5 Ways to End Poverty by Focusing on Women and Girls

Susan Markham
U.S. Agency for International Development
4 min readJun 13, 2016


Ixil Mayan girls pose for a photo in Guatemala. / USAID

We know that women and girls are a powerful force for change. And when we put women and girls at the center of development, we can break the cycle of poverty. We can help them delay their marriages, choose the timing and spacing of their pregnancies, access needed services and information, complete their education, and gain the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the economy and in their country’s development.

Yet, all too often gender inequality gets pushed aside because of competing priorities or a lack of resources. People say that gender equality isn’t their area or that gender equality is a “women’s issue.”

The truth is, it’s everyone’s issue. We cannot end extreme poverty without focusing on women and girls, and the barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential.

When we put women and girls at the center of development, we can see a positive ripple effect across their families, communities and nations. We have the opportunity to make the world more stable, secure and resilient.

How can we do this?

  1. We can #LetGirlsLearn: A staggering #62MillionGirls are out of school. USAID is working with communities to identify solutions to the multiple barriers too many girls encounter when trying to get the education they deserve. An education allows a girl to go to college, participate politically and get a good job. But beyond that, countries that invest in girls’ education have lower maternal and infant deaths, lower rates of HIV and AIDS and better child nutrition. When we #LetGirlsLearn, we save lives too.
Girls in class at the Saffa Girls School in Ramallah Governorate, West Bank, one of 57 schools that USAID provided training to teachers and administrators through the Model School Network Program. / Bobby Neptune, USAID

2. Empower women to engage in their communities: In Senegal, USAID trained women as community facilitators to educate their communities on all aspects of nutrition, from best farming techniques to teaching about health and good sanitary habits — all activities that prevent malnutrition.

Hapsatou Ka vaccinates and tags sheep provided by the nutrition program USAID Yaajeende. These sheep will provide community members with milk, meat and revenue with which to buy basic necessities. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

3. Recognize the unique challenges of women and girls: Power Africa brings electricity to Maasai communities to power homes and water purification systems, allowing women and girls to use time previously spent collecting water on other activities like school and work.

Teresia Oloitai cooks over fire in her hut inside her Maasai boma. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

4. Work with men and boys: No sustainable solution to fight gender inequality can ignore men and boys. In working with fathers, husbands, brothers and other men in women’s lives, we can change harmful gender norms that lead to poor health outcomes and contribute to gender-based violence and other practices that marginalize women and girls. We can also encourage men and boys to be part of efforts that teach them how to build positive relationships and parenting skills.

Michael Nthiga holds his newborn son, Paul. / USAID Kenya

5. Fill the knowledge gaps: A lack of comprehensive, current information about women and girls, especially in developing countries, hinders efforts to advance gender equality. USAID is excited to work with the Gates Foundation and other partners to fill critical gender data gaps and better understand specific challenges women and girls face.

Ketcia Orilius, 37, a community health worker in Robin, Haiti, finishes up after a day of home visits. Ketcia sees patients at a small clinic in the village and makes regular home visits to all of her patients. / USAID Haiti

Want to help women and girls around the world? Learn more about USAID’s work to address gender inequality — from addressing the specific needs of adolescent girls to our efforts to ensure that women have a voice at the table.

At USAID, we recognize that to #EndPoverty, we need to put women and girls at the center of development. It’s just #SmartDev.

About the Author

Susan Markham is the Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment for USAID. You can follow her @msmarkham.



Susan Markham
U.S. Agency for International Development

Policy expert, advocate, political strategist that understands the power of women and girls; former USAID, NDI, EMILY’s List; partner now at smashstrategies.com