Thursday, June 02, 2011

Fighting Poverty

If we were half serious about fighting poverty, we would make women the major decision-makers for the family. This is what the research says. I cringe when I read it, but I don't dare contradict it. This does not mean that those who want to keep men in the role of major decision-maker for the family wish to promote poor nutrition, illiteracy and poverty. They are rather promoting the notion that it is more godly to try and change the way men make decisions, than to shift decision-making over to women.

However, microfinance is a powerful tool to shift resources and decision-making for those resources over to women. It can be done. Christianity sometimes changes the way men make decisions, and sometimes it doesn't. It is an iffy proposition.

Here are Kristof and WuDunn on this topic,
WHY DO MICROFINANCE organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks? One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men. Surprisingly frequently, we’ve come across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net; the mother says that the family couldn’t afford a bed net and she means it, but then we find the father at a nearby bar. He goes three evenings a week to the bar, spending $5 each week.

Our interviews and perusal of the data available suggest that the poorest families in the world spend approximately 10 times as much (20 percent of their incomes on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children (2 percent). If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects of poor countries. Girls, since they are the ones kept home from school now, would be the biggest beneficiaries. Moreover, one way to reallocate family expenditures in this way is to put more money in the hands of women. A series of studies has found that when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier.

In Ivory Coast, one research project examined the different crops that men and women grow for their private kitties: men grow coffee, cocoa and pineapple, and women grow plantains, bananas, coconuts and vegetables. Some years the “men’s crops” have good harvests and the men are flush with cash, and other years it is the women who prosper. Money is to some extent shared. But even so, the economist Esther Duflo of M.I.T. found that when the men’s crops flourish, the household spends more money on alcohol and tobacco. When the women have a good crop, the households spend more money on food. “When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves,” Duflo says.

And here is a contrasting message from True Woman,

God never intended for us to have to run it all, ladies. His intent was for us to follow our husband’s lead in willing submission. To be sure, any wise husband will want to utilize his wife’s gifts and strengths for the good of the family, but the role of final decision maker and leader for the family rests with the husband.

Some cultures are more matriarchal; and in these cases wives must work hard to resist that natural inclination to take the ball and run with it. We need to empower our men to lead by encouraging them where we see sparks of leadership potential. And we must work hard not to criticize when their efforts at leading fall short. This can be especially difficult if your husband has never accepted the mantle of leadership before.
One thing I felt strongly from the stories in Kristof and WuDunn's book is that as the women gained power and earned money, their husbands treated them better and gained self-respect at the same time - that is everyone benefitted from empowering women.

It is important that the money be given as a loan requiring investment and control. If the money had simply been donated, the husband could co-opt it.


Charis said...

Have you seen this program by the Nike Foundation? The Girl Effect

Light said...

This is why I love You can lend your money in $25 increments to women (and men) around the world, funding precisely the people and projects that you choose. When the money is paid back to your account, you can lend it again.

BradK said...

If you haven't already seen Sheryl WuDunn's TED talk on our century's greatest injustice, it is worth seeing...

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Great info and links! Yes, I have seen The Girl Effect, and hope to blog about Kiva soon. Thanks for the link to WuDunn. This is such important stuff.

Gem said...

Mothers' tragic (and futile) effort to protect their daughters from sexual exploitation and keep them in school: Mama Hates my Sprouting Breasts HT: Jesus Creed