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Investing in women to save the world

Most contemporary estimates for the carrying capacity of the Earth under existing conditions are between 4 billion and 16 billion. In 2013 the human population was 7 billion.

In 2011, the UN’s population division suggested global population could peak at seven to eight billion by the middle of the century. Unfortunately, this was their most optimistic scenario. The mid-range scenario plateaus by end of the century at around 10 billion people.

The worst case scenario has the global population surging past 15 billion in 2100 with no discernible fall in the growth rate. Famine, poverty and climate change will become even more pressing concerns.

As a matter of urgency, we need to ensure that the global population plateaus.

An obvious place to start is with the education, empowerment, and reproductive rights of women.

Oppressive cultural practices such as the low status of women around the world, gender-based violence, rape, genital mutilation, forced prostitution, slavery, and child marriage significantly contribute to high fertility and population growth by robbing women of social power, self-determination and true choice in how many children to have, and when.

Yemeni child brides and husbands

Yemeni child brides and husbands

14 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. In the developing world, poverty and traditional gender roles magnify this problem. 1 in 7 girls is married before age 15, and some child brides are married as young as 9 years old.

Each year, an estimated 16 million girls aged 15-19 give birth. Only 35% of unmarried girls and women in developing countries use a modern method of contraception — so most teen pregnancies are unplanned.

For every dollar spent on family planning, governments can save up to 6 dollars on health, housing, water and other public services. Family planning enables millions of girls to stay in school, saves lives and has the capacity to lift entire communities out of poverty.

31 million girls in the world don’t have the opportunity to pursue an education. Every day, they are taken out of school and forced to work or marry. One out of five girls in the developing world doesn’t even complete the sixth grade.

When girls have the opportunity to complete their education through secondary school, they are up to six times less likely to be married as children than girls with little or no education. Educated girls are also less likely to have unintended pregnancies as teenagers.

Philippine family, which is a result of the power of the Catholic Church to squash any use of birth control and family planning. Poverty, illiteracy and too many children create hopelessness, despair and no way out.

Philippine family, which is a result of the power of the Catholic Church to squash any use of birth control and family planning. Poverty, illiteracy and too many children create hopelessness, despair and no way out.

Religion needs to get out of the way. Contraception should be freely available and its use encouraged. Abortion should be legal and the stigma removed. Voluntary sterilisation should be available. Marriage should not be viewed as for the purpose of procreation and gay marriage should be recognised as a human right. Quality of life should be considered and assisted suicide should be an option.

Educated girls and women are healthier, have the skills to make choices over their own future and can lift themselves, their communities and their countries out of poverty. Even one more year in school makes a difference.

Poverty is also a factor in people having large families due to previous high infant mortality rates and the need for more hands to help work. Wealth eventually stops procreation in its tracks, a fact demonstrated by countries as diverse as Italy and Japan.

Microfinance initiatives have been particularly successful in providing economic stability through income generation rather than subsidies. It provides basic financial services, such as credit and deposit-taking, on a very small scale, to historically marginalized populations that do not meet the criteria to do business with conventional banking institutions.

Microfinance is a long term investment in human potential that has the power to generate long term economic returns while simultaneously improving grass roots political and social involvement. While third-party institutional aid programs that try to dictate development in emerging nations from the top down have historically failed, microfinance has the promise of promoting in-country development from the bottom up. The key is focusing on improving the capacity of motivated local populations – the very people who are most vested in promoting long term, lasting economic improvements in their families, communities and countries.

According to the UN’s Capital Development Fund: “Comprehensive impact studies have demonstrated that:

  1. Microfinance helps very poor households meet basic needs and protect against risks.
  2. The use of financial services by low-income households is associated with improvements in household economic welfare and enterprise stability or growth
  3. By supporting women’s economic participation, microfinance helps to empower women, thus promoting gender-equity and improving household well-being.”

UN statistics reflect that women represent the overwhelming majority of the world’s poor. Women have a higher unemployment rate than men and receive lower wages when employed. Typically, they are excluded from access to financial service. They are socially disenfranchised, geographically isolated and vastly undereducated compared to men. All of these factors have contributed to the feminization of poverty.

Yet, women emerged as more reliable microfinance clients than men. They were more likely to repay their loans in a timely manner and less likely to default. In one comparison of gender specific lending conducted by the Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT), a microfinance organization in Ghana, SAT found that the arrears rate in their all-male lending facility was 250% that of the all-female lending facility.

Studies show that women reinvest up to 90% of their incomes back into their families, compared to just 30-40% by men. Mothers provide better nutrition and health care and spend more on their children. Investing in women and girls creates long-term social and economic benefits for all individuals, their communities, and the world as a whole.

Evidence from microfinance organizations such as the Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Trust Fund, the UN’s Children’s Defense Fund and UNIFEM found that women’s economic empowerment raises the living standard of the entire household because women are less likely to spend income in a non-productive, short term manner. Women’s priorities for spending income are: children, medical services, nutrition, school fees and household needs. Their primary interest is the well-being of their families. Lending to women produces a positive ripple effect of improved health, education and welfare for all household members.

An excellent credit risk from the lender’s standpoint, women have demonstrated attributes that makes them more attractive as customers. On the whole, they are: co-operative and willingly attend weekly meetings; averse to taking undue business risks; cautious about extending credit to business customers; and, committed to the mutual guarantee of loans. Lenders have found that a woman will have a very positive attitude about validating the trust which a lender shows to her by making the loan and providing her the opportunity to engage in business ventures previously reserved to men.

In addition to improving the prospects of the household in general, access to microcredit empowers women. Along with economic rewards, women who are able to operate successful micro businesses gain self-confidence, independence and a sense of pride in their accomplishments. They enjoy increased respect in the community.

Operating their business requires the women to become skilled in dealing with suppliers, marketers and customers. Learning to negotiate business hurdles improves their decision-making ability. As they become more confident, they are likely to become more involved in their communities and local institutions.

Gradually, these skills can migrate to social and political circles so that women become more adept at advocating for themselves and their families. Learning the process of accessing, or advocating for, much needed local services can accelerate poverty reduction on a multitude of fronts. Microfinance is truly an investment that improves women’s social capital and promotes gender equality through economic success.

Rather than slashing foreign aid, we should be investing in lifting people out of poverty which is best achieved by investing in the education and empowerment of women. By this means we have a chance of the population plateauing at about 10 billion.

That is a lot of mouths to feed but it is doable according to sustainability expert Bruce Edgerton.

“Grow microalgae in the dry arid regions of the world where there is either sea water or non-potable water available for aquaculture ponds. Solar dry the biomass for transport to the peri-urban fringe. Formulate the microalgae with agricultural bio-products, vitamins and amino acids as required. Grow pigs, chickens and fish.

Anaerobically digest the manures on site and fertigate the effluent into glass houses. Hey presto—10 billion people fed generously, with a system that is highly adaptable to future changes in the climate.”

The consequences of not addressing overpopulation, resource depletion and pollution have been dramatically highlighted in a wonderful book produced by Global Population Speak Out called Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER). It contains powerful and evocative images showing the ecological and social tragedies of humanity’s ballooning numbers and consumption. It can be viewed free online here and a short video of the campaign can be viewed here.

urban sprawl

Mexico City

oil field in California

Oil field in California

On Midway Island, far from world commerce, an albatross dead from ingesting too much plastic,

On Midway Island, far from world commerce, an albatross dead from ingesting too much plastic,

Clear-cut logging on Vancouver Island.

Clear-cut logging on Vancouver Island.

Greenhouses in Spain

Greenhouses in Spain





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  1. Kaye Lee

    And right on cue….

    The nation’s biggest aid agency, World Vision, revealed it will be forced to axe programs helping tens of thousands of poor people in developing countries because of the Abbott government’s swingeing cuts to foreign aid.

    Our assistance to the world’s poorest people will be slashed from its current level of around $5 billion to around $3.4 billion in three years’ time (at today’s prices). That will reduce Australia’s official aid contribution to just 22¢ out of every $100 of national income – the least generous ever.

    World Vision will scrap a $1 million education scheme in South Sudan that was to benefit more than 11,000 people. The agency will close down more than a dozen programs in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Middle East and the Pacific worth more than $5 million.

    World Vision programs to be axed include HIV prevention in India, youth livelihood schemes in East Africa and child protection worked in West Africa and Lebanon.

  2. eli nes

    A sweet piece of nonsense to the nearly 3 billion people who believe women were created by god to serve men, bear and care for their children first(in most cases only) and foremost.
    In Australia, the leaders of society are not quite so definitive, believing there are a few exceptional women. These few women are able to overcome the female physiological and psychological impediments to equality with men.
    The non-exceptional women have been indoctrinated that their instinct to breed is not Darwinian but god given. The algae(and insect protein) option will be more of the same.
    The fly in the ointment are the abbuttians blinded to the economic potential(essential) of renewable energy by the easy profits fossil fuels whose policies may obviate the need for food.

  3. Kaye Lee

    I agree eli nes. Their short-sightedness on everything is unbelievable. The energy white paper is humiliating in its “see no evil” approach. Abbott seems to think the market will fix all ills.

    “Australia’s power generation and transport fuel use will be left to the market to decide, the Abbott government says in its long-awaited energy white paper, which does not discuss climate change as a driver of energy policy.

    The government promises a hands-off “technology neutral” approach to the electricity market and the future of transport fuels, saying it will not try to shut down old coal-fired power plants or push new technologies into the market to try to reduce greenhouse emissions.

    Unlike the former Labor government’s 2012 white paper, which predicted rising gas exports but also a domestic switch from fossil fuels to renewables, or John Howard’s 2004 white paper which devoted an entire chapter to the impact of climate change on energy policy, the Abbott government’s 2015 white paper mentions climate change just once, and does not see emissions reductions as an energy policy goal.”

  4. Florence nee Fedup

    Quickest way to cut population growth is to raise standard of living within a country, community.

    Abbott can bring out as many pseudo papers on IGR and Energy, that do not address the issues facing us. He can follow his ideology of pure market forces all he likes.

    Reality will eventually catch up with him.

    The world is made up of humans. not a market.

    Nature will have the last laugh, as it always does.

    Most of those foreign aid cuts, seem to be affecting those most, who the coalition claim to succour.

    Families, children and women. Yes, denying them education that lifts them out of poverty.

  5. Terry2

    Thanks again, Kaye.

    Queensland now has eight women in a fourteen member cabinet – a good start.

    The flim flam man we know as our current Prime Minister will surely be an embarrassing blip on our national reputation and hopefully the international community will forgive us this temporary lapse of judgement.

  6. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    “Abbott can bring out as many pseudo papers on IGR and Energy, that do not address the issues facing us. He can follow his ideology of pure market forces all he likes.

    Reality will eventually catch up with him.”

    He will definitely be out in 2016 but how much damage will have been done by then and will repair be an option?

    How can we let the rest of the world know that Abbott does not speak for us?

    Kaye – you have vision and it is tremendously appealing.

    I just wish the visionless LNP could self-destruct overnight!

  7. Lee

    The problem is, the effects of Abbott and Co’s stupid decisions are not fuily recognised until they’re sitting pretty on an overly generous pension and they aren’t the ones who suffer so they don’t give a rat’s posterior. Their heads are so filled with religious nonsense – Jesus is coming and then we won’t need this planet any more, so there’s no need to look after it now.

  8. stephentardrew

    Great article Kaye.

    This information has been around for years. Unis, the originator of micro finance, demonstrated as much years ago. I remember some time ago reading a report from The Earth Institute at Stanford University, which also has a lot of on-line resources, that would support all of these contentions.

    In this respect women can, and will, be real agents for change if given the opportunity.

    The only way to beat these ideological fanatics is to empower women in areas where change is possible so that women elsewhere can see that they can be liberated from slavery and servitude. It has to come from within the culture to be sustainable. There are a lot of women in poor nations who are now organising around their sexual and civil rights Takes time however the positive is that it is relentlessly on the move.

    There is a lot of new technology on water purification, solar electrical generation (chance for small businesses). less polluting and more efficient charcoal ovens, new ways of terracing hills for water retention and so on. These issues rarely make it into the public domain but are regularly posted on science sites.

    Regardless I think your article is a real eye opener for the misogynist ideologues who continually, and deliberately, denigrate women.

    Here is a recent article about another simple but effective strategy for reclaiming water in India.

  9. Lee

    Good luck empowering women. I’m reading Annabel Crabb’s “The Wife Drought” at the moment and I’m really quite surprised at some of the stats Crabb has provided relating to Australian women in the workforce. The numbers of women choosing to stay at home is still much higher than I would have expected in this day and age. She also provides stats for board membership, CEOs and so on, where the number of women is quite low.

    I completed high school 30 years ago. Whilst at high school, female students were encouraged to go into male-dominated fields. I doubt that has changed much. But today I can stand out in my yard and look over the neighbours’ fences. Girls have cubby houses, dolls, little tables and chairs and tea sets to play with. Boys have footballs, soccer balls, cricket bats and skateboards. Our “free” society is extremely slow to empower women. The mothers who were told that they can work in traditional male-dominated fields are still steering their daughters into traditional female roles that are very under-valued by society.

  10. Lee

    Oh, almost forgot, another important point mentioned by Crabb is that successful high powered career men more often than not have stay-at-home wives. Stay-at-home wives are a huge asset to their husband’s career and highly successful men tend to employ other people who remind them of themselves. These men more often than not had a mother who stayed at home too, whereas high powered career women often come from single parent homes and also often experienced a major psychological upheaval when growing up, such as death of a parent. Most highly successful men aren’t going to feel inclined to empower women, and encourage them to step away from the sink, when such women are advantageous to their own careers.

  11. stephentardrew

    Good luck empowering women?

    What a glib and totally empty statement devoid of content or context.

    Did you really read the article?

  12. Lee

    Don’t worry about it, Stephen. Obviously the fact that women in Australia are free to be empowered and have been for decades, yet large numbers of them are still choosing undervalued and subservient traditional female roles, has gone right over your head.

  13. corvus boreus

    Perhaps a paradigm shift against 2/3 of the hominid population of the planet playing theo-illogical games of ‘confine infinity into a book’ and ‘pin the dick on the deity’ might help alleviate a general attitude towards assuming female subservience.

  14. Lee

    Bwahaha! Yes, CB, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

  15. corvus boreus

    Which was one of the points of Kaye Lee’s article.
    Giving females equal legislative protection (particularly regarding their privates)and access to education reduces birthrates.
    This eases biospheric burden.
    I like that idea.

  16. Lee

    I agree with Kaye’s article. Just disappointed that in a free society so many women are still so eager to be subservient to men and encourage their daughters along the same route. Progress is extremely slow.

  17. Annie B

    @ Kaye … a wonderfully constructed article, giving us all much to think about.

    Quite awesome is your ability to analyse & build an article on your research, and your use of statistics, mathematics and your undying beliefs, to come to conclusions.

    An article well worth reading – for all.


    Ref : ” Along with economic rewards, women who are able to operate successful micro businesses gain self-confidence, independence and a sense of pride in their accomplishments. They enjoy increased respect in the community.” …. that may, or may not be so.

    Unfortunately, many men still – to this day – feel very threatened by the success of women. ( our illustrious leader TA – a perfect example ) … How to overcome that state of affairs is the big question – and quite beyond me ( and many others ) to answer. … Kaye has provided insight but … it has to be realised. … And that’s a difficult task.

    Before any man on this thread, jumps down my throat about that statement, let me be clear … not ALL men are like this … many decent and mature men encourage and delight in the success of women – ( mothers, sisters, wives and friends ) ….. however, too many still do not. …

    One would most likely NOT find ‘ those males who do not ‘ on these pages.

  18. Annie B

    Abbotts’ ” white papers ” are worth nothing, they say nothing – are loaded with rhetoric and garbage, and do not address issues that are essential to our country. … But no doubt they are couched in legalese. … ( Kaye raised the subject of white papers in her post of April 9, 2015 at 11:20 am, but I am not specifically replying to that here )

    ‘white papers’ are a furphy – and have ever been so. … it is just more of the same rubbish that is dished up, formed into something that resembles an ‘ authoratitive (??) summary’ of what is what, for the Parliament and people of this country.

    It’s origins are British ( I have nothing whatsoever against the British btw ). …. but ………

    We should be able to think for ourselves, devise some [ many ] other forms of important communication to the Australian populace. … first and foremost to be honest and forthright, to put matters ‘on the table ‘ and stand by those utterances. 100%.

    That is not happening; has not happened . …. and most likely never will, especially where the current government is concerned.

    Currently we are fed lies, avoidances and diversions. … The avoidance of subject on climate change, says it all – in this latest ‘alleged’ white paper !!! ???

    If it all were not so sick, it would be funny.

  19. stephentardrew

    I am sure those of us who are old enough, who reflect on our childhood, have seen substantial changes to womens rights over the years. Yes some times things seem to stagnate however, in general, things have become better over all. The cycle of conservative and progressive change has moved towards conservative and the middle so that the old left, which was very concerned with women’s rights, has been marginlised by the middle.

    Young people are less prone to be conservative so the future is looking positive. Unfortunately we are living in a flat spot in terms of the progressive agenda however, the way things are going, I can see a revival in the not too distant future. One more financial crisis and the whole foundation of neo-conservatism will be at risk. Those who work in the welfare sector have been derided and sacked by this government however they have not lost their drive for betterment. Nevertheless, even when marginalised by government and media, the social justice lobby are alive in academia, and the helping and welfare sectors. We may have been muted but we will not be silenced.

    Change takes time and patience and Kaye’s article is a prime example of how progressive keep their goals alive in the face of ridicule and right wing ethical compromise. We do not succumb and I, for one, will not be negative for it is the hope of change that gives us the drive to strive for betterment. Many of my colleagues have committed their lives to the welfare of others and social justice and we will not be silenced.

    Kaye’s article represent the message of a large, though muted voice, that has never, and will never give up the drive for social justice equity and womens’s rights.

    It is those who refuse to give up and be drowned out by negativity who will achieve the change required.

    It is never too late.

  20. Lee

    I think we also need to stop pushing women into marriage and providing grandchildren as soon as possible, and stop convincing women that they are worthless without a man. That culture is still really quite strong in Australia, even though many of us no longer believe in a deity. If we allowed women to take their time and really get to know a man well before making a big commitment, how many women would avoid domestic violence situations? When I was single I found it really annoying that some of my friends were always trying to hook me up with one of their single male friends, even when I said I wasn’t looking for a relationship at the moment. Having my own income, being financially independent and not needing a man for validation, I felt quite comfortable about taking my time to find one of the good single guys out there. Men who have told me that they wouldn’t want me to work have always put me on my guard and all of them turned out to have control issues. It’s so much harder for women to leave them when they have no source of income.

    I’m profoundly disappointed at the number of tertiary-educated women I know who believe that 50 Shades of Grey is a beautiful love story and romantic. Oh we still have a very long way to go.

  21. mark delmege

    Development is imo the biggest hurdle and generally follows from national independence and self determination but nationalism (in the best sense) is the enemy of Empire. Middle class (aka working) people don’t over populate and might be the only hope we have to stabilise our numbers.

    That aside I thought a recent article shed a little insight into the state of the world and in particular the question of womens’ rights.

  22. mark delmege

    So there you go – nearly everything we are told is bullshit. And aid programs aren’t worth a pinch of shit in Yemen Iraq Palestine Libya Somalia or any of a dozen other countries if ‘our’ side is going to side with the crazies and reduce them to rubble and return or support the ideological/religious bigots.
    If you want to help women stop arming and supporting the men (and women) who oppress them. And it’s true as much in the West as it is anywhere else.

  23. mark delmege

    And you know the really scary thing is that once Madame Clinton announces her plans to run – the liberals/progressives and feminists (some anyway) will be hailing it as a major breakthrough for women. Just like black and progressive/liberals people did when Obama came on the scene. The reality of course in this media image propaganda driven world is quite the reverse. Obama has become the Emperor of Chaos in an ever more chaotic world. One war after another and he backs the most backward forces to propel his backward empire ever further backwards. Madame Clinton herself at one time his front person for regime change destroyed the most advanced developed country in Africa. Reducing it to a failed state where by the royal gulf kingdoms back different warring tribes to take the once progressive secular socialist state ever further backward – thank you Madame Clinton.

  24. Annie B

    @mark delmege …

    Just want to ask if you would prefer to see the rabid right take over in America …. the ( former ) McCain / Palin types, and whoever the hell is speaking for them at present ?? … not to mention their tea party mob – who are so extreme right they would know absolutely nothing of middle or working class people…. so far above everyone are they ? … ( particularly if they follow the previous Republican ideals ).

    Actually, it seems the GOP have undergone a bit of a reshuffle and incorporate much younger bods – with the exception of the southerner Mitch McConnell who is Senate Leader for the GOP, from Kentucky. …. He’s an older bod – been around since 2006 in the major playing field !!, and for some time before that.

    Perhaps they are in the same boat as we are … an ineffectual government ( only somewhat – he seems to have dragged the U.S. out of repression / depression ) and an opposition that doesn’t know how to stand and be counted.

    I wouldn’t rule Madame Clinton out just yet. …. she did more for New York than anyone before her, in terms of their health care in particular. …. But she did meddle messily in a number of situations, and is not Obamas’ Secretary of State ( he apparently didn’t want her in that position ?? ). … Can’t recall if she resigned, or was replaced ( by John Kerry ).

    And which wars are you referring to, in terms of Pres. Obama. … I rather thought he was an unenthusiastic player in war games, meself. !!

    Would be interested to know of your sources, ref. your post. … Seriously.

  25. mark delmege

    I could ask you why the need to identify with either side of their rotten corrupt political world? What they do in their own country is their problem. What they do in others concerns me. I have written so much so often in here that I shouldn’t have to repeat myself. And it doesn’t matter which side has the presidency they are both equally nasty on the worlds stage.

  26. Annie B

    Frankly mark … I couldn’t give a tuppenny stuff about the Yanks. … I have never had any time for most of them, and you are right – what they do in their own country is their problem – except that it so often becomes our bloody problem as well.

    What they do in others ? Absolutely of concern, but of equal concern is what they might be able to further influence in our own country. … That worries me a great deal.

    In my post, I was just throwing around a few ideas and questions … particularly against the Republicans who are a bunch of ***** **** ( can’t say that on here ).

    No offence intended in my previous post, btw.

  27. stephentardrew

    Annie I wouldn’t trust Clinton as far as I could see her. She is actually further right than Obama and he has been a massive disappointment. Please, oh please, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders provide a counter point to this supply side greed. Even the black caucus has been muted.

    They have a substantial mess on their hands as their culture fractures into haves and have-nots. There will be consequences.

    As for US foreign policy, Democrat and GOP, it is a Machiavellian dystopian farce of epic proportions.

    I take your point however they are in rapid decline morally, in terms of social justice and inequality.

  28. Annie B

    stephen – –

    I saw Bernie Sanders on “Meet the Press” … last year. … An upfront, nothing to hide, politician who is ( I believe ) an Independent, but would join the Dems. if he decides to run for Presidential nomination. .. A good bloke by the sounds of him. ….

    Only know what I have read about Elizabeth Warren – might have a further look at her.

    I was not aware that H Clinton is further right than Obama – but that is no surprise at all. … Rather like something we have here at present huh ? ( except here, Labor is not in power ). …. I take your word for that.

    Yes their forgeign policy stinks – it has for many decades. … they stick their noses into every situation on earth, and that’s just one of their ” Machiavellian driven farces” that they manage.

    As for their ” rapid decline morally – social justice, inequality “ and in many other ways – they are already very near the edge of the abyss of complete moral decay.

    I could write 3000 ++++ words on what I truly think of them, their self-appointed grandiose ‘world domination’ they believe – ( every man, woman and child ), and their superiority ( labelled “exceptionalism ” – a word adopted for their perceived ‘distinction from other nations’. )

    But of course I won’t write any such thing here – !!! ; ) …. will just leave it all at that, with no excuses for my intense distrust of it – the U.S. of A.

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