Why do we focus on empowering poor women?

Posted on 05/12/2021

Indian woman and daughter strong and proud working in field
An Indian woman and her daughter work in a field.

At Grameen Foundation, our mission is “to empower the poor, especially women, to create a world without poverty and hunger.”

Ending poverty and hunger is clear enough. But why, you may ask, do we add that clarifier: “especially women"?

Everyone knows that extreme poverty is a disastrous state for anyone. But you may not know that most poor people in most places around the world are women. According to the United Nations, an estimated 121 women per 100 men will be living in extreme poverty after the COVID-19 pandemic, with especially hard-hit populations in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

The World Bank points out that women in need are not only overrepresented in the informal sectors, but also are disproportionately responsible for child care and domestic work, tasks that became weightier during the pandemic. In other words, we can’t tackle poverty without first tackling gender inequality.

Grameen Foundation takes a holistic approach: provide women with access to finance, technology and resources, while removing barriers to gender equality.

“Promoting financial independence is one of the most effective ways to empower women anywhere, but especially in the developing world,” says Grameen Foundation Research Director Bobbi Gray. “In many areas, that means supporting ‘informal savings groups,’ networks of like-minded women who pay dues to build a shared pool of resources. This money can then be drawn on to fund any number of items, such as small business expenses, school fees, or health-care costs.”

Within these communities, women start raising their hands to become Grameen Community Agents. Community Agents are people from the villages we serve who we train to use digital technology and financial tools to serve their fellow community members.

One Community Agent can serve hundreds of her neighbors. With thousands of Grameen Agents, we can reach millions of people worldwide. The access they provide to digital banking accounts, agricultural resources, and more will help to lift themselves and their communities out of extreme poverty.

Learn more about Asha, a Grameen Community Agent in India, who is considered a frontline worker during the pandemic.

Grameen Foundation is also a key partner in the Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) Consortium, led by the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA-ROLI). WAGE takes an integrated approach to strengthening women’s empowerment, not only providing direct services to women and girls, including information, skills, resources, and services necessary to succeed, but also creating a curriculum of established practices needed to replicate the project elsewhere.

Women and girls continue to face complex challenges to equality. At least 155 countries have laws that prevent women from pursuing economic opportunities. Many live in countries where gender-based violence is pervasive and goes unpunished. Much of their labor is underpaid and undervalued--globally they earn 24 percent less than men for equal work. And they remain underrepresented in government bodies, leadership positions, and businesses.

When we lift up women in need, we lift up their families. We lift up their neighborhoods. We begin to tear down the barriers they face to empowerment, bit by bit. And with each woman we empower to start a thriving business, increase yields on her farm, or provide digital financial access to her community, we see a woman who is able to send her kids to school, buy a better house, and increase her standard of living.

Each woman’s story is inspiring. We invite you to explore some of them here.

Empower smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty.
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