The Ripple Effect: How Empowering Women Transforms Communities

The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 132 years for women to reach full gender parity, but for billions of women, this comes way too late. Adding to this, issues like climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, emergencies and ongoing conflicts have further exacerbated gender inequality in recent years. In many countries around the world, female populations aren’t afforded the same protections and safety nets that are often awarded to men and boys. Caritas Australia therefore takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing gender inequality in a way that not only aims to close the gender gap but build resilience within female populations vulnerable to crises.

The causes and conditions leading to gender inequality are immense and varied, but globally, some themes emerge:

Lack of agency

Social and political decisions that affect women’s rights are disproportionally made by men. Across the world, women have only 76.5 percent of the legal rights that men do (World Bank, 2022).

Gender-based violence

The World Health Organisation estimates that one in three women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence. While violence against women affects women at all socioeconomic levels, survivors of gender-based violence from lower income backgrounds often have less options when it comes to relocating away from their perpetrators. They are also at higher risk of falling into poverty because of missed work and consequent lost income (World Economic Forum, 2022).


In 178 countries (the vast majority of countries globally), there are laws that restrict women from full economic participation (World Bank, 2022). Worldwide, while 93 percent of men are active in the labour force, only 62 percent of women participate in it (United Nations, 2020). This presents a massive opportunity for global development. Research by the International Monetary Fund suggests that if employment gender parity is reached, there would be large improvements in economic growth and resilience (IMF, 2019).

Snapshot: Rosalie’s story, the Democratic Republic of Congo

Rosalie smiling while cradling her baby and working within a skills training program in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Arlette Bashizi/CAFOD

As the child of a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, Rosalie was extremely vulnerable to exploitation in the community where she was growing up. When she was only 15 years old, she was forcibly recruited into the army. She said: “I was in the battlefield with my baby on my back. I walked with a child in my left hand.”

When she eventually managed to leave the army as a young adult, she came to the overwhelming realisation that she had missed out on socialisation skills and the education that would allow her to obtain work and income under normal civilian life. Thankfully, Caritas Australia’s support of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and Caritas Bukavu, allowed Rosalie to enroll in several educational and training programs designed to help people in similar positions to her to gain meaningful employment and diversify their income sources. Now, she passes her skills onto other women in her area. She remarked: “Today I have already initiated two women from our groups to sell used shoes. They will buy them in Goma and resell them in Bukavu.”

Food insecurity and hunger

There is an increasing gender gap in food insecurity. In many parts of the world facing food insecurity, cultural practices still dictate that women and girls eat last amongst household members. In 2021, global severe food insecurity was more than 20 percent higher amongst women than men (UNFAO, 2022).

Snapshot: Sita’s Story, Nepal

Sita sits with her dog in her village. Credit: Dipendra Lamsal.

After her husband passed away, Sita, 47, became the sole breadwinner for her family of four. Nepal is one of the least developed countries in South Asia. Thus, she struggled to make ends meet and was stigmatised for being a female widow. However, she knew the only way forward was to persist. “If I think that, being a single woman, I am weaker than others and hesitant to work, then I can't move ahead and will not be able to achieve anything in life… Instead, we should work harder to prove ourselves,” she said.

Sita joined the Livelihoods and Resilience Program supported by Caritas Australia and our partner, Caritas Nepal, where she received training to improve her agricultural skills and learned how to raise and care for livestock. Between 2021 and 2022, the program helped 3,221 people increase their food security. 

Literacy rates

Almost two thirds of those facing illiteracy globally are women (UNESCO, 2023).

Snapshot: Oliva’s Story, Tanzania

Oliva (centre) attends a community adult learning class near her home in Tanzania. Photo credit: August Lucky

Oliva enrolled in literacy and numeracy classes as part of Caritas Australia’s A+ program, run by our local partner, Diocese of Mbulu Development Department (DMDD).

Her low family income growing up meant that she never had the opportunity to attend school, and as an adult unable to read, write or count, she felt ashamed. In Tanzania, 22 percent of females aged 15 and above face illiteracy (World Bank, 2021). Women in Tanzania also take on an unequal burden of household tasks.

Oliva works in a kiosk and does farming to make ends meet, but was losing money due to her innumeracy. “As an adult, people used to take advantage of me because I couldn’t count, I was operating my business at a great loss and was not in a position to save,” she said.

Through the program, Oliva learned numeracy and literacy skills, and passed those skills onto other local women who were too embarrassed to attend classes. Closing the gap in literacy for women is crucial to ending the cycle of poverty for future generations. Oliva remarked: “Education has enabled me to come closer to my children, as we do homework together, with an increase in the family bond.”

Caritas Australia supports the dignity of every person, and stands with millions fighting the pervading conditions that lead to gender inequality, one of the biggest challenges to human rights the world faces today. Thanks to your generosity, Caritas Australia is able to continue to support programs across the globe that work to reduce inequality amongst women and girls.