The issue of women's rights is one that doesn't appear frequently here at China in Africa, but rest assured that such a lack is not for want of concern or interest. My undergraduate thesis centered on women's land rights in Africa - particularly Kenya and Botswana - and examined especially the conflict between customary and statutory laws, and the entitlements women enjoy under each. Somewhere between trying to understand Chinese foreign policy, parsing out the do's and don'ts of foreign aid, and attempting to decipher a U.S. policy towards Africa (a recent undertaking, to be sure), however, I seem to have placed the issue on the back burner.
A recent NYTimes article by Kristof and WuDunn has seemingly lead me back to the cause. As the piece aptly notes, focusing on women and girls may well be the most effective way of combating global poverty and extremism. For instance:
A series of studies has found that when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier.
This, as opposed to circumstances under which men control the assets. It has been found that men often engage in unwise spending, with the poorest families in the world spending approximately 20% of their incomes on a combination of alcohol, prostitution, candy (candy!!), sugary drinks and lavish feasts - and only 2% on the education of their children. For this reason among others, we are seeing a growing number of microfinance projects directed specifically at women. Additionally:
It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room.
Indeed, some scholars believe that the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately affected by terrorism has little to do with Islamic teachings about infidels or violence, and more to do with low levels of female education and participation in the labor force. I haven't yet had the chance to gather my thoughts on the matter, but a cursory glance at global terrorist hubs and their corresponding women's rights (to the extent that we can even call them that), seemingly lends much credence to the claim.
Kristof and WuDunn ultimately argue that women's rights must be brought to the forefront of the international development agenda, as it is women who perhaps represent our best hope in the fight against global poverty. Fight on, sister, fight on.