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Why Investing in Women and Girls Makes Economic Sense

By: Mandy Moore; Originally Posted on ONE

I woke up in India’s capital of Delhi and piled into a car for an hour’s drive down unpaved muddy roads, through crowded streets where stagnant sewage water filled the lanes between buildings and houses. This was the most recent trip of many I’ve taken as an advocate for the health and rights of girls and women in the developing world as a global ambassador for Population Services International (PSI).

We arrived in the town of Patna, in Bihar, and were greeted by a dozen or so women with extremely limited resources. Yet, they had joined together to get microloans to buy toilets for their homes and community.

Eight out of ten people in Bihar lack access to sanitation. Before having a private toilet, the women I spoke with, like so many others, had been shamed and verbally harassed and sexually assaulted when relieving themselves in nearby fields, to say nothing of the illnesses they and their children were exposed to. “It gives dignity and respect to girls,” said Anita Devi, one of the women I met.

A healthy, educated woman reinvests 90 percent of her income in her family and community compared to only 35 percent for a man. Each additional year of secondary school can increase a woman’s earnings by 10 to 20 percent, and that increase yields real profits for the countries they live in. When 10 percent more women in a country complete secondary education, the country’s annual per capita income grows by 3 percent.

Investing in smart solutions to improve the health and rights of women makes good sense from a health and economic standpoint.

I’ve seen it in Tanzania in the PSI community health worker Lucy, who works to educate other women on reproductive health products, services and information to reduce maternal mortality. I’ve seen it in South Sudan and Cameroon, when mothers pull their babies close to them under bed nets at night and sleep for the first time, no longer having to bat mosquitoes away to protect their children.

And yet many girls and women in the developing world won’t reach their potential because of health inequities and paltry levels of investment in women-focused services. Only two cents of every development dollar goes to support programs for girls. As a result, services they need, such as family planning and screening for cervical cancer or gender-based violence, are limited in poor countries, and investment levels do not come close to meeting demand.

No business would sacrifice its best asset and neither should we. Investing in women and girls makes sense. When the world’s mothers, sisters and daughters can reach their true potential, we all do.

And, we profit.

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