Throughout September, Human Rights Watch lobbied the Yemen government to ensure that its new constitution includes robust protections for women. That country has a long history of institutionalized gender discrimination, including tight controls on a woman’s right to marry and low access to educational resources for young girls. International rights groups are urging the national leadership to correct these historic injustices as they rewrite the country’s founding document.
The struggle in Yemen speaks to a truth about women’s progress in the developing world more broadly. Despite the lingering effects of the global recession, many low-income countries have instituted smart financial and social reforms enabling unprecedented wealth creation. But women are not sharing equally in this newfound prosperity.
On average, women make much less money than their male counterparts. They start new businesses at much lower rates. And, generally, they are much less active in building businesses or in civic life.
Fortunately, a broad body of research has emerged in recent years to help identify what’s causing the lag. Maria Minniti, Ph.D., who studies entrepreneurship and public policy, recently analyzed this research for the George W. Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative.
She concluded that the answer boils down to one simple word: Networks.
Women everywhere do not use their networks effectively. This problem is particularly acute in low-income countries.
By expanding interpersonal ties, a person builds up a valuable base of information, skills, and contacts that can be leveraged for professional advancements. A sturdy network can generate a business partner, new customers, investors, and friends with good suggestions.
For an example of a network in action, take a look at Facebook. That company isn’t the product of Mark Zuckerberg alone. From the earliest stages, he had the smarts to heavily lean on his friends at Harvard. Such key people as Dustin Moskovitz and Eduardo Saverin complemented Zuckerberg’s programming skills. Without the network of smart friends, Facebook could have been just another social media flame-out.