Providing a Path from Poverty to Empowerment - Interview with Betsy Teutsch
Femme & Fortune is honored to feature writer and eco-activist Betsy Teutsch in our Fab Femme section this week. She truly is an inspiring woman that spreads her knowledge and time dedicated to improving the lives of others. Betsy recently released her book called 100 under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women, which outlines and explains effective, low-cost tools to solve issues that cripple hundreds of thousands of women in the most impoverished areas of the world. Challenges ranging from lack of technology, medicine, and finances are among the many deterrents in global development. However, providing women with tools as simple as bikes, cooking stoves, and contraception can empower not only the particular women and their families but ultimately help build a thriving community. Read below to find out more as Betsy shares with us some background information about her book and the importance of helping our sisters across the globe:
Femme & Fortune: Give us a little background of yourself and your life as an eco-activist, artist and writer.
Betsy: I have lived in Mt. Airy for 29 years, a Philly neighborhood with a lot of social activism always brewing. I run my own art studio featuring my calligraphy and art. When my kids grew older and I had more time, I ventured out pursuing new interests and became a sustainable lifestyle advocate and started writing a column for the local Weavers Way Food Coop newspaper about greening our homes and communities. I also got interested in microfinance, lending small amounts of money to impoverished women to help them expand their earnings. As a self-employed businesswoman, this really spoke to me. When I started learning about the potential of solar panels and other affordable, green technology to improve living conditions in the developing world, I was so excited. And I remain so! We can help people out of poverty in part by expanding access to eco-smart designs. What a grand win-win. And women will benefit particularly - they are the ones cooking over open fires and sitting at home with their kids around tables with toxic kerosene lamps.
Femme & Fortune: What inspired you to focus on helping women facing poverty in developing countries and ultimately writing your book 100 under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women?
Betsy: I wanted to raise awareness among people in a position to help that there are already terrific, affordable solutions for many problems poor women face; the challenge is financing and distribution. Impoverished women work incredibly hard day-in and day-out - as farmers, merchants, laborers, and of course as care-providers. They should not be spending their time walking hours to find water and lugging it home, collecting wood for fires to cook over, or trying to find a place to relieve themselves because they have no safe latrines. It is crazy that so many women in the world have been passed over by the 20th century. No electricity, no running water!
Femme & Fortune: You mention the Girl Effect in your book, can you briefly explain the term and what it means for the power of women?
Betsy: Girls and women in patriarchal societies are incredibly disadvantaged. Girls' education is a new idea, in many places. One of the biggest poverty traps around is early marriage of girls. We are not really talking marriage between equals; we are describing older men acquiring young girls as working wives who are little more than domestic servants. When they bear children in their early teens, they become a new impoverished, uneducated generation onto the planet. This cycle of poverty can, however, be broken.
When we value girls and keep them in school they gain skills and develop their talents. Mentoring and supporting girls allows them to find their voices and lead. They add their strengths to their communities. And, they avoid forced marriage and early child-bearing. The longer they stay in school, the higher their earning potential. When they do marry and have children, they have smaller families, more say in economic decisions, and they and their families are better fed and healthier. This was all shown to be true in the Pacific Rim where countries invested in educating girls and now have booming economies.
Femme & Fortune: The research you've put into this book is astounding. How did you go about collecting and gathering all the information to write it?
Betsy: 100 Under $100 is a case study in the power of the internet, search, and social media. I pored over the two dozen or so books on these topics, but mostly I researched online. Most every initiative around the world has a website and/or a Facebook page. I found images (and had to get permission for each and every one of them) on Flickr, Facebook, and humanitarian photography data bases I was granted access to. I often communicated to check facts via Facebook Messaging and I interviewed people around the world via Skype. I found detailed PDFs on public health and all kinds of other topics with interesting facts buried in them and brought them to life. I asked people who else I should talk to... eventually it all came together.
Femme & Fortune: What shocked you the most from your data or what did you find the most interesting to learn about?
Betsy: I remain shocked at the level of legal discrimination against women around the world. Not just sexism, but active laws in many countries limit women's rights to inherit, for example. Even if more favorable laws are on the books, often local tribal laws trump them. That is how girls can be married off at 12, even if it's illegal. I was also outraged to learn how astronomically high the rate of death from unsafe abortions is for women in places where abortion is outlawed - hundreds of times higher than the USA. Often the reason women are desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy is because they already have too many children. Then some of them die of infections or perforated organs, and leave orphans behind. World, what are we thinking?
Femme & Fortune: 100 under $100 includes some beautifully vivid photographs of strong women. Can you talk a little about the meaning behind these powerful images?
Betsy: The pictures themselves are a big part of the story of what will end extreme poverty: women. When women are empowered, they come up with solutions, often collectively. With better tools, they can be more productive. It is so important for us to realize how strong and smart women are; the photographs show them in action, taking charge. One thing you won't see in the book: outsiders, or men, handing women things. One of my friends who is a woman of color was very psyched to see that most of these images of strong, capable women are women of color, since extreme poverty is concentrated in the Global South: Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The photos provide a visual narrative of empowered women. I hope this will change people’s images of women and girls, and provide inspiration for girls around the world to see girls who look like they do accomplishing great things.
Femme & Fortune: Sometimes people aren't aware of just how easily one action can help impact someone else’s life for the better or even how to get involved, whether locally or globally. Your book clearly talks about 11 different sectors in which paths can be taken to get out of poverty ranging from technology to finance to public health. Can you briefly share with us one of the ways that our readers can help women in developing countries that’s mentioned in the book?
Betsy: There are many ways to support improved health care for women. If you have time and the inclination, there are volunteer opps to help on things like cervical cancer screening clinic teams. The women are diagnosed and treated in one visit. You could loan money to a women to help her stock a solar light business, through Solar Sister. This helps a woman support herself while promoting awareness and driving demand for solar lights, a health upgrade for families. If you are multi-lingual, you can volunteer as a translator for Khan Academy, a hub of free, online lessons at every level. If you want to mark an occasion, you can purchase a certificate that plants trees @ $1 each, which improve subsistence farmers' lives. Bikes are empowerment tools - you can design your own bikathon and raise funds – a modest $150 underwrites a bike for a girl to safely and more quickly get to school or a vendor to transport her merchandise to her stall. Work against sex trafficking with several organizations featured in the book, for example. Really, there are 100+ ways to be involved! Donating is important but so is advocacy.
Femme & Fortune: Do you see yourself writing another book? What do you have planned for in the near future?
Betsy: I am keeping track of new things I learn about. If I do a second edition, I will expand it to “150 Under $150” and include more village-based solutions. Women excel at working collaboratively and many tools are affordable when women's groups share them.
Femme & Fortune: What personally inspires you to do the work you do on a daily basis?
Betsy: The excitement that readers are expressing is buoying me! One woman wrote in her review that she keeps my book out on her table and reads one entry a day to feel better about the world. I just spoke with a friend who took four books with her to Guatemala on a service trip with her daughter and went to visit initiatives in the book. She was so excited to meet the people described in the book! My goal for the book is impact, so every bit of impact floats my boat.
Femme & Fortune: What is something that you still wish to accomplish or a place you hope to visit?
Betsy: I would like to visit the White House and hang out with Michele Obama, who is very committed to getting girls educated around the world. Someday, I hope to visit some of the initiatives I've written about to celebrate how they will have prospered as a result of the attention they receive from being included in my book. Say, a visit to the Maquipacuna Eco Lodge in Ecuador to see the orchids sprouting on their thatch roofs made out of upcycled plastic bottles. That’s on my bucket list.
Femme & Fortune: Can you give us any last words of advice to help encourage and empower women worldwide?
Betsy: One person, focused and working hard, can make an incredible difference. Most people limit their impact by a lack of imagination, thinking they couldn't do much of anything. So not true! I hope that people can use my book to educate themselves about an issue that fires them up, and jump in. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – there are people out there working so hard on these issues, and you can help.
Thank you so much to Betsy for sharing her knowledge and advice with us that can only be described as contagiously inspiring. You can find out more information and order 100 under $100 on her website or grab it off the shelves at your local bookstore. The book is worth every penny for equipping you with the tools to make a difference and be part of the solution to provide impoverished women the chance to truly succeed.
Photos provided by Betsy Teutsch