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Fantastic females

Fantastic females

The key to driving down the rates of poverty and population growth lies with women, says Jonathan Power in Arab News.

May 14, 2009 2:55 by

Poor women living in the third world’s rural backwaters, where 75 percent of the world’s people scrape a living, hold the answers to reduce poverty and population growth.

The last few years the number of rural women living in poverty has gone up in both India and China, although during the latter half of the 1990s the figures were falling. In Africa, although the numbers haven’t gone up, the fall in numbers is very modest. Only in Latin America and the Caribbean has there been some marked improvement.

Rapid population growth is one part of the problem, but changes in traditional values, the emigration of men to look for work in the cities and overseas, increasing number of family breakups, low productivity and a deteriorating environment; all these are also altering the lifestyles of people.

In a number of countries, the problem is worsened by a male-dominated culture or by social instability resulting from conflict and war, civil disturbance or quick industrialization.

Although women are a critical element of production in the rural economy – in Africa women produce three-quarters of their families’ food supply – social custom usually subordinates them. In many places, women’s access to land is severely constrained.

Islamic law grants land rights to women, but in daily life, the threat of divorce or other social sanctions encourage women to give up practical control of their land to men. In Africa, customary land systems often give married women the right to a certain number of fields, but they must give priority to their husband’s fields and livestock.

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