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Wealth Under Her Feet: How Gender Equality Unlocks Women's Economic Potential

04/27/2017 03:43 EDT | Updated 04/28/2017 02:32 EDT

By Kailey Morin and Jessica Hum-Antonopoulos

We often hear from farmers who, upon learning there is water underground they can access in times of drought, feel like they have discovered a gold mine right under their feet.

All it takes is to build a well.

It is not unlike the experience of women living in poverty who discover -- many for the first time in their lives -- the wealth and potential they hold within themselves.

Hawa was one such woman. She first became a mother when she was only 12. She had been pulled from school and married young, as is one in every three girls living in poverty in the developing world. By the age of 24, she had had five children.

She was not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied by her husband, and she was not allowed to work outside the home. Hawa had to depend on her husband's small income as a farmer and it was difficult to feed and support her children.

As a young mother living in poverty in a small village in the Eastern Amhara Region of Ethiopia, Hawa often felt powerless against her circumstances.

But that started to change when she was invited to participate in a development project that focused on gender equality and market access.

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"Before we started we had been dormant," she explained, reflecting on the changes she's made this past year. "We didn't know what wealth we had within ourselves. It has been a kind of awakening."

A community worker from the development project worked with Hawa and her husband on gender equality training, and their relationship started to transform.

"The gender equality work has impacted my life so much," she told us. "My husband would not let me out of the house alone. Now I can leave to bake at night. And when I come back home, all the housework has been done."

Hawa and her husband were shown how much more productive they could be if they worked together, and if they overcame the stigma and nuances that separated women's and men's work in their community. They were also encouraged to split assets and income equally -- and for Hawa to start to earn her own.

She joined a group of local women like her, who are learning business skills, and saving and investing money they are earning through a bakery they founded. The group named themselves Growth. It's an apt title for fifteen women who have discovered their own entrepreneurial drive and who have become known for baking the best bread in town.

Hawa's eyes light up with pride when she tells visitors about her plans to use the money she earns from the bakery to open a canteen to sell bread and tea out of her home -- and how her husband, fully supportive of his wife's big dream, is helping to build it.

Hawa will also tell you how determined she is to give her daughters the opportunities and education that she never had, and how she will earn the money herself to do it.

But most importantly, she'll tell you how much she believes in the potential of the women in her community: "I will give other women this opportunity, so they can become like me. I want them to learn about gender equality, and the importance of saving. This is my objective."

Hawa is just one of millions of women in the world who -- given the opportunity -- are ready to unleash their brilliance and determination to transform their families and communities.

The Sustainable Development Goals calls on each of us to empower women and girls through all aspects of programs, intergovernmental work, and policy change. Whether it's by supporting female smallholder farmers to build resiliency to the impacts of climate change, or to gain access to markets and income generating activities -- every woman deserves the chance to discover the wealth right under her feet.

Let us all dig the well with her together!

Kailey Morin is Communications Manager at Canadian Feed The Children, Jessica Hum-Antonopoulos is the Program Technical Advisor.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CCIC or its members.

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