June 15, 2016
Written by Sarah Hillware
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, once said, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” I’d like to take it a step further by saying that there is no stronger tool for development than women’s entrepreneurship. According to a 2014 report by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), more than 9.1 million firms in the US alone are owned by women. Globally, women owned entities represent at least 37% of enterprises, and that number has grown since the World Bank report was published in 2011. However, even though we are making progress, these statistics are not a cue to become complacent.
While women reinvest an astounding 90 cents of every additional dollar of income back into their families and communities, women still face multiple systemic barriers to self-determination. A few of the most prominent barriers include access to education, financial resources, and healthcare. However, many others are less obvious.
When my non-profit, Girls Health Ed, hosted a health education workshop for 500 girls in west Kenya, we also provided reusable sanitary pads and underwear for each girl, as menstruation often keeps girls home from school for days out of each month, and is a huge underlying barrier to proper education. We partnered with the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, and were heartbroken hearing about the girls’ needs. One 16 year-old told us that she has never used a sanitary product in her life. Instead, she used old rugs and sometimes leaves, which provide very little protection and can cause infections.