The role of gender in development is not a new topic, and it is not one that should be taken lightly. Several studies have found that the inclusion of women in education, employment, and financial decisions can positively impact the economic growth of a country. Zap It to Me, a case study published by the Center for Global Development, shows that mobile cash transfers give women more control over the money in a household, and therefore give women more authority with decision-making. In addition, women are statistically more likely to use money for the family than men. An article by Business Week shows that there is an overwhelming 90 percent chance that women will use their salary to invest in their family – for men, the possibility is just 30-40 percent.
In 2008, the Nike foundation, along with the NoVo Foundation, United Nations Foundation, and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls, launched an ambitious new program called ‘The Girl Effect.’ The program aims to tap into the economic potential of women in order to break the cycle of poverty and abuse in developing countries. The Girl Effect promotes the argument that giving girls access to employment would add $3 billion to a developing country’s economy. By giving a young girl access to education, she is given access to better employment, better wages, better knowledge of HIV/AIDS prevention, and has a future investment in the education of her own children. In addition, by marrying at a later age, girls are less likely to suffer domestic violence from their husbands.
The Girl Effect’s toolkit, Your Move, says that all girls in Kenya, in one lifetime, could raise the nation’s economy by $27.4 billion by finishing secondary education, $25 billion by delaying childbirth, and $1.6 million by staying HIV/AIDS free. It also illustrates that with more money going into the economy and less need for extensive health programs—as girls receive health information in school—governments can spend more on sanitation.
While investing in girls is one potential way to spur development, this program suggests that there are no other options. For example, The Girl Effect’s website portrays poverty as a simple problem with a simple solution: girls. They explain:
While this was a joke, intended to dismiss the idea of including boys as direct beneficiaries in the program, this doesn’t bode well for their own vision as they compare the importance of focusing on girls to that of a rubber band. In addition, this ignores the complexity of poverty and its many causes by trivializing the impact of such an effort with such a comparison.
One major problem developing countries face is lack of infrastructure. Without proper infrastructure, it is difficult for developing areas to receive advanced medical treatment, technology, or access to trade. In addition, bypassing strict social norms is easier said than done. One report, Microcredit, Men, and Masculinity, illustrates that challenging such gender-based social constructs can cause anger and resentment within the family. This could increase the likelihood of domestic violence and put women at risk of further harm instead of preventing it. The Girl Effect does indicate that boys will be indirect beneficiaries as a result of empowering girls.
The Nike Foundation is certainly taking a step in the right direction by focusing on the role of women in development, an ever-growing topic in the field. However, they may want to acknowledge that targeting women exclusively is not going to completely eradicate poverty on its own. It’s easy to focus on a specific factor, however, marketing it as the only solution seriously impedes the public’s understanding of the complexity of poverty.