Celebrate Her Breakthrough

Legions of women quietly broke barriers this year.

November 29, 2017 by Steve Hollingworth and Lauren Hendricks

2017 was a year of breakthroughs. Women in Saudi Arabia finally won the legal right to drive. Serena Williams became the first tennis player (and not just the first female player) to win 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the open era. There have been so many women breaking ground in their fields, from baseball to medicine, that Time magazine chronicled an entire edition of Women’s "Firsts" this year.

But there have been legions of women who made their firsts quietly. Chipping away at age-old social and institutional barriers that have long restricted everything from when they eat to how they earn and manage money. These barriers have kept nearly one billion women, men and children trapped in extreme poverty and vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. 

As we at Grameen Foundation look ahead to 2018, we believe that breakthroughs to end poverty and hunger are not only essential, but closer than ever. Our new logo, launched just last month, reflects this conviction. It is a circle of strength and resilience. Its colorful components speak to our work in digital financial services, agriculture, and health, and their integration into solutions with the power to break through poverty and hunger.

The magenta sphere represents the most important breakthrough of all: hers.  It is the breakthrough of a woman who is no longer afraid to try something new. Using new tools, knowledge and connections, she began saving.  She invested in her farm. She talked to her husband about planning their family. She learned how to protect her children against common illnesses. She took action. She changed her life, and the lives of her children and her community.  

For the next two weeks, we will feature stories of #HerBreakthrough - the breakthroughs of remarkable women with whom we have worked. Some gained confidence through training in digital and financial literacy. They gained access to financial services over their mobile phones, and turned that access into opportunity. Others were empowered as they participated in local women’s savings or self-help groups, where new ideas and skills find fertile ground. All make quiet breakthroughs every day. They inspire us.

They are women like Kankuri (she goes by one name). Until about a year ago, she never questioned eating only what was left over from her husband and children. Usually it was just a little rice and sauce. But as in too many poor communities, it was common practice for women and girls to eat last and least. It is a practice with serious health consequences: anemia is twice as high among women than men in India, and it is the leading cause of maternal deaths.

Kankuri gained the courage to break with this tradition. Her breakthrough came after joining a local women’s self-help group that was participating in a nutrition training program designed by Grameen Foundation staff and Freedom from Hunger India Trust. Its “Gender Dialogues” prompted animated discussions among the women and, later, with their husbands.

Soon, Kankuri began talking with her husband about how to improve their family’s health and food security. She began growing nutrient-rich vegetables and cooking in an iron pot. Then, her husband agreed that all family members should eat together and share the same nutritious foods. And he finally recognized Kankuri’s right to make her own decisions about activities outside the house. Another social taboo broken. Meanwhile, their food security and incomes improved as Kankuri began selling her garden vegetables. rather than firewood.

That program, the Rajasthan Nutrition Program, has engaged more than 8,100 women, generating countless such breakthroughs, and benefitting their 30,000 family members. Food security for women and their children more than doubled, and dietary diversity increased. Joint decisions by husbands and wives - rather than by men alone - became more common: husband-only decisions on food purchases decreased from 69 to 28 percent, and joint decisions more than doubled from 27 to 55 percent.        

Too often, breakthroughs for women are only recognized when they shatter glass ceilings or march into boardrooms.

For most women - women like Kankuri - the revolution is much quieter.

Today we are celebrating their victories. And we hope they inspire new firsts tomorrow. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for #HerBreakthrough, a celebration of women’s progress in improving their health, confidence and incomes. Look for the #HerBreakthrough hashtag and use it to share stories and photos about the unassuming, groundbreaking women you have met.