Smiling women.

Women in Developing Countries

Poverty and violence affect women at higher rates than men, and that is particularly true in developing countries where almost every life challenge tends to be more extreme. There are many influencing factors. For example, women tend to have less access to educational opportunities, are seen as having a lower social status, face wage inequalities, and are often impacted by cultural barriers. 

Some cultures make no secret of their desire to favor sons over daughters, so when faced with a choice of who gets health care, education or food, boys tend to be given priority. Eventually, the disparities in access to resources becomes a cultural norm with a lasting impact that keeps women economically and socially disadvantaged, generation after generation. 

While we may not be able to change centuries of cultural inequality right away, as Catholics we are called to share God’s love when we can, wherever we can. Read on to learn how you can partner with Cross Catholic Outreach to empower women to achieve their full potential.

Key Takeaways:

  • Women across the world are disproportionally impacted by poverty and violence.
  • To combat poverty and empower women, Cross Catholic Outreach focuses on the following areas:
    • Education
    • Economic empowerment
    • Medical aid
    • Safe shelter


The United Nations believes that education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle. Education affects many aspects of life and can have many long-term benefits. For example, communities with higher education levels tend to experience better economic growth, lower instances of HIV/AIDS, and even improved gender equality. Women who complete primary education (elementary school) and secondary education (middle/high school) consistently earn higher wages than mothers who have only completed primary education or who have no education. The education of women has lasting impacts on their children as well — mothers who complete primary and secondary education are five times more likely to place their children in a preprimary education program. According to UNICEF, children enrolled in just one year of preprimary education, such as kindergarten, are more likely to “develop the critical skills they need to succeed in school.” Enrolling children also results in lower dropout and grade-repetition rates, better educational outcomes and improved literacy/numeracy skills. Education is vital to the development of a community or nation, and lower education rates directly correlate to higher incidences of childhood marriage, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS infection rates and poverty. Other development issues like poor sanitation and hygiene, malnutrition and gender-based violence are also linked to low education rates. 

Unfortunately, children — and especially girls — in developing nations either don’t have a school to attend or are offered only school options that are substandard, unsafe and unsanitary.

Girls face additional barriers — most commonly their menstrual cycle. In impoverished nations, sanitary pads are seen as a luxury. Girls will stay home while menstruating. 

Another major issue is widespread gender-based violence and sexual violence, which makes schools an unsafe environment that is certainly not conducive to learning. Girls facing this issue may benefit from attending an all-girls’ school or a school in a better area; however, those schools can be cost prohibitive to the poorest families. Cross Catholic Outreach provides scholarships to bright students so that they can go to a school where they can feel safe and thrive.

Economic Empowerment

Globally, women earn about 20 percent less than men. Even more shocking, in 18 countries husbands can legally prevent their wives from working. In addition to this being bad for the economy, it also traps women in abusive relationships. Without money to leave, women and their vulnerable children are left in unsafe situations.

By including women in economic activity, families and even whole communities can be lifted out of the poverty cycle. To give women an opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their children, Cross Catholic Outreach provides microloans, prioritizing grants to women unable to access the traditional banking system in their country. This helping hand allows many to start their own businesses. They are also provided with small-business training so that they have the best chance of success with their new small business.

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Medical Aid

Women in developing countries often face challenges with medical care. Many cannot afford it, and those who can afford it tend to go without, prioritizing their children’s health care first. Some live too far away from a clinic or hospital to make it a practical option, and others are not permitted to access certain types of medical care by their fathers or husbands. As a result, life-threatening illnesses that could have been addressed early are not detected until it is too late. Breast cancer, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases devastate families, leaving widows and orphans in their wake. Cross Catholic Outreach works to build rural health clinics and bring relief to suffering women fighting to survive.

Safe Shelter

Worldwide, one in eight people live in slums or slum like conditions, and women from developing countries typically suffer the most. Desperately trying to shelter their families, these women build houses with sticks, discarded plastic, metal sheets, scrap lumber and cardboard. These primitive shelters have no plumbing or electricity and offer little protection from the weather, insects, snakes or disease.

Additionally, because women are often responsible for preparing food for their families, they are also disproportionally impacted by smoke inhalation. A lack of electricity means that meals must be cooked on indoor wood-burning stoves. Without proper ventilation, these women develop chronic lung disease just by trying to feed their families. Cross Catholic Outreach is helping women make their homes safe for raising their children — whether that means building a home from the ground up or simply installing a clean-air kitchen.

How Can I Help?

Empowering women helps break the cycle of poverty and allows communities to dream of a brighter, more prosperous future. This Christmas season, help us share the gift of God’s love by uplifting our sisters in Christ.

Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.