Did you know women and girls make up half of the world's population? Duh :)

Did you know women and girls represent the majority of the world’s poor?

Did you know 70% of the 1 billion poorest people are female? 

I didn't know about the harsh reality that faces many women and girls until I started doing my research. I was devastated to learn that women and girls all over the world are held back simply because of their gender. They are disproportionately affected by discrimination, violence, and exploitation. Too many are deprived the opportunity to an education and to basic health care services.

In order to overcome these inequalities, the world must prioritize their needs and basic human rights. But the great news is that investing in girls and women also makes economic sense. In this article, I explore what the world would look like if the world educated, empowered, and kept all girls and women healthy.

1. Fight Extreme Poverty

Flickr: Marc A Garrett

Gender equality is one of the most effective ways to fight extreme poverty and build healthier, wealthier, and more educated communities.

Studies show that women reinvest up to 90 percent of their incomes back into their families, compared to just 30-40 percent by men. Mothers provide better nutrition and health care and spend more on their children. Investing in women and girls creates long-term social and economic benefits for all individuals, their communities, and the world as a whole.

2. Keep girls in school

Flickr: Trey Ratcliff

31 million girls around the world don’t have the opportunity to pursue an education. Every day, they are taken out of school and forced to work or marry. One out of five girls in the developing world doesn’t even complete the sixth grade.

However, we know that educated girls and women are healthier, have the skills to make choices over their own future and can lift themselves, their communities and their countries out of poverty. Even one more year in school makes a difference. A girl's income will increase by up to 25% every year she stays in school. If India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school, the country’s GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.

3. Universal Access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights

Flickr: World Bank Photo Collenction

222 million women today lack access to family planning services, information and contraception. If we doubled investment in family planning, we could:

Reduce unintended pregnancies by 68%

Avert newborn deaths by 35%

Reduce unsafe abortions by 70%

Contraceptives are one of the best investments a country can make for its future, delivering big savings in healthcare costs. For every dollar spent on family planning, governments can save up to 6 dollars on health, housing, water and other public services.

Family planning enables millions of girls to stay in school, saves lives and has the capacity to lift entire communities out of poverty.

4. End Teen Pregnancy


Each year, an estimated 16 million girls aged 15-19 give birth. Only 35% of unmarried girls and women in developing countries use a modern method of contraception -- so most teen pregnancies are unplanned.

Girls who become pregnant are forced to leave school and are prone to high health risks, such as HIV, obstetric fistula, and complications during pregnancy. The number one cause of death for girls is childbirth.

By delaying teen pregnancies, girls are able to stay in school, invest in their futures and have healthier children when they are ready. If all young girls completed primary school, we could save 900,000 of their children each year. And if those girls got a secondary education, we could save three million lives.

5. Stop preventable maternal deaths

Flickr: International Maize and Wheat Center

In a given year, approximately 300,000 women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal mortality is much higher in poor communities and rural areas. 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

AND, most maternal deaths are preventable. When women have access to health services and information by skilled health professionals during pregnancy and childbirth, this can make the difference between life and death -- for the lives of women and their newborn babies.

6. Eradicate child marriage

Flickr: Kashif Mardani

14 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. In the developing world, poverty and traditional gender roles magnify this problem. 1 in 7 girls is married before age 15, and some child brides are married as young as 9 years old.

Young girls who are child brides become trapped in poverty without access to education and employment opportunities.

When girls have the opportunity to complete their education through secondary school, they are up to six times less likely to be married as children than girls with little or no education. Educated girls are also less likely to have unintended pregnancies as teenagers.

7. Equal Employment Opportunities

Flickr: Jessica Suarez

Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, produce half of the world's food, but earn only 10% of the world's income and own less than one percent of the world's property. On average, women earn half of what men earn.

In order to achieve gender equality, women and men must have equal employment opportunities and receive equal pay.

8. Food security

Flickr: Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security

Women are a central part of the solution to ending hunger and poverty. Yet, female farmers face numerous constraints: they own less land, cultivate smaller plots of land, and have a harder time accessing credit.

If we want to reduce poverty and end hunger, we must give women access to the resources they need for agricultural production and participation. This could:

Increase farm yields by 20-30%

Increase agricultural output by 4 %

Reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million

9. Combat gender-based violence

Flickr: marcodvz

1 in 3 women and girls worldwide, one billion, will experience violence in their lifetime.

Gender-based violence comes in many forms: torture, rape, sexual trafficking, honor killings, beatings during pregnancy and domestic violence. It affects women and girls at any age, in any country.

Violence is a major cause of poverty. It prevents women from pursuing an education, working, or earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty.

10. End Female Genital Mutilation

Flickr: Africa Renewal

100 to 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone genital mutilation -- including 6.5 million in Western countries. This practice continues to be concentrated in Africa, where 90 million African women and girls have been victims. It is mostly carried out on young girls under 15.

Embedded in cultural norms, this act often happens, shockingly, with the consent of mothers, in conditions that lead to lifelong pain, infection and premature death.


I implore all global citizens to send the message to world leaders that women and girls must be put at the front and center of all global decisions. We must hold policymakers accountable to ensure that women’s rights are prioritized in the new post-2015 development agenda. Join me and sign the petition in TAKE ACTION NOW to make sure policy makers put Girls and Women at the heart of the world'd development agenda. 

Header image by arindambanerjee | Shutterstock.com


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