Why Invest in Women?
Impacting Individuals, Communities, Countries and the World
Investing in women teaches them to live up to their full potential, lightens the load on social programs and shows investors how money can be used as a tool for social justice, says Emilenne de León, executive director of Semillas, the only fund in Mexico dedicated to women. Founded in 1990, Semillas distributes funds throughout the country accordingly and teaches women skills that can improve their lives and the lives of their families.
In my 10 years working for a women's fund based in the Global South and raising funds to invest in women and girls, I've had many conversations with leaders and potential donors. One question comes up again and again: Why invest in women? My immediate answer is because we are half of the population of this planet. After this obvious statement, my next answer is, because women are the ones who take care of families and communities, and women know how to utilize money, resources and ideas with wisdom and creativity to make better choices for themselves and others.
As the executive director of Semillas, the only women's fund in Mexico, I've seen firsthand that investing through women's funds is a smart decision that leads to big changes. Let me explain better what we mean by investing in women. "Investing" implies the growth and return of capital: for example, when you invest in the stock market, you hope to receive more money than what you put in by the time you close your investment. When you invest in the education of your children, you give them better opportunities for the future; if you invest in a house, you receive security, since you will have a place to live forever.
Mexico is a country with many resources, but it still has a huge gap in the distribution of wealth. Fifty-two percent of the Mexican population lives below the poverty line, and 70% of those are women. An important part of the solution are the institutions, corporations and individuals that contribute to women's funds.
When we invest in women, there are two kinds of gains: the primary gain and the secondary gain. For example, when a woman is educated about health care, she will go to the doctor regularly during a pregnancy. As a result, she will have fewer complications and she will deliver her baby in safer conditions for herself and the child. Also, though, the community will not have to use any additional resources to care for the mother or the child, which would be the case if complications had arisen during pregnancy or childbirth. The primary gain is for the woman, the baby and her family; the secondary gain is for the health care system and society.
For example, Semillas funds women's organization that are helping to diminish maternal mortality rates through an indigenous midwives program in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero. Semillas also invests in artisan groups that teach women how to design new products, increase production, and access markets that pay better prices for their products. And we give grants to address gender violence, which is an enormous problem in Mexico that hurts women and their families and increases the burden on the health care system. The organizations we fund promote better legislation at the local level to make it easier for women to press charges and access justice in domestic disputes.
At the same time, I believe women's funds are strategic about raising money and distributing resources. We must not simply give money away, but invest it in women's futures and make alliances with other women's funds and organizations to leverage the resources we receive.
For example, with a grant of $35,000 from the General Service Foundation, Semillas launched a program supporting a labor rights campaign led by four organizations in the state of Baja, California. The campaign resulted in an agreement between women factory workers, the owners of the maquiladoras (factories that produce goods for export) and local authorities. This gave us the opportunity to invite other funders from the U.S. and Europe to expand our program, and in 2009 we will distribute $300,000 in grants to 15 groups across the country. We're working with the Maquiladora Solidarity Network, an international organization, to support women's organizations who advocate for fair labor policies, and we have an alliance with the Central American Women's Fund, which supports 12 organizations in their region, and we also promote peer learning seminars among all our grantees. Together, our organizations are investing more than $600,000 in women workers.
Part of our mission as a women's fund is also to inspire other organizations and institutions to consider new strategies. I am convinced that investing in women gives us the power to change the world, the power to think of new ways to solve old problems and a way to involve others in innovative methods of investing and leveraging money. But most importantly, we are giving each donor-be it an individual or an institution-the chance to use money as a tool for social justice and to work alongside women's organizations towards a better world.