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Help eliminate poverty – invest in women

When a woman prospers, a family prospers. When families prosper, communities prosper.

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Those familiar with the issue of poverty might know that although women perform two-thirds of the world's unpaid labor and grow more than half the world's food, they represent 70 percent of those living in poverty.

But what is just coming into focus is that women represent an underutilized resource in alleviating that poverty. When government and philanthropic dollars are invested in financially disadvantaged women, the potential impact is vast.

Research shows that investing in women's education and leadership in Africa can increase agricultural yields by more than 20 percent there. It is estimated that for every year beyond fourth grade that girls attend school, their wages rise 21 percent. And in 2001 the United Nations reported that eliminating gender inequality in Latin America would increase national output by 5 percent.

On top of that, evidence from micro-credit lending indicates that women have superior repayment rates, invest more productively, and are more risk-averse than men in similar situations.

Through programs administered by an international alliance of nongovernmental organizations known as the Women's Funding Network and by other international organizations including UNIFEM, experience illustrates the effectiveness of investing in women. These programs support training and better working conditions for women. They also build entrepreneurship and support asset-building and financial literacy for them.

A hallmark of this work – and key to its effectiveness – is empowering women living in poverty to help direct funding, and to take leadership in the programs it makes possible.

In Washington, programs funded by the Washington Area Women's Foundation have helped low-income women in and around the area collectively increase their assets by $17 million in 2-1/2 years.

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