Establishing equality between women and men is vital to unleashing the power of families and communities to transform their lives for the better — but around the world, women, men, boys and girls experience disproportionate access to resources, exposure to risks and control of their futures.
So, with every program we put into action — in each of the 40-plus countries we work in — we consider the needs of both genders, evaluate the dynamics between them and work to empower those most at risk.
We focus, especially, on helping women and girls find their equal voice in the places where they have fewer rights, because we know that strong women equal strong families — and strong countries. Meet the world's toughest women ▸
Why focus on women and girls?
Women and girls can be catalysts for incredible, positive change. But, traditional gender roles, certain cultural beliefs and few opportunities often keep them from reaching their full potential.
Mercy Corps, in partnership with the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, creates safe spaces for teenage girls to increase their knowledge and confidence, and become self-sufficient by combining basic business, financial and life skills training, with mentoring and access to vocational training. Learn more here.
In many places around the world, females have unequal access to important resources like information, money, school, jobs and land. And they are oftentimes not allowed to make decisions for themselves or their families, like who they will marry, how many children they will have, how they will spend their time or how to spend household income.
And with fewer skills and tools at their disposal, women and girls also end up being some of the most vulnerable when crises like war and natural disaster strike.
Obstacles to overcome
The challenges that girls and women face vary widely from culture to culture, but one theme is prevalent: Unequal access to opportunities that give them an independent, productive place in their communities.
Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
While research shows that educated women are less likely to marry early and more likely to have healthy, educated children, girls still face great — and, sometimes, insurmountable — barriers to education, including poverty, inadequate sanitation facilities, gender-based violence, social norms that favor boys’ education and early marriage.
According to UNICEF, one-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and one-third of women in the developing world give birth before the age of 20.
Women and girls also face more hurdles in building fruitful, stable livelihoods: While nearly half the world’s farmers are women, only 20 percent of landholders are. Female farmers also have less access to tools, seeds, fertilizers and financing.
In some economies, laws or social structures restrict the types of jobs women can do or prevent them from working altogether. How women are breaking down barriers in Afghanistan ▸
Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
And women and girls bear the brunt of the responsibility for unpaid housework, too, often having to forego earning an education or an income to care for family members, complete home chores and cook meals.
Globally, women spend up to 10 times more time per day caring for children and the elderly than men do, and up to three hours more per day doing housework. In sub-Saharan Africa, women devote at least 16 million hours a day — 5.8 billion hours a year — just to collecting drinking water.
But what if women and girls had the same opportunities as men and boys?
Did you know?
- A 10 percent increase in girls attending school can increase a developing country’s GDP by 5 percent, and an increase in female workers results in faster economic growth
- Children born to a literate mother are 50 percent more likely to live past the age of 5
- If female farmers had equal resources to male farmers, they could feed 150 million hungry people
- Women’s involvement in peace agreements increases the likelihood of them holding at least 2 years by 20 percent
Throughout our programming, we partner with communities to build gender equality, and work to support the drive and resourcefulness of women and girls.
Photo: Slavisa Trtic Trle for Mercy Corps
Our programs include helping women and girls access education, vocational skills and livelihood assets, like livestock, tools and agricultural training, so they’re able to support themselves and contribute to their families. In vulnerable communities, young women dream big ▸
We work to promote equal household decision-making and community involvement, and increase women’s participation in income-generating activities. Read more: A couple finds their future in chia ▸
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
And initiatives like our girls groups and community health trainings give women and girls the tools they need to build healthy, promising futures, including information about delaying marriage, family planning, pregnancy care, nutrition and managing finances.
Informed, empowered women and girls have the ability to profoundly change their lives and families for the better — and with the right support, they can change the world, too. You can encourage even more women and girls transform their communities. Make a gift today ▸
All stories about Women & Gender
Tajikistan: From tomatoes to empowerment
While we’re spending this month focused entirely on the transport and distribution of wheat flour, lentils and oil to nearly 5,000 women, it’s actually a small component of USAID and Mercy Corps’ Single Year Assistance Program (SYAP) here.
Myanmar: Regrowing the Garden
Life here in Bo Kone, Myanmar, a village of about a thousand people, has never been easy. Located on an isolated island in the Irrawaddy Delta, it's about an hour's boat ride to the nearest town.
DR Congo: A stove to save lives
For 59-year-old Dafroza Baleberaho, building improved cookstoves isn’t just about preventing climate change, it’s about saving women’s lives.
Sri Lanka: Farming Rice, Intensively
Rice is central to Sri Lanka's economy and culture. So it's not hard to imagine how a new technique for improving rice production would be eagerly welcomed by farmers like Kanthi Weerasinghe.
It's time for the U.S. to ratify core UN conventions
In May, amidst headlines of new military activity in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, two other stories signaled an opening for a different kind of U.S. engagement in the world that has great significance for groups like Mercy Corps.
Kosovo: Creating opportunities for Kosovo's youth
Kosovo is the youngest country in Europe, both in terms of its statehood and its demographics. Half of the country’s population is under the age of 25, and many of these young people depart for work abroad or are supported by relatives.
Iraq: From Kansas to Cairo
Listening to President Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday, I was struck by how many themes resonated with what Mercy Corps is doing in the Middle East.
DR Congo: Helping Those With Nowhere Else to Go
Several dozen women stand on jagged volcanic rock in the pouring rain. The drenched clothes they're wearing are among the only possessions they were able to salvage when fleeing burning homes and brutal violence. They've had to drink rainwater from dirty puddles just to survive.
Uganda: Peace Through Forgiveness
Pakistan: Sewing's Rising Star
Growing up, the chattering gears of my mother's sewing machine provided the soundtrack to weekends in our home. Her dexterity with a foot pedal translated to nifty Halloween costumes for my brother and me, never going to school with rips in our pants and the occasional new blouse for her.