Returning to full-time work following the birth of my daughter has reinforced for me the similarities between Australian mothers and mothers in developing countries - our common aspiration to give our children the best possible future but equally the challenges of being a working mum. While the issues may play out differently in Australia and in developing countries because of economic, social and cultural differences, they are still the same – lack of gender equality and juggling family and work responsibilities.
In my ten years at Opportunity International Australia I’ve met some of the women in developing countries who Opportunity helps to break the cycle of poverty by providing them with small loans so they can start and grow businesses and earn regular incomes. Every mother wants the best for her family irrespective of where they live or how much they earn. It’s hard work being a mother in Australia and balancing family and work responsibilities, even if you have all the resources in the world. So, it must be even more challenging for mothers living in poverty in developing countries to make a living and provide for their children without the supports we have in Australia.
It’s critically important that we are aware of the issues women can experience in developing countries, the economic, social and cultural issues that reinforce the cycle of poverty in which they live. This awareness drives my passion for Opportunity’s work with women, women who become empowered to build their own future, to invest in their family’s future and in particular, support their children’s education.
Education is what I believe will help change the developing world because it’s a proven way to help families free themselves from poverty. It is well known that if you give small loans to women to build businesses, they use the income to better the lives of their families and educate their children. In my experience, when visiting the developing countries in which Opportunity works, I’ve witnessed a powerful shift in dynamic. I’ve met many women who have received small loans from Opportunity to build businesses. Many are skilled businesswomen who employ other community members. They are leaders in their local community. They are valued for the economic contribution they make to their families. They are confident. Empowered. Driven to succeed. Yet most didn’t complete primary school and the majority are illiterate. When I’ve asked them about their hopes and dreams or what they want to do with their savings they always reply that they want to educate their children. This is immensely inspiring.
Issues like gender inequality are prevalent in developing countries and are a barrier to women being able to thrive. These women have fewer opportunities than in the developed world and when opportunities do open up for them they are often thwarted by barriers such as cultural norms, geographical isolation and domestic violence. For me, this is a big issue. Women in the developing world often don’t get to participate in a workforce that provides them with an opportunity to earn a regular income and free themselves from poverty. It’s why 95 per cent of Opportunity’s small loans go to women so they can earn regular incomes, invest in their families and create a better future.
I hope you will join with me to support Opportunity’s work with women in developing countries so that they too can create the best possible future for their families.
Chief Financial Officer
Opportunity International Australia
Karen will be a guest panellist at Opportunity’s inspiring discussion about the changing world of women and work on 11 May 2017 in Sydney.