, and education is certainly one of the biggest tools one can use to empower themselves,” Abiosseh Davis, project associate for the Global Women’s Project at the Center of Concern and a speaker at Cabrini’s Founder’s Day, said.

Currently, about one fifth of the world’s adult population-771 million adults-do not have basic literacy skills; at least two-thirds of these are women.

In March 2009, the U.S. State Department declared a new position of special ambassador on global women’s issues in order to consolidate all work dealing with women and to raise greater awareness that international women’s rights are a critical component to the U.S. foreign policy.

Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services create programs that work to gather women together and give them access to opportunities, education, economic means and in some cases technology, so that they are able to improve their lives and move beyond the restrictions they are presently in.

“One should empower women because women have the right to be empowered, simply because we are human beings. We’re here and we’re productive members of society, so really the biggest benefit is that we are creating a more just and equal society when we empower women,” Davis said.

While empowerment may seem intangible, it can be achieved and is essential to the development of a nation. “Once you raise the standard of life for women, you’re also raising the standard of life for those children she cares for and also for her own country,” Arlene Flaherty, justice and peace liaison for CRS, said.

Flaherty said, “To the extent that we can educate women is the extent to which we can empower and mobilize women. Once women are empowered and mobilized and are contributing fully their gifts and their abilities to their families, and also to their nations, then justice and development will occur.”

Shannon Keough

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