Why Focus On Women?

Targeting women in international development is a cost effective way to maximize multipliers and improve outcomes for vulnerable groups.

Many studies have highlighted the benefits of supporting women through international development efforts. Initial publications in the 1970s by Ester Boserup and other leading scholars indicated that advocating for women enhances both material and societal development outcomes.

In her book Women’s Role in Economic Development, Boserup disrupted the traditional assumption that men were the primary actors in raising food. Her research showed that women often take on the tasks of food cultivation, as well as food preparation. She also learned that women often lack control over the products of their labor. Put simply, their husbands and fathers were taking the food they grew and the money they earned.

This disconnection between the actor and the decision maker in this situation is an example of a structural inefficiency that can hobble development efforts. It is the result of patriarchal systems of dominance that privilege men at the expense of the society in general. Boserup concluded that by challenging that patriarchal structure and placing decision-making power in the hands of the working class (women), it was possible to achieve greater rates of economic growth and enhance social equity.

The World Bank took up women’s issues and equality in their most recent World Development Report. It builds on numerous studies to show that women’s empowerment can have significant impacts on all development indicators. For example, in Ghana they discovered that the share of assets and land owned by women is positively correlated with higher food expenditures among rural households. This is beneficial for the women and also beneficial for all other members of the household, who enjoy greater access to food. In Bangladesh, women who exercised greater control over their travel, household purchases, and healthcare were found to be better nourished.

Women also have a role to play in conflict and dispute resolution. They are often active in informal family and community peacemaking efforts, making them well suited to sit at a negotiating table. Furthermore, women tend to experience the consequences of conflict in more extreme ways than other groups. This, if nothing else, should give them the right to participate in peace processes. They act as caregivers of last resort for the elderly, the ill, and children. It is not uncommon for women to be forced to care for wounded soldiers as well. In their role as caregivers, they suffer acutely from the infrastructure failures that accompany conflict. The collapse of food and water distribution systems, economic implosion, and the breakdown of transportation and communication networks all make life in conflict zones very difficult for women. Often, they are unable to leave, due to the infirmities of their dependents. As a result of these experiences, women in formal peace processes are more likely to advocate for measures to restore essential services and improve the status of vulnerable groups

From peacemaking to food production, developing women can ameliorate historical imbalances in the allocation of resources, and improve health and well-being for entire communities. Developing women is an essential tactic for creating just and sound outcomes.

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