Ok….so what does one say to all that?
My initial reaction was: “Wow, what a wonderful initiative!” Having worked in microfinance with indigenous Quechua women of Peru, I definitely understand the focus on girls because I witnessed it. Women are a segment of the population that remain invisible in the developing world. However, due to the inherent nature of being women (i.e.; future mothers, wives and caretakers), it is exactly this segment of the population that has the greatest potential to create change.
The girl effect makes its case of “why women,” powerfully. Don’t just take it from me, but check out some of the statistics they share:
•70% of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth are girls
•75% of HIV-infected youth in Africa are girls
•When girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it into their families, as compared to 30-40% for a man
•An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ future wage by 10-20%
In a nutshell, the girl effect is making the case that girls have a special role in the developing world. They become mothers and if a girl has no self worth and few skills, she will pass on her bad health and challenging financial situation to her children and hence the cyclical nature of poverty.
To keep this blog short and sweet, I would like to share two comments:
1) Although this video oversimplifies poverty, it has worth in its ability to reach everyone. You do not have to be a development scholar to understand the main point: girls overwhelmingly suffer from the effects of poverty and we must do something to change this.
I believe the girl effect is not saying: “hey, let’s give all girls in the developing world a cow and we will save the world.” I believe it is saying: let’s give girls access to capital, to the ability to labor for themselves as their own bosses, to manage, to make their own decisions and to choose their own paths and then….and only then can we create change. I cannot stress this word enough: choice. Let’s give them a choice because power lies in the ability to choose.
Choice and the success that can be attained from one making choices for oneself creates higher self-esteem and the acquisition of credibility within one’s community. This is the way these girls will become leaders and eventually “get invited to town councils.” This experience is what will change the way they interact with the world.
2) I love the fact that the girl effect is raising awareness on the plight women face around the world but I do have some concerns. My biggest concern is that it’s run by a large multinational which has a less than stellar history with human rights. I know, I know, how unforgiving of me. What if this multinational has gotten its act together, right?
Well, what I will say is that I have qualms with living within a system that oppresses women and then creates a foundation to try to help alleviate the problems it created. 90% of sweatshop laborers are women (ages 16-25…do you see any age alignment). Here’s an idea: how about we lean towards business models that don’t oppress women so that they can be empowered everyday! I just think that not creating the problem may be a more successful way of solving it versus allowing businesses partake in the creation of the problem and then fundraising to combat it.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think this initiative is amazing, I just think that we cannot overlook the way we do business in the world and then feel better about foundations that address many of the problems created by these dominant business models. If we are serious about change, isn’t it our obligation to look at the big picture?