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Poverty is Sexist: How women and girls can and must lead the fight to end extreme poverty

Meryl Streep, Beyoncé, Sheryl Sandberg, Lady Gaga, Angelique Kidjo join international women in call for world leaders to take urgent action for women’s empowerment
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, will make the economic case for gender equality with ONE in  a live video linkup at the Southbank Centre’s WOW –  Women of the World Festival

Girls and women are hit hardest by extreme poverty across every area of life, but they also hold the key to change, according to new analysis published by ONE today, International Women’s Day. ONE’s report, “Poverty is Sexist: Why girls and women must be at the heart of the fight to end extreme poverty” shows how unlocking women’s economic potential could improve the lives of everyone in society, and highlights how two summits hosted by two world-leading women this year represent an historic opportunity to turn things around.

Meryl Streep, Beyoncé, Lada Gaga and Angelique Kidjo are among 36 influential women backing ONE’s campaign for world leaders to put girls and women centre stage in 2015, a year when world leaders must agree new global goals to set the development agenda for a generation.

The report will be unveiled at the Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World Festival in a live video link up with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who will close out the festival by making the economic case for gender equality across the globe. Christine Lagarde will be joined by Radio 1 presenter Gemma Cairney and ONE’s Global Policy Director Eloise Todd in a discussion chaired by Jude Kelly CBE Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre.

President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called on her fellow leaders to act now, and said:

Poverty is sexist: I see it all the time, too often women and girls are worst hit by poverty and left to carry its burdens. But investing in them is also so often the solution. So let’s deliver for women because women deliver. This year through the AU and G7 Summits on women’s empowerment, through the Addis Ababa financing summit and through the new Global Goals to be launched in New York, lets ensure that investing in women and girls is central to the strategy, and lets call upon a generation of women around the world to unite for this essential and transformative call to action.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who has signed the open letter, said:

When it comes to poverty, everyone suffers — women and men, girls and boys. But the crushing blow of poverty often falls heavier on females due to the stereotypes and legal shortcomings that stack the deck against them in so many nations.

I embrace this campaign to put empowering women at the heart of global anti-poverty efforts. Mothers invest in their daughters and sons, and make their communities stronger. If we get this right for women, everyone will be better off.

Poverty and gender inequality go hand in hand, whether you look at health, education or work. Not only are girls and women worse off than those in wealthier countries, but the gender gap in these areas between males and females is greatest in the poorest countries. This double disadvantage means that:

  • A woman in Sierra Leone is 183 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in Switzerland
  • Working women in the least developed countries are three times more likely to be in vulnerable employment than women elsewhere
  • In the poorest countries, literacy levels are a third lower for women than men

Eloise Todd, ONE’s Global Policy Director said:

It’s time to unleash the human, social, political and economic potential of women everywhere. With new Global Goals for development on the horizon, 2015 can be the year to make that happen, but only if leaders hear it loudly enough from citizens. ‘Poverty is Sexist’ is our rallying cry to Chancellor Merkel, chairperson Dlamini-Zuma, and leaders from around the world. When citizens raise their voice it can make leaders keep their promises.

36 high profile women, including academics, politicians, business leaders, actors and musicians, have added their names to ONE’s call for action. They have signed an open letter to Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and the chair of this year’s G7 summit and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chair of the African Union Commission – both of whom are key decision makers this year. The letter reads in part:

If we get this right, we could help lift every girl and woman out of poverty by 2030 – and by doing so we will lift everyone. Get this wrong and extreme poverty, inequality and instability might spread in the most vulnerable regions, impacting all our futures.

The new Sustainable Development Goals, due to be unveiled in September, will set out a plan to end extreme poverty by 2030. ONE’s report argues we will fail to reach this aim if girls and women aren’t firmly at the centre of the goals. As part of that process, this summer’s G7 and African Union summits, under leadership of Chancellor Merkel and Commission Chair Dlamini-Zuma, could pave the way for new policies and financing that empower women and girls.

ONE has looked at the impact of gender on a range of key sectors, from agriculture to technology, and from education to energy. We have found that dismantling the barriers to girls and women leading productive lives could have a profoundly positive impact across society. For example, giving women farmers the same access to resources as men would drive up productivity and could spare 100–150 million people from a life of chronic hunger. Every year a girl spends in school boosts her future income by 10–20 %.

Empowering women—giving them the power and tools they need to change their own status—allows them to take hold of equal opportunities, break from cultural and social constraints that may be holding them back, and become drivers of poverty reduction.

The full list of women who have signed the letter is:

Ali Hewson, Founder, Edun and Nude;
Angellah Kairuki, Member of Parliament, Tanzania;
Angelique Kidjo, Singer songwriter & activist;
Ann Cairns, President, International Markets, MasterCard;
Arianna Huffington, Chair, President, and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group;
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Entertainer, Entrepreneur;
Charlize Theron, Actress, UN Messenger of Peace, Founder of Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project;
Christy Turlington Burns, Founder, Every Mother Counts;
Cindi Leive, Editor-in-Chief, Glamour Magazine;
Danai Gurira, Actress, Playwright, Activist;
Gesine Schwan, Professor and former Presidential candidate;
Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE;
Jude Kelly, CBE, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre;
Jutta Allmendinger, Professor and Ph.D., President of the Wissenschaftszentrum;
Karen Kornbluh, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations;
Karen Ruimy, Musician, Performer, Author;
Lady Gaga, Singer, Songwriter;
Lauren Bush Lauren, Founder and CEO of FEED;
Mabel van Oranje, Initiator and Chair, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage;
Dr. Maria Furtwängler, Actress and Physician, Germany;
Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR;
Mariella Frostrup, Journalist, Cofounder of GREAT Initiative;
Meryl Streep,
Michele Sullivan, President of The Caterpillar Foundation, Director of Corporate Social Innovation;
Mimi Alemayehou, Development Finance Executive;
Monica Musonda, CEO and Founder of Java Foods (Zambia);
Mpule Kwelagobe, Activist;
Naisula Lesuuda, Senator, Kenya;
Rita Wilson, Actress, Producer, Singer;
Rosamund Pike, Actress;
Sabine Christiansen, Journalist, Producer and UNICEF-Ambassador;
Sarah Silverman, Comedian, Actress, Activist;
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook;
Sheryl WuDunn, Banker and Author;
Susan Shabangu, Minister of Women’s Affairs, South Africa;
Yvonne Chaka Chaka, President of the Princess of Africa Foundation, Activist, Singer.

Notes to editors

1. The open letter and ONE’s report, “Poverty is Sexist: Why girls and women must be at the heart of the fight to end extreme poverty”  will be published at one.org/sexist on Sunday 8th March

2. Putting girls and women at the heart of the new global goals will not only address the injustice of gender inequality, but benefit wider society. For that to happen, ONE wants to see goals agreed that are:

  • Focused: Goals, targets and indicators must be clear, measurable and capable of implementation. Targets must be evidence-based, so it is possible to measure progress and improve allocation of resources for the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. The goals must fundamentally address women’s rights and economic empowerment.
  • Financed:  Through a new mutually accountable global financing deal, not less than half of all aid from developed countries should go to the poorest countries; and developing nations must be supported to fight corruption, illicit capital flight and to expand their domestic tax base so they can raise and target more resources more transparently on the economic inclusion of the poorest, especially women and girls.
  • Followed: Citizens must be able to clearly follow the financing pledged for these focused goals through open budgets down to the local level. There needs to be real improvement in the quality and regularity of data about the services and results delivered with these funds and this data must be open for citizens to scrutinise. In particular, the gender gap in data must be eradicated; and there must be a binding commitment that no target is declared achieved if girls and women are left behind.

3. The Southbank Centre’s 5th WOW – Women of the World Festival, runs across Southbank Centre’s site from Sunday 1 – Sunday 8 March 2015. The annual flagship event as part of Southbank Centre’s core commitment to promoting equality for women and girls enters its 5th year in 2015 and officially becomes the UK’s biggest, most comprehensive and most significant festival dedicated to presenting work by women and promoting equality for women and girls.

4. ONE is a member of action/2015, a global citizens’ movement calling for pivotal change in 2015 for the future of people and the planet. Action/2015 is comprised of 1300+ organisations and coalitions from over 130 countries.

5.    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, we raise public awareness and press political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding. ONE is funded almost entirely by foundations, individual philanthropists and corporations. We achieve change through advocacy. Our teams in Washington, D.C., New York, London, Johannesburg, Brussels, Berlin, and Paris educate and lobby governments to shape policy solutions that save and improve millions of lives. To learn more, go to ONE.org.