Working at an organization that focuses on women’s empowerment, I get asked the question a lot: why women?
In fact, the question is asked far more often than I would expect it to be. Why is your name The Women’s Bakery? Do you only help women? Why is it focused on just women? Why are you not helping men — men need jobs, too. That’s sexist. That’s not fair. That’s a limited perspective.
The questions (and comments) are posed by both men and women from many different countries of origin, with varying age, skin color, religious background, etc. These conversations range in intensity — from light-hearted and non-threatening comments to borderline-aggressive arguments where I am compelled to explain in very clear terms — working specifically with women is important.
Women often have less access to or are even forbidden from, education. For example, UNESCO estimates that 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are not currently attending school, and 15 million girls of primary-school age will never enter a classroom at all.
Women have fewer opportunities than men in most places. According to the UNDP, an estimated $95 billion a year is lost from economies in sub-Saharan Africa each year because women have lower participation in the paid labor force.
Women earn less than men for the same work. In the United States, on average, women make $0.80 on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. The gender wage gap is even wider for women of color.
And yet the reality of women’s empowerment is not mutually exclusive to men’s success.
I believe in empowering women because I have been taught to see poverty as the absence of choice. When that absence of choice is compounded with the absence of opportunity, women are especially disadvantaged, specifically when it comes to acquiring sustainable, gainful employment.
At The Women’s Bakery, we seek to meaningfully close this gap. Our model is to train women in business and baking, launch women-run bakeries, and provide communities with affordable, nutritious bread. At the same time, as a business, we are investing in and thereby bolstering the local economy. Because of this, we are able to create an eco-system of change with levels of impact ranging from the women in the bakeries to the women and girls in the communities — and even to other women, like local shop owners, running businesses in the places that we run bakeries.
When the opportunity is available, women rise to the occasion. The women in our bakeries can double or even quadruple their pre-bakery incomes. In January alone, the women in our Kigali bakery made and sold over 2,500 pieces of bread. Most of them have multiple children to care for. They are the primary breadwinners (pun intended) for their families, and with skills and employment, they are changing the landscape of their futures and the futures of their children. It is what we like to call “bread power”.
When people ask me “Why women?” I am often perplexed, discouraged and frustrated. Are we still having this conversation? Yes, yes we are. And we must continue to have this conversation.
Female advocacy is necessary. It’s not in competition or opposition to the success of men in our society; it’s simply advocacy for leveling the playing field and ensuring that we benefit from sources of talent, creativity, and profit across the board. Many political and social systems still restrict women’s access to achieve what’s possible for them. But women are strong. The women in our bakeries are not just bakers or business women, they are strong women baking bread.
Still, there’s more to be done. There needs to be a continuation of the global conversation — women must be empowered so that we can continue to grow as a global community. Men and women should both be encouraged to have goals and dreams and there needs to be equal opportunity to meet them. Men and women should be standing together to improve their local economies, provide for their families, and make the world better than they found it.
As I continue to be asked the question, “Why are you empowering women?” I will continue to posit that we have no other choice. Why women? Because we need women to have an established platform for using their strong, intelligent, resilient voices. We need women at the table, having the important conversations, and buying into the creation and implementation of sustainable solutions to the world’s most difficult challenges. We need women innovating, thinking, investing, driving, impacting. We need women. That is why women.
This blog was initially published on another platform by team member Rachel Carroll. It is published here with her permission.