One of my favorite quotes is by Sid Caesar: “The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius.” Sometimes the most ingenious examples that we see in all aspects of human science are not by those who make never-before-seen discoveries, but those that put two and two together to enhance each one’s inherent capabilities and usefulness. In my experience with WomanStats as well as other research I have seen, this is just the case in the global realm with poverty and the role of women.
When dealing with such a complex and difficult problem as poverty, it is easy for someone to focus on merely one problem or one solution. From such narrow viewpoints, there are many examples of failed attempts to alleviate poverty (such as investing money to the point that the poor are sponsored in their lifestyle, monetary gifts or other donations of machinery are exploited or used the wrong way, etc.). What occurs from this perspective are not solutions for the problem, but superficial pain killers. It is more like a doctor who reinspects a deep wound every week, puts antibiotic ointment on it, and sends the patient away hoping the wound will heal without the necessary surgeries and stitches.
I was able to go to a Hunger Banquet a week ago. During this dinner, tickets were randomly given out, with 10% assigned to first world tables, 30% to second world chairs along the wall, and 60% to third world seats made of cardboard and newspaper on the ground. The food quantity and quality coincided with where you sat. It was very enlightening. The speaker for the night was Lynn Curtis, founder of ProLiteracy Worldwide. This organization is one that was able to “use all the wheels” by teaching literacy and showing its usefulness in the realms of health, human rights, peace, education, etc.
Paul Polak, the author of “Out of Poverty” was able to do much the same thing, by teaching the people he invests in how to use the resources available to them, advertise, and find sustainable solutions based on real-world need.
Women are one wheel of the vehicle that is constantly passed over. While the other three wheels may be in functioning order, the car still cannot drive with one flat. Women serve both reproductive and productive roles in every society. Countries that focus on improving the quality of life and opportunities for men miss out on half the story. Women bear, and in many cases raise and solely provide for their children. Mothers are the number one candidates for volunteer labor and service, which is so essential for every community. Mothers educate their children, pass on culture and values, and find creative ways to work from their meager situation toward stability. Women are a powerful resource.
The alleviation of poverty, as I said before, is a multi-faceted issue. Yes, there needs to be a welfare system that keeps people from starvation. Yes, there need to be labor and training opportunities so anyone can find a marketable skill. Yes, credit and microcredit systems need to be in place for workers to build up capital and start up businesses. But don’t forget the women. Make sure that women and children can have access to welfare and health care. Make sure that women have the ability to go and get training, to have daycare as needed, and have enough rights within the workplace. Make sure women are able to get loans so they can have the opportunity to be productive. Those people who recognized women in the role of alleviating poverty, now they were geniouses.