Establishing equality between women and men is vital to unleashing the power of families and communities to transform their lives for the better — but around the world, women, men, boys and girls experience disproportionate access to resources, exposure to risks and control of their futures.
So, with every programme we put into action — in each of the 40-plus countries we work in — we consider the needs of both genders, evaluate the dynamics between them and work to empower those most at risk.
We focus, especially, on helping women and girls find their equal voice in the places where they have fewer rights, because we know that strong women equal strong families — and strong countries. Meet the world's toughest women ▸
Why focus on women and girls?
Women and girls can be catalysts for incredible, positive change. But, traditional gender roles, certain cultural beliefs and few opportunities often keep them from reaching their full potential.
Mercy Corps, in partnership with the MasterCard Centre for Inclusive Growth, creates safe spaces for teenage girls to increase their knowledge and confidence, and become self-sufficient by combining basic business, financial and life skills training, with mentoring and access to vocational training. Learn more here.
In many places around the world, females have unequal access to important resources like information, money, school, jobs and land. And they are oftentimes not allowed to make decisions for themselves or their families, like who they will marry, how many children they will have, how they will spend their time or how to spend household income.
And with fewer skills and tools at their disposal, women and girls also end up being some of the most vulnerable when crises like war and natural disaster strike.
Obstacles to overcome
The challenges that girls and women face vary widely from culture to culture, but one theme is prevalent: Unequal access to opportunities that give them an independent, productive place in their communities.
Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
While research shows that educated women are less likely to marry early and more likely to have healthy, educated children, girls still face great — and, sometimes, insurmountable — barriers to education, including poverty, inadequate sanitation facilities, gender-based violence, social norms that favour boys’ education and early marriage.
According to UNICEF, one-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and one-third of women in the developing world give birth before the age of 20.
Women and girls also face more hurdles in building fruitful, stable livelihoods: While nearly half the world’s farmers are women, only 20 percent of landholders are. Female farmers also have less access to tools, seeds, fertilizers and financing.
In some economies, laws or social structures restrict the types of jobs women can do or prevent them from working altogether. How women are breaking down barriers in Afghanistan ▸
Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
And women and girls bear the brunt of the responsibility for unpaid housework, too, often having to forego earning an education or an income to care for family members, complete home chores and cook meals.
Globally, women spend up to 10 times more time per day caring for children and the elderly than men do, and up to three hours more per day doing housework. In sub-Saharan Africa, women devote at least 16 million hours a day — 5.8 billion hours a year — just to collecting drinking water.
But what if women and girls had the same opportunities as men and boys?
Did you know?
- A 10 percent increase in girls attending school can increase a developing country’s GDP by 5 percent, and an increase in female workers results in faster economic growth
- Children born to a literate mother are 50 percent more likely to live past the age of 5
- If female farmers had equal resources to male farmers, they could feed 150 million hungry people
- Women’s involvement in peace agreements increases the likelihood of them holding at least 2 years by 20 percent
Throughout our programming, we partner with communities to build gender equality, and work to support the drive and resourcefulness of women and girls.
Photo: Slavisa Trtic Trle for Mercy Corps
Our programmes include helping women and girls access education, vocational skills and livelihood assets, like livestock, tools and agricultural training, so they’re able to support themselves and contribute to their families. In vulnerable communities, young women dream big ▸
We work to promote equal household decision-making and community involvement, and increase women’s participation in income-generating activities. Read more: A couple finds their future in chia ▸
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
And initiatives like our girls groups and community health trainings give women and girls the tools they need to build healthy, promising futures, including information about delaying marriage, family planning, pregnancy care, nutrition and managing finances.
Informed, empowered women and girls have the ability to profoundly change their lives and families for the better — and with the right support, they can change the world, too. You can encourage even more women and girls transform their communities. Make a gift today ▸
Afghanistan: Behind the camera: Chickens that change lives
A photographer in Afghanistan experiences first-hand the tension and risk women face as they try to earn a living and tell their story.
Development through the lens of gender
There’s an inescapable fact about being human that is often easy to take for granted: Whenever people are involved, gender is involved. While we strive to make sure equal opportunities are available to all, regardless of gender, there are differences that must not be forgotten.
Iraq: Making the law work for them
In the Middle East, Iraq has a history of being a leader in promoting women's rights. Even after the fall of Saddam Hussein, women were some of the first to organise across ethnic and religious lines to advocate for democratic change.
Guatemala: A seat at the table: Empowering women in land-conflict mediation
Mercy Corps has been at the forefront of the movement to resolve land conflict in rural Guatemala since 2003. Meet the women who are now leading the charge.
Afghanistan: Education against all odds: Job skills open up new world
Our INVEST vocational training programme gives women in Helmand province an opportunity to go to school and earn an income for the first time in a generation. Meet Shamsiya, who is bravely seizing her brand new opportunities.
Iraq: One hundred text messages she can read and write
The noise was deafening. I had asked a simple question — “How has the WAI programme changed your life?” — and everyone had an answer. I didn’t know what to focus on. Spoons clinked in tea glasses and the women never stopped talking.
Palestine (West Bank/Gaza): Digital opportunities transcend borders
In Gaza, information technology is one of the only ways to connect to a productive future. See what Alaa and her visionary peers achieved at Gaza's first-ever Startup Weekend.
Haiti: Female entrepreneurs bounce back
Haiti is a land of micro-entrepreneurs. In every town, on every street, shopkeepers, traders and craftsmen are working hard to provide their communities with the essential goods and services of daily life — and in so doing, lift their own families from poverty.
Guatemala: Women stake their claim in the land of machismo
Their roots of land conflict may date to the Spanish conquistadors, but today we’re giving women the tools to resolve them without resorting to lawyers or guns.
Indonesia: From the source: Mothers provide perfect nourishment
Infant mortality remains high in Indonesia, the result of acute malnutrition and illness. Breastmilk imparts key nutrients to protect babies' health, yet many mothers are misinformed and choose to feed their infants formula or other foods.