Investing in Women and Girls to Fight Poverty, Climate Change


Photo via Women's RIghts

The opening session on the second day of the Clinton Global Initiative focused on an under-examined issue in the green movement--women's rights and empowerment. When I sat down with Bill Clinton the night before CGI began, he mentioned that investing in women and girls was a good way to invest in fighting climate change. Providing education to women in developing nations has been proven to combat overpopulation and lead to more sustainable societies. To begin the session, Bill Clinton rattled off some unfortunate statistics:

-Women do 66% of the world's work yet make a stunningly low 10% of the world's income and own a meager 1% of the world's property.
-57% of the HIV positive population in Sub Saharan Africa are women, though many aren't guilty of
-75% of the infected youth in Africa are women.

Investing in Women
The rest of the session focused on finding the best ways to invest in women and girls in the developing world. The panelist, which at first glance seemed pretty strange, included Zainab Salbi, the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, the CEOs of Exxon and Goldman Sachs, and was moderated by Diane Sawyer.

The consensus of the discussion seemed to be that education was the single most important factor in empowering women. It was a little striking seeing Rex Tillerman, the CEO of Exxon sitting between two powerful advocates for women, Salbi and Edna Adan, a hugely impressive woman who runs a hospital in Somaliland, and was apparently the first women to drive a car in Somalia.

There were some minor fireworks when Tillerman attempted to make one of those vague, grand philanthropic statements so common to wealthy benefactors at public events. He said something along the lines of "it's not how much you spend, but how you spend it," and was stopped by Salbi, who retorted that that couldn't be the case, since only 1% of funding given to developing countries was given to women. She was met with a round of applause.

A focus was getting women to stick with their education after high school levels, and leveraging education into well paying jobs--often, the education needed to be more valuable than the livelihood that could be obtained by simply marrying and acquiring livestock for survival as dowry. Rwanda was noted as exemplary, where the government is evenly staffed with women and men, women's education is soaring, and it's no coincidence that the nation is the cleanest country in Africa.

Other topics discussed were the administering of cancer tests and treatment in the developing world and empowering women with technology--cell phones were found to raise levels of literacy in developing nations, as women were eager to learn how to use text messaging.

And though the panelists never really delved deeply into the issue of how women's empowerment could combat climate change, that this was the case was mentioned throughout (perhaps since education acts as a population control, and leads to better decision making abilities in general). And it's irrefutable that education leads to more sustainable communities, and the world would be better off if gender inequality around the world was eliminated.

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