Empowering Women & Girls – A Worthwhile Investment
Earlier this month, the Million Moms Challenge spoke with Carla Koppell, Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), below is the second part of our eye-opening conversation.
MMC: As a mother, what has your career in international development and traveling around the world taught you?
Carla: The more countries I visit, the more I see how much we all have in common. Every mother I’ve met shares the desire to provide a better life for her kids. This is also true for fathers. In fact, if you want to sell the issue of gender equality to a man, talk about his daughters. We all want them to be healthy, educated, and have opportunities for a better life. Everyone in the world wants that for our families and our communities.
MMC: What roles do mother’s play in empowering women and girls?
Carla: Motherhood often gives women more status in their communities. For example, communities of Pakistani women have come together to counter violent extremism by speaking with their sons about values and morals. Their encouragement or discouragement can be very powerful.
Motherhood is also very important for economic empowerment. In many cultures, once a woman becomes a mother, she has more influence over the household and makes key decisions about food, education and healthcare. In one humanitarian relief program in Kenya, local women were included in community planning decisions and their input led to distribution of products like rice instead of maize and beans. Rice takes less time to cook and, as a result, less time was needed to gather wood for the fire. This not only freed up time for women and children, it reduced the environmental impact of wood collection for fuel. Empowering women can improve household well-being with positive, multiplying effects on the well-being of societies.
MMC: Why is investing in women important?
Carla: Women are an enormous, under-tapped resource. There is significant and growing proof that we can get more ‘bang for our buck’ in development programs when we focus on women. Mothers especially have great influence often as heads of households and small business owners. Research suggests that women often reinvest up to 90% of what they earn in their families.
Among member of the Maasai tribe in Kenya, working with cattle has typically been a male dominated role. However, in one village I visited last year, women had become involved. They used their spending money to pay the school fees of the families in the community who couldn’t afford it. When I asked the men in the village what they thought of women working in areas originally dominated by men, they were accepting of the change and appreciated that their income increased as a result. It hadn’t occurred to them to involve women in non-traditional ways. This shows why it is so important to work with all members of communities to break through cultural barriers and promote development.
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