—Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
—Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
One of my first uncomfortable encounters with the global pandemic of gender inequality was when I read the book Half the Sky, by New York Times correspondent power-couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
Each line I read unveiled another shocking layer of injustice. From the moment they are born, most girls in the developing world arrive unwelcomed and unwanted. The appalling practice of female infanticide is blamed for over 32 million missing baby girls today.
For the girls who survive into childhood, the future continues to project danger and uncertainty. As many as 140 million girls (most around 5 years of age) endure the frightening rite of passage of genital mutilation that has been perpetuated for centuries, viewed as a safeguard to encourage only the best prospective suitors.
Women comprise half of the world’s population, but represent an astonishing 70 percent of the world’s poor. When it comes to work, women complete about 2/3 of the world’s working hours but only earn about 10 percent of the world’s income. Since most of these jobs are considered informal, these women don’t get paid days off or maternity leave. The average work environment is an open invitation for exploitation, abuse, and all kinds of oppression. Globally, one in five women becomes a victim of rape during her lifetime.
This is just a taste of what I came to learn in my crash-course on the life of women in developing countries.
I was angry.
If the truth were a pill to swallow, my gag reflexes were fighting back with the strength of a thousand cranky toddlers. I couldn’t accept that this was the world I was a part of.
I felt helpless.
After this world-shattering epiphany, I begin seeking out some perspective. Now that I was aware (however reluctantly) of the problem, what are the solutions that work in women’s favor?
I soon found that education was one of the most statistically effective efforts in lifting women from poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than one in five girls even make it to secondary school. In Uganda, 85 per cent of girls leave school early, resulting in $10 billion in lost potential earnings. Armed with an education, millions of women could literally lift up an entire continent from economic collapse.
But how can getting an education change such a host of complex problems affecting women?
Think about this: A girl who goes to school has options. She is more likely to learn a lucrative job skill and avoid dangerous industries like prostitution or fall into the hands of sex traffickers. She is less likely to be the victim of a forced marriage as a child because of her ability to earn a stable income. She is less likely to engage in adolescent promiscuity or to contract HIV.
An educated mom is more likely to provide immunizations for her children, resulting in fewer instances of infant mortality. An educated mom is more likely to practice proper hygiene and take preventative health measures for her family.
An educated mom is more likely to see to it that her children are also educated . . . breaking the cycle of poverty and providing intergenerational support for future educational advancements.
A girl’s success is her family’s success . . . her community’s success . . . her country’s success . . . the world’s success.
Like many notable organizations, one of World Help’s main strategies for a better Africa is providing educational empowerment to women who have emerged from years of abuse and belittlement. Many are former slaves of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that has stolen the childhoods of thousands of boys and girls in East Africa. Others are survivors from the terrible genocide of 1994 that slaughtered nearly a million Rwandans in a matter of weeks.
Offering vocational training in a variety of disciplines, these programs have helped revolutionize the lives of women, giving them a sense of dignity and purpose that they never had before. Many former prostitutes leave the streets as a result, now able to provide a stable living for their children.
But here’s where the sustainable, lasting change emerges . . . by investing in the lives of entire communities holistically, deliberately sowing seeds of trust, building relationships, and promoting spiritual engagement.
In order for a society to begin treating women like they are valued, one has to actually believe they are valuable. As Christ followers, we know where the concept of value originates: from a God who created men AND women in His image.
When the heart of a society changes, the way it treats its women will also change. It’s a process that involves multiple levels of purposeful investment.
World Help doesn’t just promote educational programs; they also build wells, churches, and community support systems. We don’t hand out diplomas and say, “Hey, see you later, hope you feel empowered!” New graduates are actually equipped with the tools of their trade—sewing machines, professional hair-styling tools and products, culinary equipment, etc.—and offered the support needed to find a trusted employer or even launch their own business.
Understanding that true transformation comes from meeting the needs of the body, the mind, and the soul, World Help’s approach continues to produce generations of successful women graduates, full of faith that the future will be better . . . not only because they are educated, but because they have seen the people around them are changing too . . . that there’s hope for their daughters to live in a world that recognizes them as individuals rather than commodities.
That’s what I love most about the work that World Help is doing. This is so much more than just another project; it’s a redemptive act . . . because when a woman knows what she’s worth, she’ll also begin to understand that she’s worth fighting for.
And that, I believe, is what hope really means.
Ways To Get Involved in Africa
CHILD SPONSORSHIP: World Help believes in changing the world . . . one child at a time. When a child has the resources needed not only to survive—but thrive—he has the potential to become a world-changer. Provide a child with nutrition, clean water, education, spiritual nurturing, and love. It’s an investment that lasts a lifetime and beyond. SPONSOR A CHILD >>
VOCATIONAL TRAINING: Empowering young adults with the skills training they need to earn an income is one of the greatest tools we can give toward building more sustainable communities. But a trade doesn’t just mean a paycheck—it instills confidence, dignity, and can be passed on to the next generation. GIVE TO SUPPORT VOCATIONAL TRAINING >>
CLEAN WATER: Clean water is essential to life, yet 780 million people around the world still live without it. When you give clean water to a community in need, its physical and economic condition will strengthen, child mortality plummets, school enrollment grows . . . and following generations are transformed. GIVE TO PROVIDE CLEAN WATER >>