Promote gender equality and empower women

Akilah Vargas

How does chronic hunger occur? Many believe that this silent killer occurs when people are systematically denied the opportunity to earn money, be educated, learn skills to meet basic needs, and have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. In order to end chronic hunger people must be mobilized and empowered to take effective action to end their own hunger and suffering. The third Millennium Goal of the UN – the equality and empowerment of women – is a key priority in ending this problem because society holds women responsible for family health, education and nutrition. Yet today many women worldwide are denied the means, information and freedom of action to fulfill this responsibility.

Law is the most formal expression of government policy. A government that allows discriminatory laws to remain in force endorses and promotes inequality. Equality Now is a program that calls on governments to repeal sex discriminatory laws. Some of these laws include:

* Laws restricting women’s rights in marriage and divorce and laws requiring wife obedience. For example, in Yemen, the law states that wives must be available to their husbands for sex and that they cannot leave the marital home without permission.

* Laws restricting the personal status of women including suffrage, the right to transfer citizenship, the right to give evidence, and the right to travel. For example, in Pakistan, a women’s word is worth half of a man’s as evidence in a court of law and to prove that she has been raped, she has to have at least four Muslim adult male witnesses.

* Laws restricting women’s right to property and laws restricting women’s employment rights. For example, in Bolivia, women can only work during the day, except in the fields of nursing and domestic service. In the United Kingdom, women are legally barred from service in the Royal Marines.

* Laws allowing rapists exemption from punishment through marriage, laws condoning marital rape and domestic violence, “honor” killings and state-sanctioned violence. For example, in Nigeria, husbands are permitted by law to use physical violence to chastise their wives as long as it does not result in grievous harm.

According to NetAid, a program that offers women the opportunity to fight global poverty by advocating for girls’ education in poor countries, the empowerment of women through education is very important. Education is proven to be one of the most effective ways to combat poverty, but millions of girls worldwide are not in school. A single year of schooling can increase women’s wages ten to twenty percent. Education has also been proven to slow the spread of AIDS and HIV. Educated mothers are more likely to immunize their children and make sure they have proper health care.

Investing in women is an essential component to economic development and building strong communities. Women around the world play a central role in raising health and nutritional standards, keeping children in school and helping create jobs. Women want similar things for their families and for themselves: food on the table, basic health care, good schools, and safe communities to live in. Effective assistance that recognizes the value of women and girls builds a strong society in areas such as health, education, human rights and business.

In partnership with other countries, the U.S. has played a leading role in dramatic improvements in health, education, and income levels in developing countries over the last 50 years. The U.S. participated in international debt relief initiatives that have allowed many poor countries to channel funds that had previously been tied up in debt servicing into important social areas. For example, after receiving debt relief in 1998, Uganda was able to eliminate school fees and offer primary education to all children. Currently almost 3 times as many children are enrolled in primary school than were enrolled in 1997. Similarly, Tanzania was able to increase its primary school enrollment rate by 50% after it received debt relief through the debt initiative. Many of these new students were girls who had been previously excluded because families were unable to afford the costs. These examples show that development assistance works and that the MDGs can be attained through proper funding. As the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. has the funds and the influence to ensure that this goal is met.

It is in America’s interest to help reach this goal because our country was founded on the principles of equality and liberty. The underlying values of relieving human suffering and providing economic and educational opportunities have been reflected in both domestic and foreign policy since the founding of this country. Americans are people who are caring and giving and who support turning values into action. Humanitarian and development assistance reflects the good will and enduring values of Americans. Helping those in need is how we can unite and build a safer world. Working to achieve the MDGs is a continuation of this spirit.