The face of poverty in the world is a woman, and dare I say that it is a black woman. Lifting her out of poverty and empowering her, instantly improves the world. It changes it for the better. Who would not want to live in a better world?
It all starts with biology, where the human species is divided into two. One has an X and Y chromosome and its sex named Male; while the other has two X chromosomes and the sex named Female. It is from there that society begins to construct the concept of gender. What it means to be male and what it means to be female. “There is no society in the world where sex and gender are not socially significant.” Maree, Ditmars (2017:86).
Most countries have a female share of the population between 49 and 51 percent (within one percentage point of parity), but society in general has treated women and the non-male gender as inferior in terms of resources, equal opportunities and basic human rights.
Throughout the years many treaties were signed, and development goals set, to correct the injustices being suffered by the exclusion of women in world economics and other sectors of importance. To this day 42 years after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the topic of women empowerment is still high on the agenda and debated in many world forums.
For a world that considers itself connected (Globalisation), progressive and modern; Our actions when it pertains to women leaves a lot to be desired. When you consider that Women, on average, live longer than men; The world should appreciate and nurture the most resilient of the human species. If not for nothing, for its longevity and survival.
This world that is setup for men, deprives us of many different products and possibilities that we could have enjoyed and benefited from as a human race, economically and otherwise. Men create and shape the world according to their world views, regardless of the diverse background and cultures of the men at helm of societies and the men who make decisions that impact and shape the world and our futures, there will always be a limitation. A drawback that is inherent, it is biology, men have an X and Y chromosome while females have two X chromosomes.
This is a significant and relevant realisation. Women are different to men and therefore the human species deserves their input in shaping itself to be worthy of being called developed and humane.
Not having this input and perspective can have dire consequences to our livelihood and quality of life as seen in these examples from the World Economic Forum:
- Women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because safety features are designed for men.
- Women in rural parts of Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water.
- 22% of AI professionals are women — and it could be down to lack of confidence.
Even though the pace of progress has been painfully slow, one cannot ignore the winds of change. There are pockets of good stories that sometime garner worldwide recognition and accolades, further accelerating and inspiring change in societies and governments they would not be able to reach otherwise.
One of those examples is the story of Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank.
- Here was a person who was dedicating his life to eliminating poverty and who had been able to transform an experimental project to lend money to the poorest of the poor into a huge and thriving bank, the Grameen Bank, with millions of borrowers across Bangladesh.
- His model of small loans to the poor, or microcredit, has been so successful that people have come from all over the world to sit at the feet of the Bangladeshi banker and learn from him.
- and in 2006, Yunus achieved worldwide recognition when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
He lent small amounts of money to poor rural villagers in India and noticed that that not only do the poor pay back their loans even without any collateral, but also they pay back at rates far higher than the 60% rate that was typical of commercial banks. The poor in this story, like most stories around the world are women.
He discovered that women used loans to improve the situation of their family more often than men did, so he focused on lending almost exclusively to women. This key discovery has led to a microcredit revolution and has played a part in the development of poor villagers throughout India and the world.
When he started out, only 2% of bank borrowers in Bangladesh were women. In the 1980s, women in Bangladeshi villages spent their lives in the confines of their family compounds and many had never even touched money. As the years passed, Yunus succeeded in attracting women so that today 98% of the Bank’s borrowers are women. Locating his branches in remote villages, he brought the bank to the people rather making them travel to the larger towns and cities.
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons why empowering women is good for development comes from the world’s richest woman.
MacKenzie Scott found herself in July 2019, after her divorce from Jeff Bezos, with 4% of Amazon’s stock. She was a single woman in her 50th year with about a $38 billion net worth. Since then Amazon’s share price has grown, so estimates of her wealth are even higher, something like $57 billion. And that’s after giving $5.9 billion away.
People have given away that much before. But not usually so fast. Or without starting a foundation first. Or without any of the recipients asking for it or even knowing in advance. Or with so few strings attached; the organizations can use the money in any way they see fit.
One of the beneficiaries of her largesse, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), got an amount, $30 million, that was 3,000% the size of any other gift in its history. A community college in Nebraska got $15 million, equal to its entire endowment. The Charlotte, N.C., YMCA got $18 million, enough to make its CEO burst into tears.
According to Candid, an organization that tracks spending in the charitable sector, Mackenzie Scott was responsible for 20% of all the COVID-19-related philanthropic funds given away globally last year, and almost 75% of those given by individuals. More than half of the money given to BIPOC communities by rich people last year came from her.
She is single-handedly rewriting the philanthropy business world and how it has been known to operate.
Cindy Gallop says: “You just set out to make as much money as possible, because we don’t get taken seriously until we get taken seriously financially.”
MacKenzie Scott is not finished, in fact it looks like she is only just beginning. In her letter to The Giving Pledge — a movement of philanthropists who commit to giving most of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes, either during their lifetimes or in their wills — she says:
We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand. In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.
There is an indiscriminatory nature to her charity. As if she sees the world differently. This is amazing to witness and experience, and she inspires other women with and without means to share their perspective with the world, not because it will make them feel worthy or fulfilled but because the world desperately needs it.
We have seen that uplifting women automatically uplifts societies as women are the face of the poor in the world; and neglecting them has dire consequences for society in terms of products and technologies that we use daily with the aim of improving our lives, such as toxic social media applications and bad product designs that cause loss of life.
We also got a glimpse of what is possible when women have the economic means at their disposal, a mere 4% of Amazon stock in the hands of a woman has changed the world of philanthropy not just for good but for the better.
In conclusion, a world without women participation is akin to half a world. Why would anyone or anything want to half exist when you can be fulfilled?
Women Empowerment is imperative to human development and sustainability.