Opinion and Analysis

Why women should be empowered

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A 2000 study found that women are the key to food security in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of south Asia. Photo/REUTERS

A 2000 study found that women are the key to food security in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of south Asia. Photo/REUTERS 

By Karol Boudreaux

Posted  Friday, December 4   2009 at  00:00

At the recent Food Security Summit in Rome world leaders unanimously renewed their pledge to eradicate hunger.


The South-South Summit in Nairobi this week renews commitment to reducing hunger as one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), dubbed “a blueprint for a better world” by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.  

But what if the blueprint, admirable as it might be, is just too complicated?

Developing countries are supposed to meet the MDGs by 2015. 

They involve halving levels of hunger and poverty, reducing infant and maternal mortality, improving environmental sustainability, empowering women and increasing gender equality, reducing HIV/Aids infection rates and providing universal education. 

Progress has been slow and, in sub-Saharan Africa in particular, many goals will not be met.

So here’s an idea.

What if the UN and its member states scrapped the eight MDGs and instead focused on an admittedly radical hypothesis: Girls Rule! 

What if, instead of eight MDGs, each with multiple targets, countries focused on Goal No.3, Empowering Women--particularly poor women? 

This could actually hasten progress on the seven other MDGs.

A 2000 study by the authoritative International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found women are the key to food security in places like sub-Saharan Africa and parts of south Asia. 

This study found that allowing women more education and raising their social status, taken together, accounted for 55 per cent of the total reduction in child malnutrition among the families surveyed. 

These factors were considerably more important than increases in the food supply.

A 2004 World Bank study found “ample empirical evidence that higher female education reduces child mortality.”

As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at a 2003 International Women’s Day celebration: “When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier and better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is also true of communities and, in the long run, of whole countries…”

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