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Poverty’s Impact on Women and Girls—and What we can Do About It


On Friday, March 15, from 4–6 p.m. ET, the Graduate School of Social Service’s Institute for Women and Girls held a virtual conference between international stakeholders to discuss our actions to address worldwide problematic issues like food insecurity, mental health, and climate change. 

The event, titled “Small Actions, Huge Solutions: Reducing Poverty for women and Girls,” paralleled the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) Conference and its theme, “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.” The Women and Girls Institute co-sponsored the event with the International Health Awareness Network (IHAN)

Helping Women Abroad

Eduard Brewer, an IHAN representative from Johannesburg, South Africa, began the discussion with a video presentation discussing three Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) around the world making big changes for their communities through education, safety, and ocean conservation:

“These NGOs amplify the impact of empowering women and girls,” Bruwer said. “Let’s reflect on these stories and ask ourselves a question: What small changes can I take to empower those around me?”

Speaker Pia Riggirozzi, Professor of Global Politics at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom (UK), also examined international issues—mainly migration. Riggirozzi noted that there is a large gap between the frameworks in place for migrants and the practices actually being carried out on the ground. She framed migration—specifically in Latin America—as a gendered issue, stating that women are forced to leave their home countries due to gender inequalities at home. 

However, Riggirozzi does not want us to view these women as helpless. Rather, the solution is to provide them with opportunities to be empowered and take control of their narratives. 

“We have to create opportunities for self-determination,” she said. “Current UN policies don’t do this.”

Australian Medical Students Take a Global Approach

Dr. Gabrielle Casper, head of IHAN and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology School of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, Australia, said climate change, war, and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated health issues faced by women and girls worldwide. 

“These events are reversing decades of progress in women and girls’ health, especially for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women,” she said. 

Casper introduced students from her institution who created presentations for the event describing issues challenging women’s health across the globe. These presentations included material exploring maternal mortality rates, malnutrition, and gender inequalities. 

The students also discussed their participation in the Mission Mannya project, in which nine Australian doctors traveled to Africa with medical students to provide much-needed services to the local populations. The students said they witnessed “alarming” rates of gender inequality, HIV and other STIs, and domestic violence, proving that there is still much work to be done on a global scale. 

Food Insecurity at Home

Our lens shifted from Australia to New York City with a presentation from Camesha Grant, Ph.D., GSS ’00, ’07, on food insecurity’s impact on women in the Empire State. As Vice President of Community Connection and Reach for the Food Bank for New York City, Grant witnesses firsthand the hardships faced by NYC women who are food insecure. 

The Food Bank for New York City does much more than supply needed food for women in the city (although it does pride itself on being the largest hunger relief organization in the City). It also provides personal hygiene products, household cleaning supplies, and baby food/formula. 

“Food security means access by all people at all times enough food for an active, healthy life,” she said. 

In New York City, Grant said, 19.4 percent of women live below the federal poverty line ($21,960 annually for a household of three), and 31.8 percent of female householders with no spouse rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Between the cost of groceries, hygiene products, and childcare resources, many women also live in “period poverty,” Grant said, which is the lack of accessibility or affordability of menstrual hygiene tools and educational material. 

“Women shouldn’t have to choose between groceries and tampons,” she said. “Food insecurity is often hidden in plain sight. Societal shame is often a barrier to seeking help. Everyone can get involved in the fight to end food insecurity.” 

Fordham’s Environmental Action

Tackling the global climate crisis appears to be an insurmountable feat. How can we make a genuine difference when an individual’s impact seems so small? Luckily, this year, Fordham University received a grant that will help bridge the gap between government funds and grassroots efforts. 

Julie Gafney, Ph.D., assistant vice president for strategic mission initiatives at Fordham’s Center for Community Engaged Learning, concluded the event with insight into Fordham’s $50 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which the University received this fall. Through this program, Fordham will serve as a grantmaker to community-based groups in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and will also fund the environmental research of its own faculty. 

“Our initiative not only provides grants to disadvantaged and disproportionately impacted communities but also extends to comprehensive wraparound support, ensuring the sustainability and impact of these crucial community-led projects,” Gafney said in a previous interview.

This support is crucial for grassroots organizations that may not have the proper internal resources to apply for funding, Gafney said. Sifting through pages of documents to apply for federal funding has hindered these organizations doing work on the ground, and this program will help them navigate the process while allowing them to focus more energy on their impactful community work. 

“This is where universities can reimagine what they do…because we are like little cities,” Gafney said. “We have a finance department and compliance department…[this program]utilizes Fordham’s infrastructure to be able to smoothly process those awards.”

About the Fordham GSS Institute for Women and Girls

For over 20 years, the Institute for Women and Girls has advocated for gender equality by addressing all forms of discrimination against women and girls locally and globally.

Institute members engage in interdisciplinary education, research, and practice activities that work to foster gender equality and:

  • Expand our understanding of the problems facing girls and women, such as poverty, ageism, sexism, and racism.
  • Contribute to critical analyses of the position of girls and women worldwide.
  • Improve programs and the delivery of services for girls, women, and their children.
  • Help prevent inequity and injustice towards women and girls by influencing public and university policy.
  • Promote the integration of content on women and girls into social work curricula.

Learn more about the Institute for Women and Girls by visiting this webpage

Watch the full event here.


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