Women's rights were once again at the forefront of international controversy, as they were recently negotiated at the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women. Considerable progress was made, but the conversations did not all yield positive results. Many discussions took a step back and pushed for greater traditional roles for women and lesser autonomy. With the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaching, the world has much to do to "promote gender equality and empower women."
Another MDG aims to eradicate extreme poverty, which is not contentious in terms of the problem itself but in the way we approach the disparity. However, the answer is obvious. The most effective starting point to resolve issues of poverty is mitigating the inequalities that affects over half of the world's population – women. More importantly, when women are 70% of the people that are impoverished, resolving gender inequality in both a social and economic context becomes a matter of greater exigency when tackling poverty.
The issue of gender inequality is omnipresent. According to American Progress, "women own only 1 percent of property, earn 10 percent of all income, and yet they produce half of the world's food." Over two-thirds of the illiterate are women. In terms of pay, women earn half as much as men earn. The conglomeration of inequalities for women has large culminating effects and unpacking them can greatly shape the way poverty is resolved.
One of the most visible connections to poverty is homelessness (which is not to assume that everyone who is homeless is impoverished). In the United States, over 50% of women who are homeless are escaping from domestic violence and abuse. This issue is much greater than the United States, though. It sheds light on the patriarchal structures deeply entrenched across the globe. There are 603 million women who live in countries where domestic violence is not even a crime. When women must subject themselves to poverty in order to avoid the dominating hand of a man, the issue becomes relevant in both solving poverty and dismantling the patriarchy that disengages women.
Perhaps, the largest step toward diminishing homelessness, and consequently poverty, is to push the 68 countries that do not chastise those that commit acts of domestic violence. Beyond the institutional and policy changes, however, individuals must also develop a stronger understanding of the concept of domestic violence and the consequences of it. They must realize the controlling and subjugating nature of violence and its potential to push away people in relationships. They must realize the stigmatizing effects, such as the physical bruises and the emotional scars and burns that it has on those who are abused.
Beyond bridging issues of homelessness, we must also address gender inequalities in education and the pay gap. When almost 70% of the children that are not enrolled in school are girls, it is apparent that women are disempowered from a young age. They are unable to fight against the patriarchal structure perpetrated by both men and women in society, understand their rights as humans, and break away from the vicious cycle of being uneducated generation after generation.
Even when comparing women who have equal education and experience, this marginalized group is still frequently silenced in the work place. Beyond payment, women don't have voices to represent them: women comprise only about 20% of all national parliaments. When a group is so poorly represented and has a voice drowned out in society, how can there be any progress toward ending poverty?
It is easy to say what governments must do and what global action should entail. What is more important though is our own responsibility. As a man, what am I supposed to do? I can start by not telling a woman what to do with her body. I can start by empowering women to take control of their own lives. I can push other men to treat women's rights as human rights. My position enables me to push other men to respect and stop exerting verbal, physical, or mental dominance over other humans.
Action must be taken on all levels to solve poverty. Empowering women and addressing disparities in women's rights is quintessential to eradicating this pressing problem.