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© 2016 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit.

6 Pressing Challenges Facing Women and Girls - And How We're Helping

By Allison Bearden

1.  Financial Exclusion. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of women worldwide have a bank account compared to 46% of men. Additionally, more women report using someone else’s account than men, which may reveal key barriers women face in opening an account on their own. Despite the gender gap in global financial inclusion rates, research affirms that children’s lives improve when women are more involved in money management in their households.

Opportunity recognizes the challenges women face in accessing financial tools, and at the same time, the significant influence they have on their families’ well-being. We disburse 92% of our loans to women around the world, helping them build stronger businesses and households.

2.  Limited Educational Opportunities. School-aged girls are much better off today than in years past, but there are still far too many who are not completing their education. There are 35 million girls and 31 million boys not attending school in the world’s poorest regions.

Through our education finance initiative, Opportunity equips students, families and schools with financial services that are designed to improve educational outcomes. Our school fee loans enable low-income families to afford sending their children to school. With access to this loan, parents can provide all of their children with an education instead of removing young girls from the classroom so they can marry, help at home or earn money.

3.  Insufficient Access to Sanitation Facilities. More than one billion people around the world practice open defecation. Though poor sanitation affects both genders, women and girls are particularly at-risk of gender-based violence when they do not have a private place to relieve themselves. Many adolescent girls also end their education early when they don’t have access to a school bathroom or sanitary napkins.

Opportunity provides financial solutions that improve sanitation practices in poor communities. Schools utilize our school improvement loan to construct private bathrooms to protect the safety and privacy of students. Opportunity also forges partnerships with health-focused organizations to collaboratively improve public health. In India, we have provided loans for household toilets in partnership with Water.org. These investments are helping keep many young women safe, healthy and in school.

4.  Limited Access to Land & Safe Shelter.Regressive social norms, discriminatory policies and weak implementation of equitable laws prevent women from owning land in developing countries. In countries where women can legally own property, many still elect not to because they do not want to become social outcasts. Additionally, many women and men also struggle to afford homes that meet their household’s needs. Nearly 1.6 billion people globally suffer from inadequate shelter.

Opportunity cannot singlehandedly change social prejudices that perpetuate inequalities related to land and shelter. However, we can advocate for systemic changes by offering housing microfinance tools. In Ghana, we provide housing loans with construction technical assistance to help safely improve homes and offer property folios to facilitate the land title acquisition process. Our goal is to connect low-income people with valuable resources that equip them to legally own land and build safe, comfortable homes.

5.  Low Agricultural Productivity. Women work more hours per day than men when all productive activities are considered – including housework, market activities, and childcare. However, their agricultural productivity is lower than that of men because they lack access to land, financial services and agricultural inputs (including seeds and fertilizer). According to the FAO, there would be 100-150 million fewer undernourished people worldwide if women had equal access to agricultural resources.

Through our agricultural finance initiative, Opportunity equips vulnerable farmers in seven countries with the tools they need to sustainably increase their incomes. We provide smallholder farmers with access to a full range of banking services, financial education, training in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and linkages to local crop markets. Recognizing the persistent challenges women face in accessing land, financial services and inputs, up to 40% of Opportunity’s agricultural clients are women in some countries.

6. Poor Medical Care and Access to Health Information. Women suffer from illness and disease in many poor communities because they lack access to vital health information and resources. Mortality rates for women are significantly higher than the rates for men in many developing countries, shedding light on insufficient health systems that discriminate against women or fail to meet their medical needs.

In India, Opportunity partners with the Healing Fields Foundation to equip low-income women to become community health facilitators (CHFs) who promote improved health in marginalized regions. Their health education sessions cover topics including first aid, menstrual hygiene, sanitation and nutrition, equipping communities to adopt healthier habits. More than 1,600 women are CHFs or CHFs-in-training and 126,500 households – representing approximately 500,000 low-income people – have received health education from a CHF

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