The Independent Friday 19 June 2009
There is a mountain of evidence that shows companies and countries which are removing barriers to equal opportunity are those performing best
Across the world, poverty wears a women's face. The United Nations Food Programme estimates that seven out of ten of the hungry of the world are female. Women make up the same proportion of refugees.
Women are also the main victims of the traffickers, of violence in the home or in conflict. While tragically hundreds of million of people are still denied their most basic human rights, it is women who suffer most.
And in too many societies, women lose out simply because of their gender. Whether through discriminatory laws or cultural prejudice, they find themselves denied the right to own land, to borrow money for their business, to take elected posts, even to vote.
It is no wonder that a woman in a Kenyan slum, asked by a development worker what she would change in her life if she could, replied simply: "I would be born a man."
And this is not just unfair. It is also stupid. It is not just bad for women. It is bad for all of us. We are simply not going to overcome the immense challenges our world faces, if we fail to make the most of the talents and potential of half the population.
There is a mountain of evidence that shows companies and countries which are removing barriers to equal opportunity are those performing best. We also know, for example, that investment in the education of girls is just about the best decision any society can make - delivering huge benefits from healthier children to better productivity.
It is why I believe this prejudice is something which must be tackled by all of us, whatever our gender. But women have a special reason and responsibility to champion the global battle against inequality.
For there is a simple and direct link between the struggle to smash the glass ceiling or to ensure equal pay for equal work in our societies and the assumptions in others which justify honour killings, deny women the right to vote or leads to infanticide of baby girls. It is the belief, conscious or unconscious, that women are simply not worth the same as men.
It’s why ActionAid’s 6 degrees project is so important. In a world more inter-connected than ever, we can’t look away as millions of women suffer abject poverty and the denial of their most basic rights.