The amount of suffering and death caused as a result of poverty is staggering. The poorest 46 percent of people in the world have a mere 1.2 per cent of the income. One-third of all human deaths are from poverty-related causes: 18 million annually, including 12 million children under the age of five.*
Numbers don’t quite do this problem justice. Imagine that roughly every two minutes, a school bus full of children crashes, instantly killing every one of the children on board. Here’s another way to think about that fact: roughly every three seconds, 1 child dies from poverty-related causes.
In the time that it took you to read that paragraph, 2 children died from poverty-related causes.
When I taught this issue to my philosophy students, most were simultaneously horrified and overwhelmed. Some were more apathetic, seeing the deaths as something that was someone else’s problem. It’s our problem and it is overwhelming.
It’s overwhelming precisely because it’s hard to know where to start. There are a host of issues ranging from geopolitics, cross-cultural evaluations, retributive justice, logistical concerns, and allocation concerns.
The fascinating thing about this is that it turns out that educating girls is the most effective entry point to this problem. Here’s what one of the preeminent scholars and activists on world poverty has to say:
“There is now abundant evidence that birth rates tend to fall dramatically wherever poverty is alleviated and women gain better better economic opportunities, more control within their households, and better access to reproductive information and technologies.”
As another case, Grameen Bank, a microcredit bank founded by Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, focuses 2 of the 16 Decision its lendees subscribe to on females:
Decision 6: We shall plan to keep our families small. We shall minimize our expenditures. We shall look after our health.
Decision 11: We shall not take any dowry at our sons’ weddings, neither shall we give any dowry at our daughters wedding. We shall keep our centre free from the curse of dowry. We shall not practice child marriage.
While all the other principles help to preserve and increase the resources of its lendees, these two specifically promote equality, education, and upward mobility for girls. It’s hard to see that you can make valuable contributions to your community and world when you view yourself as property to be exchanged or a vessel for babies.
While a lot of the attention on female empowerment in education and entrepreneurship focuses on other parts of the world, the effects are the same here in the United States, even among women who have it relatively well. For instance, the strong majority of my clients are women, and as their entrepreneurial and business capabilities increase, the lives of their families are transformed.
Sometimes this bears out in small ways, such as when I help them design their businesses so that they can spend time with their children and things will be okay. Other times, it’s much larger – as they earn more, they can reallocate their business profits to their kids’ education and well-being.
Regardless of the scale, I’ve noticed that my female clients’ successes more quickly translate to the well-being of their families. Though the immediate social results may not be as dramatic as it is in some of the developing world, it seems that we should be placing a similar emphasis on the education and empowerment of girls and women at home as we do abroad.
I think the Dalai Lama is right in his proclamation at the Peace Summit that “the world will be saved by the Western Woman.” My belief goes a bit further than that: the world will be saved by the Western Woman – and those that should be saved first are the non-Western girls.
If you’d like to learn more how you can help save the world by empowering girls, check out the Girl Effect. This post is a part of The Girl Effect Blogging Campaign – special thanks to Tara Sophia Mohr for asking me to be involved.
*Statistical information taken from Thomas Pogge’s World Poverty and Human Rights. All royalties from the purchase of the his book go to Oxfam.
Charlie, thanks for your post. I am one of the other Girl Effect bloggers. I think you might enjoy my post on stillmansays.com today as a challenging counter to your piece. This is the issue of our time.
best to you
I’m not sure that we’re disagreeing here, Matt. My post is recommending an entry point that most people can get started on – your post is absolutely correct that there are broader issues at play, but it’s the very complexity and scope of those issues that keep people from getting started.
It may seem trite, but the same strategies for dealing with workflows, stacks of papers, and organization issues work for complex global issues, as well. Sometimes we just have to pick an entry point and start, and it’s best to pick one that has the most dramatic effects so we can build the momentum and confidence to work on the other challenges at hand.
Jennifer Louden says
darling, you are one brilliant dude, who I hope will help me as I venture into my new thing – so glad your brain is on this, too!
Giulietta Nardone says
Glad you joined the circle of GE bloggers. Yes, I agree we need to get started and approach the problem from every entry point we can find. That way we will be moving forward to see what works best. It’s great to see the young women on the videos taking their futures in their own hands!
tara - scoutie girl says
Charlie, thanks so much for taking this angle. I am very representative of the girl effect in the Western world.
My mom taught me at an early age what it meant to be an entrepreneur – both in spirit & in business – and how to provide for a family. I started my business in January 2009. Over the course of 2010, I transformed a side business into the main source of income for my family. In August, my husband quit his soul-sucking job to take care of our daughter.
Now that I’m working on my business full-time (or more!), I often miss the small moments I used to share with my daughter as a stay at home mom. But, I know in my heart that I’m teaching her the same lessons I learned as a girl: a keen sense of self-determination & self-actualization can solve just about any problem.
My business and my growing income directly affects my family. And my family will help to reshape the world for all girls.
Again, thank you for your post! Glad to be a part of this amazing awareness campaign.
I think it’s hard for normal people to really feel anything when these people are so far removed from us. If we were to see them everyday, we would probably be affected more, but it just doesn’t touch us in any real way. We know people are suffering intellectually, but we dun feel it emotionally… so I’m not sure how this can change.
“If we were to see them everyday, we would probably be affected more”
I have to disagree with that thought. I see people in need right here in my own city and find myself tuning it out so I don’t have to acknowledge it and then do something. It’s more about a whole change in outlook and how we view ourselves, what we value, and how we commit to acting on those values. There are a lot of really good organizations helping girls and women (and the Girl Effect is one) that make it remarkably easy to get involved. It’s just that the hard part is in our heads and hearts.
Maryam Webster says
Charlie, another powerful, poignant article that is so right on the point. I’d like to give everyone a way they can start right now. That is, to tell every girl in your life how precious, smart, capable and resourceful she is. Endorse her, empower her from as early an age as possible to be true to herself.
Keep saying it, keep reinforcing that they can do anything they set their minds to in every thought, word and deed you show them. Never slack off – by starting at grass roots in our own lives, waves will ripple outward.
And don’t forget the boys too. The message that each person is uniquely gifted and capable of being the special blessing they are to the world is pansexual and universal.
And women – it’s each of our responsibility, who grew up being told we were less than, who had to work hard to reclaim our independence and self-esteem, to make sure girls everywhere know that if they EVER hear anything like that, not to believe it.
Here’s one place to start, with the girls in your life, to help girls around the world:
For a mere $50, you can pay tuition to school for one girl for a year at Oprah’s How To Help & Teach Girls site:
At the World Bank, you can find out the status of girls and education around the world: http://bit.ly/aDvuc3
Here is one organization focusing on educating girls globally:
And and here is a place you can find a lot of info on education programs for girls worldwide:
Each one teach one. It’s a good thing.
It is wonderful of you to write about this important topic. The Girl Effect is an incredible program and they are doing amazing things to improve our world!! Great work!
Ming-Zhu (Orlando and Ivy) says
Thank you so much for being a part of the Girl Effect blogging campaign – but moreover, thank you for writing about it from this angle. The question of education is one that has been at the forefront of my mind for a while now – with regards to many issues – most of them, interestingly enough, relating to social justice.
Actually, I first read that quote from the Dalai Lama in Tara Sophia Mohr’s article in the Huff…
Which leads me to thank you as well for an odd, sideways kind of thing – as well as being a terribly inspiring blogger and web entrepreneur whose site I return to and share with others regularly, it was your blog that recently introduced me to TSM.
I am thrilled by (and in awe of) her leadership of this movement. I am thrilled by, and in awe of all the bloggers who have taken part.
Heather Plett says
Charlie – thank you for being one of the few men who contributed to this campaign. Let me just say, we desperately need more compassionate men like you to get involved, to model what it means to treat women with respect.
I’ve just written a second post about what men can do – I hope you’ll visit.
Tara Sophia Mohr says
Thank you so much for participating in the campaign. It means a lot to have your voice included in this community.
I find your insight about your female clients fascinating. I’ve been reading Half the Sky and they cite a number of studies across different cultures that all confirm the difference how women’s and men’s incomes impact the well-being of their families. It even extends to grandmothers’ vs. grandfathers’, and the effect is similar whether it’s earned income or a government check. Really interesting.
And also amusing that this has been the case for a very long time, yet it’s a “new discovery” because it’s the kind of thing researchers and policy makers have a hard time seeing, because it’s not what they are looking for. Glad it’s finally coming to light.
Gratitude & friendship –
Archan Mehta says
Yeah, Charlie, it breaks my heart as well. I find it difficult to come to terms with human suffering on a global scale.
Children are precious jewels and each one, for me, is a star twinkling in the night sky.
I have encountered many such angels, over time, and each one has left an indelible impression on me.
It is their innocence and vulnerability that brings tears to your eyes. I have witnessed their suffering and it is not even their fault. Not at all.
Their wretched existence is a reminder of what can happen in an uncaring and unfeeling world that has lost sight of basic humanity and compassion.
We have a long way to go before we can call ourselves civilized and cultured. Alas.
Powerfully written, Charlie!
I’d like to add something for the single moms and women who never finished their formal education in the USA: As a woman who found herself in a male-dominated specialty, I have found many opportunities over the last couple decades to help single moms in clerical or menial jobs discover their own intelligence and capabilities and confidence.
It takes someone investing the time and energy over a period of time to prove to them that they are intelligent and that they are valuable. Not many of them make it into educational or coaching settings because they’re too busy surviving. We can all make a huge difference simply by encouraging them in whatever context we find them in.
To this day our culture teaches women to be sweet and helpful and to accept that they shouldn’t ask for more even when they know the treatment and compensation they are receiving is insulting.
How many never even dare to dream, and never see the opportunities they might have had because they accept without question that they aren’t very bright or capable or that they “simply couldn’t ask for more?”
They never know what it’s like to succeed beyond their wildest dreams, to know they have something valuable to offer the world, or to be treated with respect, and worse: their children are learning and carrying these same self-limiting beliefs forward into our future.
We are all much poorer because these wonderful, intelligent, loving, tough, caring, hard-working people are hanging back in the shadows.
May I use the picture of the girl in my presentation on poverty for school?