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Integration and empowerment of women can break the cycle of poverty and discrimination

Judith from Rwanda took out a microfinance loan from VisionFund after taking in her nephew Moses who had been abandoned. By trading fruit and expanding her business, she has managed to feed and clothe Moses and send him to school. Photo: VisionFund.On Friday (March 15), the UN Commission on the Status of Women ratified a declaration entitled ‘End Violence Against Women’, matching the theme of International Women’s Day, which was marked earlier in the month. VisionFund’s Dianne Lowther writes about the place of women in the fight against poverty.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” It was another reminder of women’s central role in society and the hardships that too many women face. The World Bank states that violence can be both a result and a cause of poverty and women and children are among those worse affected.

According to the United Nations, women bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty as they are more likely to be poor and at risk of hunger due to discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and control of assets.

Some estimates suggest that women make up 70% of the World’s Poor and headlines, even in developed countries, indicate that many women face wage gaps compared with their male counterparts. Not only are they often paid less but they can also be relegated to unsafe and low salaried work. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, approximately 8 out of 10 women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment.

However when these women are given a chance at engaging in economic development, it can have a hugely positive impact on helping families to climb out of poverty. Aid organisations the world over have marvelled at women’s fortitude and determination to strive for their families and build a better future.

VisionFund International, the microfinance partner of humanitarian charity World Vision, has seen exactly this. It’s no coincidence that the majority of its clients are women. It typically works in some of the poorest areas in the world including former war zones, areas struck by natural disaster and the rurally isolated.

One example that typifies women’s spirit is in Rwanda, a country ravaged by war, where VisionFund’s client Judith took in her nephew Moses, who was literally left on the street by his parents. Although she struggled financially, she was determined to give her nephew a better life. She came to VisionFund ten years ago, scarcely able to put food on the table and took out her first microfinance loan. With that loan she bought and sold fruit in her village. Paying off the loan, she took out further loans to expand her market business which provided her with enough funds to not only feed and clothe her nephew, but to also send him to school and ensure a brighter future for him than she had had herself.

Women are so important to building a sustainable society, not just on the scale of Judith and Moses, but on a much larger scale. The UN recognizes that sustainable human development cannot be achieved without gender equality. It states that in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, we need to make tangible progress with regard to gender equality and women’s empowerment – not just to achieve the gender equality goal, but also in order to achieve the full range of millennium goals.

Time and again it has been noted that when women play a greater role in society and are integrated meaningfully into the workforce, society feels the benefits and the level of social well-being drastically increases. With the empowerment of women, outcomes for children in terms of their health and education are greatly improved and this has to go far in breaking the poverty cycle and creating more sustainable futures for all.

Dianne Lowther is the Communications Director at VisionFund International. VisionFund offers small loans and other financial services to families in the developing world living in poverty. Its network of microfinance institutes spans 36 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and Eastern Europe. VisionFund is part of World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation.

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