The status of women – here in Wisconsin and around the world – comes under scrutiny in October as we marked the observance of World Poverty Day on Oct. 17. Poverty remains one of the most challenging problems in Wisconsin and across the globe, and women and girls are disproportionately impacted.
Being deeply affected by poverty, women also hold great potential to eliminate it. When women are afforded equality of opportunity, the potential for economic growth is striking. Women remain the missing piece in solving the poverty puzzle.
Throughout childhood, U.S. poverty rates are the same among boys and girls, but once they enter the childbearing years, 20.6 percent of women live in poverty, compared with 14 percent of men. Elderly women are 70-percent more likely to be poor than elderly men.
In Wisconsin, more than 589,000 people (247,031 of whom are women) and 28 percent of single mothers live in poverty. The numbers get a lot worse in Milwaukee County, where 38.8 percent of families led by single mothers live in poverty.
For women and their families, poverty means more than having little or no income. It means missing opportunities because they lack power and voice. It means missing out because they are undercounted, undervalued, underserved and underrepresented.
As long as social, cultural and economic barriers exclude women from full participation in public life, the solutions to the poverty puzzle remain elusive.
Investing in women and girls is the answer. According to an article in New York Times Magazine, "There is a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism … The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they are the solution."
The Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee understands that investing in women-led organizations and creating long-term solutions to problems in our communities is an important step to eliminating poverty. The Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee prioritizes investments in programs that build economic opportunity for women and girls and combats poverty. Since 1986, the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee has invested more than $15 million in nonprofits working on the frontlines to improve the economic status of women and create a brighter future for girls. Engaging women in organizing and advocacy efforts toward economic self sufficiency, promoting employment through housing mobility, leadership development, and reducing teen pregnancy are among the programs we have supported through the years.
On World Poverty Day, the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee calls on local, national and world leaders to empower the women that power the global economy – we can’t afford not to. There is no such thing as a "gender-neutral budget." The impact of every fiscal policy, be it taxation or resource allocation, must be assessed in terms of its impact on the lives of both women and men.
Furthermore, our leaders must eliminate the gender gap in wages, improve childcare options and flexibility for working mothers and facilitate women’s access to fair credit and finance.
Elaine Maly is executive director of the Women”s Fund of Greater Milwaukee Inc., the largest permanent resource in Wisconsin dedicated exclusively to funding and advocacy for the emerging needs of women and girls.