Poverty is sexist

I’ve been lost in my own struggles lately. It’s not a bad thing, I’ve been focusing, working hard, achieving goals I set for myself that I wasn’t even sure were possible to meet. But along with focus comes a lack of peripheral vision. When I pay a lot of attention to getting what I want, I stop paying much attention to others.

Luckily, there is Facebook. And email. And the blogs I follow and the sites I frequent and all those other reminders of the outside world that do have a way of saying things like …

povertyWhat? Poverty is poverty. It sucks and I wish I could do more about it, but sexist? Well, read on.

According to Dawn.com “Women face the triple burden of child-bearing, child rearing, and domestic unpaid labor; they have been denied opportunities for growth, are without access to adequate healthcare, education or income, and simultaneously forced to live in the tight bind of culture and tradition. Their poverty is multidimensional; not only of lack of income, but also of nutrition and health; they are denied education and the ability to earn an adequate income, their vulnerability prevents them from advancing their innate capabilities. To add to that, gender biases and patriarchal/misogynist mindsets permeate every aspect of their lives. Living with discrimination and gender-based violence is a daily reality for many.

A wonderful organization called “One” (great name) is pushing to address the additional burdens that poverty places on girls and women in regions where extreme poverty is common. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hosting a meeting of the world’s most powerful leaders in June and she gets to decide what gets talked about. According to Billboard.com “more than 30 influential female celebrities, politicians, executives and activists have signed an open letter by charity ONE to raise awareness for women’s rights around the world.” The goal of the petition is to get the issue of women and poverty on the agenda. You can sign the One petition on Facebook here.

Dalai8Lest one think that the greater economic burdens on women exist only in far corners of the world, a report by Maria Shriver that came out about a year ago noted that in the United States (1) Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and these workers often get zero paid sick days (2) The average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that figure is much lower for black and Latina women; African American women earn only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man and (3) men still make more money than women who have the same level of educational achievement, from high school diplomas to advanced graduate degrees. It isn’t surprising that 60% of low-income women in the U.S. say they believe even if they made all the right choices, “the economy doesn’t work for someone like me.”

That’s a sad statement. As I sit here in my relatively easy circumstances, I wonder: How do you focus, set goals for yourself, and achieve when the system is so stacked against you? How slanted does the playing field have to be before it just clearly isn’t worth even trying to play the game?”

Of course there are those who overcome even the worst. But they shouldn’t be the rare exception. There is no single better way to raise a region out of extreme poverty than to educate and empower the women living there. The children benefit. The region gains. The world is better.

Yesterday March 8, was International Women’s Day. It’s not a day too late to sign the petition for One.



Electrify Africa

Writing a novel in which at least half the action takes place in a sub-Sahara African nation made me more aware than I had been about the day to day struggles in a developing country. Mind you, “more aware” merely means less ignorant. I’ve never lived anywhere without electricity, clean water, and ample food and my research produced information and sympathy, not understanding. But as my hero of x0 concludes, knowledge and concern are a start.

beautiful life3I work with several Nigerians, in real life, and enjoy the occasional opportunity to see the world through their eyes. They give me a feel for how complicated their homeland is, and how well-meant simple solutions often fail. Obviously, problems everywhere else can be complex too. I work in the oil industry, and have a grown child who makes his living trying to understand climate change. We both want what is best for this planet, and we each spend our days surrounded by those with very different opinions about how that should be achieved.

All of this came together for me recently when I received an impassioned email plea, from Bono of U2 no less, to support the Electrify Africa Act. It was described as “a life-saving bill that would help Africa bring electricity to 50 million people for the very first time”. This sounds wonderful. Nigerian co-workers tell me that much of the electric power in their country comes from diesel generators, a smoky, noisy, inefficient part-time solution that they suspect puts money in somebody’s pocket. I am all for a better answer and even willing to see some of my tax dollars used to get there.

I received a follow-up email a few days ago saying the bill had passed. Wahoo! Furthermore, I was informed that my representative,Texas Republican Congressman Kevin Brady, had voted for it. Wait a minute. Maybe I am being too cynical here, but over the past several years I have noticed that Congressman Brady and I don’t agree on a while lot of things. If he voted yes, perhaps I’m not as informed about this bill as I thought.

Indeed, a little more research showed that the bill is controversial and the issues are complicated “Access to power is a principal bottleneck to growth in Africa. Six hundred million Africans lack access to a power grid” reads one headline. Yes, we need to do something about that.  “Two U.S. initiatives to provide Africans with electricity seem likely to lead to large, climate-polluting projects rather than the locally sourced renewable energy rural Africa needs” says another. Okay, I may be starting to see where my pro-oil-industry congressman fits in.

sungazing7The Nation takes it a step further and adds that “Proponents of Electrify and Power Africa have been most publicly enthusiastic about new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas on the continent, which has many African activists wary of a resource grab.” USAID, a U.S. Government agency working to end extreme global poverty puts it somewhat differently. “Power Africa encourages countries to make energy sector reforms while connecting entrepreneurs and U.S. businesses to investment opportunities.”

What to do? Go with an initiative that will be backed by many more, and yet may well invite more problems into a continent that desperately needs less of them? Or hold out for a better, more environmentally friendly and Africa-centric solution? Remember “electricity allows businesses to flourish, clinics to store vaccines, and students to study long after dark. But for more than two-thirds of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa, these opportunities simply do not exist.” Politics is a messy business. For now, I’m going to reluctantly cheer on the passage of this bill on the grounds that trying to solve a problem is better than doing nothing. Let’s hope that is true in this case.

(Thanks to the Facebook pages of Your Beautiful Life and Sungazing for sharing the images shown above.)