‘Empowerment of women is good common sense’

Irina-Bokova-nouvelle-directrice-générale-de-l’UNESCO

We all marked International Women’s Day last Thursday, March 8, but here in Washington, DC, the celebrations continue.

At a Wednesday event organized by the UN Foundation, the UN Information Center and the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and UN Women Assistant Secretary General Lakshmi Puri shared their thoughts on women’s empowerment.

It boils down to this, the two agree: women’s empowerment is a “game-changer for development.”

“Empowerment of women is good common sense,” Bokova reminded the audience, but it’s also much more than that. “It’s the smartest way out of a crisis.”

Puri agreed that promoting gender equality through improved access to education and health care is a “human rights issue,” emphasizing that it’s not just a “feel good thing”; women’s empowerment is relevant –- and crucial -– to “development, peace and security.”

The stats back up their claims across the board. The International Food Policy Research Institute reports that in Kenya, when women farmers receive the same level of education as their male counterparts, their yields for maize, beans and cowpeas increase by up to 22 percent. In terms of child mortality, according to UNESCO, a baby born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five. It sounds unfathomable, but in sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in 2008 if their mothers had had at least secondary education.

Given the benefits of empowering women, Puri maintained that “gender perspective” should not be an afterthought. “Let’s commit to commemorating and working for women every day, not just on International Women’s Day,” she encouraged the audience. Yes, let’s do that. If you missed your chance last week to tell us about a woman who inspires you, don’t fret — we’ll be celebrating women all year long.