Antiquated social constructs that “women belong in the kitchen” are inhibiting economic growth and environmentally-friendly behaviors in all regions of the world. Let’s take a look at underdeveloped nations, where women often lack access to education and equal economic opportunity.
It is essential to promote women’s education; this objective has been identified by Project Drawdown as the sixth-most effective solution to reverse global warming (followed closely by family planning as the seventh-most effective solution). Female education is closely tied with reproductive and overall population health, and a woman’s amount of education is negatively correlated with number of offspring. The effect of female education on reproduction is so significant as to account for a difference of 1.1 billion in population predictions for the year 2050. Without female bodily autonomy and family planning, development is hindered because the government struggles to offer public goods like schooling, infrastructure, and medical services to an ever-increasing population. However, according to studies by the United Nations, less than sixty percent of childbearing-age women across 51 countries with recorded data on reproductive health possessed the freedom to make choices for themselves regarding sexual activity and contraceptive usage.
Additionally, since women with higher levels of education tend to have fewer children, they are able to devote more resources to each member of the family. Child mortality is reduced by five to seven percent per additional year of maternal schooling. Similarly, childbearing-age women are the most common demographic to suffer certain diseases including HIV/AIDS, and maternal mortality is still frequent in many countries, but improving the literacy of the female population is a critical step toward improving global health. After all, women constitute two-thirds of illiterate adults across the world.
Education for women can be a useful method to boost a region’s productivity. According to World Bank studies in Africa in 2001, an area’s food crop yields can improve by up to 20% merely by providing primary school education to women. Separate studies suggest that every additional year of secondary education increases a woman’s income by 25%. Additionally, Project Drawdown estimates that universal education and global implementation of family planning strategies could save 119.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.
Fortunately, global leaders seem to recognize the benefits of women’s education, and there are promising signs for future improvement. Undertaken by all U.N. Member States, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include targeted reforms for gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG #5) as well as equal educational opportunities (SDG #4).
Secondly, women must be granted greater rights to work and recognition for their informal labor, which goes largely underappreciated both in developed and developing countries. Women constitute a startling seventy percent of people living in poverty around the world, creating negative consequences for households. When men are in charge of a household’s finances, they tend to spend more money on personal purchases, while women choose to invest in education, health, and other resources that benefit the entire household. Currently, women and girls in developing countries have significantly worse health than men since the limited healthcare and food resources are typically prioritized for men, even though the biological makeup of the human species indicates that women should have a longer lifespan.
Women are also constrained by sociocultural expectations that women should be the primary caregivers for children and elderly or ill family members (and this happens in the United States and other developed regions as well!) Globally, reports by the U.N. explain, “women devote on average roughly three times more hours a day to unpaid care and domestic work than men, limiting the time available for paid work, education and leisure and further reinforcing gender-based socioeconomic disadvantages.” It is estimated by the OECD that over half the GDP in developed countries would be produced by the domestic housework and childcare of women if such sums were included in GDP calculations.
Female empowerment can also generate significant environmental benefits. Women are more likely to engage in more environmentally friendly forms of international trade — Fair Trade contracts, for example, or sustainable agricultural practices — which are environmentally beneficial in the long term. Since women are in charge of a household’s natural resource consumption (by managing household tasks like fetching water, cooking, and collecting fuel), the female demographic is most affected by climate change and thus more motivated to promote the protection of Mother Earth.
In conclusion, it is critical to empower women in developing countries by increasing access to education and economic participation. A well-known African proverb states, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” so taking the words of this adage to heart, we must support women in order to attain equality and sustainable development.