New campaign for women: "Poverty is sexist"

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More rights for women are one solution in the struggle against extreme poverty and hunger, says Stephan Exo-Kreischer, Director of ONE Germany. The organisation specialises in political campaigning as a lever for change.

Stephan Exo-Kreischer is Director of the German arm of ONE, the lobbying and campaigning organisation.

Stephan Exo-Kreischer

Stephan Exo-Kreischer is Germany's director of the lobby and campaign organization, ONE.

ONE

Brot für die Welt

A world without hunger – extreme poverty has many causes and impacts: education, food, health … it can be confusing for helpers and members of the public. Is it a hopeless struggle?

 

Stephan Exo-Kreischer: It helps if we bear in mind the successes achieved by the international community in the last fifteen years – for example, in combating AIDS, child mortality, hunger and extreme poverty. The number of people living in extreme poverty – that is, on less than one dollar ninety a day – has more than halved in the last twenty years. That is a huge success. At ONE we constantly ask ourselves what works. Once we have figured that out, our next question is: how can as many people as possible benefit? It’s not for nothing that we see ourselves as ‘factivists’ – that is, activists who act on the basis of facts and demand political action.

 

What does that mean in practice?

 

For example, the data shows that growth in agriculture effectively reduces extreme poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa it can be ten times as successful as growth in other sectors: that is, mining, utilities and the service sector. That is not really surprising, if you consider that two thirds of the population of Africa work in agriculture and that their earnings make up at least a third of the gross domestic product for the entire continent. So, if you want to develop agriculture in Africa, you need to support small-scale farmers. That is how the potential in agriculture can kick-start economic development as a whole.

 

‘If women farmers had access to the same means of production as men, yields could rise by 20 or even 30 per cent!’

 

Agriculture is still a very big area. We don’t see exactly where to start …

 

We can focus in even further: onto women. They do around half of all agricultural work in Africa, but compared with men they have poor access to land, labour, agricultural machinery and inputs, advisory services and loans. For that reason they get lower returns with the same investment. If women farmers had access to the same means of production as men, yields could rise by 20 or even 30 per cent! In turn that would mean more produce for the markets, higher incomes for women and better food for the children. The number of people suffering chronic hunger could be reduced by 100 to 150 million.

 

Which lever will ONE be using now? What is your strategy?

 

ONE wants to empower women in all areas with the campaign ‘Poverty is sexist’. We analysed their importance specifically for farming in a report from 2015. And we are campaigning in the countries themselves to strengthen women’s rights; in Mali, for instance. There is a serious imbalance there: although the women bring in eighty per cent of the harvest, the men own the land. Women’s ownership rights are severely restricted on cultural and religious grounds. That has to change, and that is why we and our partners are getting involved.

 

What can be done?

 

The Malian parliament is about to introduce comprehensive reform of a law governing land rights. If the reform is passed, women and young people working in agriculture will receive 15 per cent of the land. ONE has campaigned for this law to be passed, because it would be a crucial step towards empowering women and a major success in the fight against hunger and poverty in Mali. Ultimately growth in agriculture carries the other sectors with it, jobs and new incomes are created and people’s lives are improved all over the country.

 

So, success was guaranteed, then.

 

By no means. There was a lot of opposition. So, to gain support for the reform, ONE spent a year working with a broad alliance of civil society stakeholders towards a two-day conference, where we discussed the land rights reform with members of the Malian parliament. There is now widespread approval for the view that empowering women is good for Mali and good for the whole of society. We are anticipating that the law will be passed shortly.

 

To sum up: a campaign strengthens women’s ownership rights, strengthens agriculture and strengthens the country. A clear lever and an appropriate strategy. What other campaigns are there?

 

It is hard to believe, but in many parts of Africa internet access drives development! For instance, in Kenya farmers have boosted their incomes by 13 per cent – because suddenly they could use their mobile phones to optimise supply chains. Two thirds of the population of Africa still has no access to the internet. There is huge potential for development there.

 

‘In many parts of Africa internet access drives development.’

 

Where else is ONE pulling levers?

 

ONE’s two main goals are ending extreme poverty and eradicating preventable and treatable diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in the poorest countries of the world, and especially in Africa. The public has a major role to play in this. We believe that every person can use his or her voice to help to change the world. ONE has more than seven million supporters worldwide, which is seven million voices to put pressure on politicians. Last year, thanks to these supporters and the ONE youth ambassadors active in various European countries, we scored a major success: Germany and the whole donor community financed in full the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, so that it can continue its successful work in the coming years and thus help to save the lives of eight million people. For a while the full funding had been hanging in the balance.

 

How did you manage that?

 

We put pressure on politicians on all fronts! All over the world, but especially in Germany: nearly 180,000 people signed our petition, prominent scientists and actors wrote an open letter to Gerd Müller, the Development Minister, almost two thousand people sent him a postcard asking for his support, the ONE youth ambassadors took every opportunity to meet relevant politicians and point out the importance of the Global Fund … and that’s just a few examples!

 

What can the German Government do to help combat hunger?

 

At the moment the nutrition sector is severely underfunded worldwide, despite its importance – only one per cent of global development funds are being invested in food-specific development cooperation. The German Government should act to combat malnutrition and in particular to feed women and children. The first thing to do, of course, is to meet its self-imposed target of spending 0.7 per cent of the gross national product on development cooperation. We are now on 0.52 per cent. However, that figure hides funds to the tune of almost three billion euros that have been spent in Germany for the crucial care of refugees – not to fight poverty in developing countries. The 0.7 per cent target should be met without including those funds. Moreover, as the least developed countries are most affected by hunger and poverty, at least half the funds should go to them.

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