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
From 'Village Girls' to Entrepreneurs
In Uzbekistan, a woman’s career options are limited. Many work hard labor – if they work at all. The unemployment rate of young people in the Ferghana Valley is thought to exceed 60 percent.
Guatemala: Mapping Out a Healthier Future
Rosmina is keeping tabs on the women of Cucanha, Guatemala. She knows who's pregnant, how far along they are and many other details about their lives. Are these things really her business? Yes - exactly.
Guatemala: A Volunteering Spirit
Three-year-old Maynor sits in his mother's lap, barely conscious. He is pallid, exhausted and falling limp in his mother's arms.
Guatemala: Reaching Out to Mothers in Guatemala
Guatemala's wild, verdant Polochic Valley feels like a secret. It's a narrow, winding seam in the country's colorful fabric. As the Polochic River rushes toward the Caribbean, past indigenous Q'eqchi and Poqomchi villages, it seems to be the only thing in a hurry to reach its future.
South Sudan: Sudanese Girls Go for the Gold
In the midst of the desolate and arid south Sudanese landscape, a jubilant stream of young women and girls burst forward. Some clad in athletic gear, some in traditional tribal dresses and many in rags, they punctuate the hot desert silence with their laughter.
Sri Lanka: Community Trust Fund: Caring for Confined Widows
Sudan: Returning, Inspired
In 2005, Mercy Corps board member Linda Mason took a journey to Sudan's troubled Darfur region. During her time there, she witnessed Mercy Corps staff in action and took time to sit down with women in makeshift camps and listen to their inspiring stories.
Sri Lanka: First Steps Toward a Brighter Future
While longer-term efforts to rebuild Sri Lanka's ruined coastal towns are underway, simple things can still make a difference.
Afghanistan: Afghans Speak Out on Violence and Elections
"People have guns. Please take them away. They will kill people. They will rob people."
Honduras: Breaking the Silence
In rural Honduras, poverty and hunger gnaw away at families every day. However, there's another daily tragedy tearing village households apart: domestic violence.