The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Women’s empowerment – not a partisan issue

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Let’s recognize the harsh realities of power and politics that affect poor women worldwide and honor the essential role of women as true agents of change in their communities.

Oxfam America's Sisters on the Planet Climate Leaders Summit March 8, 2010 Washington D.C.  Photo by Ilene Perlman/Oxfam America
Oxfam America's Sisters on the Planet Climate Leaders Summit March 8, 2010 Washington D.C. Photo by Ilene Perlman/Oxfam America

Cyndi Lauper. Mavis Staples. Roseanne Cash. Neko Case. Sarah McLachlan. Thao Nguyen. What do these women rockers have in common? They’ve all signed on to Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet initiative to fight hunger and invest in the power of women to create change in the world. Bob Ferguson blogs more about this effort here.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day next week, I am inspired and humbled by the actions women and men are taking across the country to raise awareness about climate change, hunger, and other injustices facing women in poor countries. More than 160 events are happening during the next week in 39 states to commemorate International Women’s Day and to draw attention to the harsh realities of power and politics that affect poor, rural women and their families.

Women work tirelessly to produce the majority of food in many developing countries. Yet, sadly, hundreds of millions go hungry despite their hard work, heroism, and self-sacrifice. And they’re producing food in the face of increasing natural resource constraints, erratic growing seasons, and rising global temperatures. Oxfam calculates that by 2015 (only four years from now) 375 million people will be affected each year by climate-related disasters like hurricanes and floods. This is a global humanitarian and human security crisis that’s staring us in the face.

As a new mother I’m deeply touched when I hear stories like that of Sahena Begum in Bangladesh who has two children and whose family has been ravaged by increasingly severe and persistent floods. Sahena invests in disaster preparedness measures like flood early warning systems and raising homesteads with a local organization. I wonder how she has time to invest in such efforts with a family to take care of and food to put on the table. Even with a comfortable home, adequate resources, and no direct threat of natural disasters (or at least none that I know of), I barely have enough time to breathe, never mind invest in community development projects.

And while Sahena protects her family and community from yet another flood in Bangladesh, a US Congressional budget battle threatens to slash international development funding accounts that build human security in some of the poorest countries in the world. It looks like the House and Senate will agree to a compromise this week that prevents a government shutdown in the immediate term, but it’s still unclear how long this will last and whether international food security and climate finance will be cut in the end.

We owe it to Sahena and all of our sisters on the planet to do better.

Last year, Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a Congressional Resolution in honor of International Women’s Day recognizing that “the economic growth and empowerment of women is inextricably linked to the potential of nations to generate economic growth and sustainable democracy.”

Even domestic women and children’s programs are at the heart of some of the proposed budget cuts in HR1, the House Continuing Resolution budget for 2011 (e.g., $758 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program providing food assistance to low-income women and their infants.)

Women’s empowerment, in the US and globally, is not and must not be a partisan issue. Let’s hope that during the next several weeks of tough budget negotiations our elected leaders, many of whom are women, remember to honor the essential role of women as true agents of change in our communities.

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