Connie Britton: Yes, poverty is sexist. Here's why.
At Sunday’s Golden Globes, Connie Britton wore black in support of the Time’s Up anti-harassment movement, including a sweater that read, “Poverty is sexist.” The sweater’s message and price later became a topic of discussion online. Britton defended the sweater on Twitter, writing, “I just don’t think a $5,000 gown would have added to the conversation in the same way” and noting that designer Lingua Franca was donating $100 from each purchase to charity. In a guest essay for Entertainment Weekly, she speaks further about the message she aimed to send.
Sunday’s Golden Globe awards sent an important message about how women are treated in this country, and how an imperative sea change is happening now. Like my fellow actors, directors, and producers, I dressed in black in solidarity to acknowledge that it is time for women and men to empower ourselves with equality.
I proudly wore a sweater embroidered with the words “poverty is sexist” because nowhere in the world are women economically equal to men, nor do they have the same economic opportunities as men — and that inequality is even worse for girls and women in the world’s poorest countries.
At a time when we are acknowledging the destructive nature of sexism and systemic gender inequality in our culture, my hope is that this movement, this conversation will reach outward to all places where women’s voices are silenced so frequently, as well as beyond our borders to some of the poorest places in the world, where poverty is such a defining factor of women’s lives and subsequently of their communities and nations.
Here’s what I mean: 130 million girls around the world are denied an education. Women in developing countries account for less than half of all students enrolled in lower secondary school. In 18 countries, a man is legally empowered to prevent his wife from doing a job of which he doesn’t approve. And women in low-income countries have less access to financial institutions and the internet than men. In Africa, nearly three out of four new HIV infections are in adolescent girls.
So women around the world are more deeply entrenched in the effects of poverty, and they have fewer opportunities to escape. In other words: Poverty is sexist.
Why is this so important? Poverty is an inhumane way to live and also incredibly destructive to the fabric of families, communities, and nations. Put another way, if the millions of women who are not empowered financially around the world had access to the education they deserve, and were paid equally for the work they are capable of, the financial influx into economies would be enormous. This would spill over into every aspect of those economies and countries, including national and global security, health and life expectancy, and environmental sustainability.
Luckily, there is one thing that can help bring this kind of powerful change: education. Education is one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight against extreme poverty. It’s hard to overstate how important education is to achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goals for ending poverty and promoting prosperity for all. Think of those 130 million uneducated girls around the world as 130 million sources of untapped potential who could lift their countries out of extreme poverty.
There is plenty of evidence that shows educated countries are healthier, wealthier, and more stable — and that access to a quality education is one of the best ways to combat poverty. As The ONE Campaign documented, educating every girl in sub-Saharan Africa to secondary-school levels could help save the lives of 1.2 million children. Educating girls to the same level as boys could help developing countries save money, all while improving the strength of the global economy.
With all that we have going on in our own country today, sometimes it’s hard to see how what’s happening around the world has anything to do with us and our communities. I get it. But we have the opportunity to end extreme poverty within our lifetimes, and those benefits will reverberate across the globe — and here at home. As is true here in the U.S., we can only get there if women and girls are at the forefront of the movement.
And saying that poverty is sexist doesn’t mean that boys and men aren’t affected by it. It’s simply an acknowledgment that girls and women living in extreme poverty have an even steeper hill to climb because of archaic and systemic policy and behavior. Every daughter should have the same opportunities as every son. Only then will we be able to put an end to extreme poverty for women and men. Really. We all win.
In just a few weeks, global leaders will meet in Senegal to make new investments in the Global Partnership for Education, one of the largest education funders in some of the world’s poorest countries. It’s an important moment, and I hope my fellow Americans will join me and The ONE Campaign in urging the president and other world leaders to make a historic investment in girls’ education. Because educated girls grow into strong women who help build strong families, communities, and economies. It’s time to unleash that strength to eradicate extreme poverty for everyone once and for all.
Connie Britton is a four-time Emmy-nominated actress and member of The ONE Campaign, a policy and advocacy organization of more than 8 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.