Magazine article U.S. Catholic

They Can Do It: Third World Women Could Be the New Recruits in the Global War on Poverty

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

They Can Do It: Third World Women Could Be the New Recruits in the Global War on Poverty

Article excerpt

SINCE COMMODITIES FIRST CHANGED HANDS FOR CASH, the women among us have worked hard for the money--often, as they still do today in the developing world, putting in a full day of labor in the field before heading back for a second job keeping the homestead humming. Heck, most of the time they've worked hard for no money at all, since the work that women have done as mothers, caregivers, agriculturalists, and household CEOs frequently went uncompensated.

In the economically "advanced" world, the daily contradictions and gender-based biases women struggle with have long been catalogued and resisted by an organized and vigorous feminism. But in the developing world, where culture and tradition continue to frame the roles, experiences, and expectations of girls and women, the effects of patriarchy, second-class status, and domestic violence on women have been less explored. But their costs are profound, both to individual women and to the well-being of the communities and families they love and the cultural life they frequently maintain and defend.

Of the nearly 1 billion adults in the world who cannot read, two thirds are women. The first pulled out of school when a family can't afford school fees, girls are often the last to be taken to health care centers when they need medical attention. The West has committed itself to a series of ambitious goals, the United Nation's Millennium Challenge, that aim to halve the worst effects of global poverty by 2015. The industrialized world is sadly lagging in that campaign, and part of the reason can be attributed to a lack of serious attention to the continuing degraded position of women and girls in the developing world.

Poverty and the status of women are inextricably bound according to economic development experts. Too often the talents and potential contribution of women go unrealized because of insufficient or nonexistent educational opportunities, widespread inequality, sexual exploitation, and patriarchy's sometimes vicious instinct for self-preservation. A vast, vibrant tool for poverty mitigation and community-based economic development remains ignored because of patriarchal prejudice and prerogatives. …

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