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.
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
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
Indonesia: From the source: Mothers provide perfect nourishment
Infant mortality remains high in Indonesia, the result of acute malnutrition and illness. Breastmilk imparts key nutrients to protect babies' health, yet many mothers are misinformed and choose to feed their infants formula or other foods.
Tajikistan: A new hope for new mothers
Traditionally, new mothers in Tajikistan were taken care of for 40 days after giving birth, kept from household chores and even brought food in their room, where they spent all their time bonding with and caring for their newborn.
Iraq: Teachers celebrate women in Iraq
It’s fitting that teachers from our Women’s Awareness and Inclusion (WAI) program got together to celebrate International Women’s Day — many of them for the first time.
Ethiopia: Dowries to degrees: An education for Ethiopia's young women
Mercy Corps is helping girls in one of Ethiopia’s most remote regions explore a future full of new possibilities by providing them with scholarships to complete secondary school.
Tunisia: Organizing a movement for her new country
Sabrine Wafi is a dynamo. Young and filled with energy, it’s difficult to keep up with her. More than once during our conversation, I found myself asking her to hold up so I could wrap my head around her ideas.
Afghanistan: International Women's Day: Working hard for our futures
While we at the Mercy Corps office in Kabul celebrate International Women’s Day, it remains a sad reality that much of the rest of Afghanistan is not.
Indonesia: Healthier babies in Jakarta's poorest neighborhoods
Did you know that a father holding his infant on his shoulder at the end of the day may be the best way to soothe a cranky child? The baby is often comforted by the father’s heartbeat and his calm demeanor, which relieves a tired and stressed mother after a long day of infant care.
Colombia: Children find brighter futures off the streets
Espacios para Crecer, or Spaces to Grow, uses education to fight child labor in Bogotá's most impoverished neighborhoods.
Uganda: Acting up for healthier communities
There’s been a lot of action in northern Uganda lately. But in an area still recovering from the government’s 21-year war with the Lord’ Resistance Army, this is, for once, a welcome kind of drama.
Mongolia: Yak slippers point to the future of small business
Holding a child's slipper — deep chocolate brown with a strong leather sole — I marvel at the fine warmth of the yak felt and realize this is not just a shoe.