Why Women and Children?

Global poverty is decreasing, but inequality still remains between societies, groups, and individuals. Poverty is not just a consequence of economic vulnerability, but of a multidimensional and complex social system and results in a social, economical and political alienation.

Women are disproportionally affected by poverty, compared to men. The concept “feminization of poverty” holds three dimensions; 70 % of the worlds’ poor are women, the majority of individuals who live in extreme poverty (less than 1 USD/day) are women, and the number of women living in poverty is increasing disproportionally compared to the number of men.

Of the world’s 780 million illiterate people, two-thirds are women. Women constitute 70 % if the global workforce (including both paid and unpaid labor), produce 60 % of the world’s food, but earns 10 % of the global income and owns less than 1 % of property.

In many parts of the world, women are discriminated against on multiple fronts; they are often deprioritized compared to boys and men in education, healthcare, and food. They are of greater risk of being exposed to violence, rape and child marriage. Due to social and cultural norms, they often have a decreased mobility in society and in public space.

“Women’s poverty is directly related to the absence of economic opportunities and autonomy, lack of access to economic resources, including credit, land ownership and inheritance, lack of access to education and support services and their minimal participation in the decision-making process. Poverty can also force women into situations in which they are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.”

– The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995.

As explained in the above text, many girls start their lives with a disadvantage from the start, compared to boys in the same age. This leads to worse health, more difficult to find jobs and keep them, lower salaries and thus; much more difficult to provide for herself and her family. The circle is closed when the next generation start their lives at an even worse starting- point resulting in a downward spiral towards even more extreme poverty.

The discrimination of women also has economical consequences. Some countries are estimated to lose up to 1 billion USD because of not educating girls to the same extent as boys. The United Nations estimates that if women would get equal access to land, water, crops and fertilizers, food production in Sub-Saharan Africa would increase with 25 % and 100 million people would be lifted out of starvation. If gender inequality would disappear, women would increase their income with 76 % globally. This is equivalent to 17 billion USD.

Another dimension is the unpaid housework, executed by women in majority in a global perspective. In reality, this means that many women have two jobs; one that is paid and one that is unpaid. Many women may also lose access to the labor market because of unpaid work (for instance taking care of disabled or sick family members).

What is being done?

1975 was United Nation’s International Women’s Year and a milestone in women’s history. The year was followed by United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985), the adoption of the Commission of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW (1979), as well as the international conferences of Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995). Through the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, the work towards women’s equality has been highlighted. Key areas are as follows.


Education of girls has many advantages, not only for the girl as an individual but for future generations and for the society where she lives.
Education of girls and women brings improved health and a decreased spread of HIV/AIDS. It decreases maternal- and child mortality and the number of children per woman. It increases women’s income and social empowerment, which in turn, increases her chances to get a job and provide for her family. In a larger perspective, it contributes to the economy of the whole country and improves prospects for the whole family and future generations since an educated woman will have educated children. Studies have shown that educating a woman is the most reliable way to ensure that her children will be educated and the downward spiral of poverty can be broken.

Reproductive health

Women’s right to control their reproductive health and how many children a woman wants to have is a key condition in order to achieve equality. Maternal deaths, i.e. death due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, is today the second largest cause of death for women in reproductive age. By providing recourses, education, and rights and by prioritizing women’s reproductive health, many deaths can be prevented.

Financial empowerment

Economic inequality still remains with discrimination of women on the labor market and an imbalance regarding unpaid housework. By working against discrimination through legislation, information and by challenging norms, women can be allowed an equal space on the labor market.

Political empowerment

Women’s rights are human rights. Some countries still do not recognize women’s rights to political and economic power, work, inheritance, ownership, resources, equal pay and participation in public space. Through new laws, lobbying and activism, women can get access to these rights.

Qoutes by famous people

”Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”

– Nelson Mandela

”To educate a woman is to educate a nation”

– Hafez Ibrahim

“It is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in moderns wars”

– Major General Patrick Cammaert, the Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo

“We cannot succeed when half of us are held back”

– Malala Youzafsai

“Human rights are women’s right, and women’s rights are human rights”

– Hillary Clinton

“If we don’t stand up for children… then we don’t stand for much”

– Marian W. Edelman

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution”

– Malala Youzafsai

“To educate girls is to reduce poverty”

– Kofi Annan

“Girl’s education is the single best investment that any society can make”

– Carol Bellamy

“Women are not dying of diseases we can’t treat… They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving”

– Mahmoud Fathalla, former President of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Sources and more information

A short film on how maternal mortality is connected to the unjust situation
of women in low resource societies.
Produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO)
Why did Mrs X die?

United Nations

From outrage to courage – Anna Firth Murray & Paul Farmer

World Health Organization


Convention of the Right of the Child


Commission of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW




World Bank