Despite advances on some fronts in recent years, women continue to lack access to resources in all parts of the world. With Mother's Day right around the corner, here are some of the issues that need to be addressed to help improve women's well-being as a matter of sustainability.
Improving women's access to land and security of tenure would increase farm productivity and have positive impacts on household welfare. But women land holders are few. In North Africa and West Asia, less than 5% of women are agricultural land holders. Other countries fare better: an average of 15% in sub-Saharan Africa to more than 25% in Chile, Ecuador and Panama.
They also have challenges accessing resources: they own fewer working animals and often don't control the income from the small animals they manage. They are less likely than men to have access to improved seeds, fertilizers, pest control measures and tools. They have less access to credit and often have less education which can further impact their access to resources.
According to the FAO, http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2050e/i2050e.pdf "if women farmers used the same level of resources as men on the land they farm, they would achieve the same yield levels. The yield gap between men and women averages around 20-30 percent, and most research finds that the gap is due to differences in resource use. Bringing yields on the land farmed by women up to the levels achieved by men would increase agricultural output in developing countries between 2.5 and 4 percent. Increasing production by this amount could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world in the order of 12-17 percent. According to FAO's latest estimates, 925 million people are currently undernourished. Closing the gender gap in agricultural yields could bring that number down by as much as 100-150 million people."
Both women and men are sometimes forced to seek work far from home. Women who are migrant workers are often vulnerable to a variety of hazards and discrimination. According to the ILO:
Improving prenatal care would reduce the number of maternal and infant deaths. Only one third of rural women receive prenatal care compared to 50 per cent in developing regions as a whole. (UN)
Around half of all pregnant women in developing countries are anaemic which causes approximately 110,000 deaths during child birth each year. Malnourished mothers often give birth to underweight babies who are 20 percent more likely to die before the age of five. Up to 17 million children are born underweight every year. (UNICEF)
The toll of maternal and infant mortality is a high one. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that maternal and newborn deaths cost the world $15 billion in lost productivity annually.
Of the world's 774 million illiterate adults, 64% are women (UNESCO). But educated mothers have healthier families. Their children are better nourished, are less likely to die in infancy and more likely to attend school (FAO).
There are more girls in school today than ever before, but of the 72 million children worldwide who are not in school, 57% are girls (UNESCO). When a country educates its girls, its mortality rates usually fall, fertility rates decline, and the health and education prospects of the next generation improve. (World Bank)
The economic cost of failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys is estimated at US$92 billion each year.
In many countries, women are in charge of cooking. The open fires or traditional stoves used cause them to breathe in a mix of hundreds of pollutants. This indoor smoke is responsible for half a million of the 1.3 million annual deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among women worldwide. In comparison, only about 12% of COPD deaths among men each year are related to indoor smoke. During pregnancy, exposure of the developing embryo to such harmful pollutants may cause low birth weight or even stillbirth. (WHO)
In many developing countries women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in the vast majority (76%) of households. Women spend an estimated 200 million hours per day collecting water. This is time not spent caring for family members, attending school or generating income. (WHO)
Providing access to clean water and proper sanitation would have an economic benefit of $22 billion per year in Africa alone.
It's alarming that many of these issues have not seen substantial improvement, if any, in decades. Frankly, it's clear that there is an absence of political will to create the enabling environment for change to occur. Increasing investment in women and girls and addressing issues of gender inequality will lead to advances in a sustainable future. And that benefits more than just mothers; it's good for us all.
Image via Flickr user gwenboul