In 2023, poverty still has a woman's face. Here's how Kirsty Robertson is changing that.

Caritas Australia
Thanks to our brand partner, Caritas Australia

On a trip to Kenya, Kirsty Robertson watched a local woman in her forties writing her own name for the first time. 

“You can't describe what that is like but just being able to see the joy on her face, knowing that this is going to open up a whole new world for her is incredible,” Kirsty explains. 

This skill, one that many Australian children master before beginning school, for a large proportion of Kenyan women, is something they will never have the opportunity to learn. 

It is also one of many examples of how women are disproportionately affected by poverty, not just in the African nation but across the globe.  

Kirsty works as CEO of Caritas Australia, part of the Caritas International Aid and Development network. Since 2013, their annual Women for the World fundraising program has made remarkable strides, changing countless lives of women in poverty worldwide, helping provide education, developing livelihoods and improving healthcare and protection for some of the most vulnerable women and girls in marginalised communities.

Kirsty has seen firsthand through Women for the World's impact how resources to overcome barriers offer women a path out of poverty and towards a more equitable future.

Here are 4 things she wants you to know.

1. Despite progress in women’s equality rights, gender inequality remains widespread.

“There is no country in the world where women are economically equal to men,” Kirsty tells Mamamia.

In fact, a survey conducted by Caritas Australia found that in Australia 36 per cent of women report experiencing gender discrimination in their daily life.

This inequality is cited as a hurdle for many women in business, leadership, politics and the workplace and has further highlighted that for Caritas Australia, there is still a lot of work to do.


“Sadly, here in Australia, younger people responded saying that they were more likely to have experienced or have noticed discrimination at work, which is something we need to look at moving forward,” Kirsty says.

2. Gender inequality contributes to the disproportionate effect of poverty on women across the globe.

With an estimated 388 million women and girls worldwide living in extreme poverty in 2023, poverty’s face is still very much female.

“Women represent the majority of the world’s poor,” Kirsty says.

This issue is exacerbated by sociocultural norms present in many societies which limit women's access to education and economic opportunities, increasing their vulnerability to poverty. This is a main focus of Caritas' work.

“Advancing women’s rights is a key part of our programs and mission. Gender equality is about women being able to make decisions for themselves, and have influence on their communities,” she says.

Empowering women can lead to positive change Kirsty says, both for them individually and within their community, something which Caritas' Women for the World campaign has been working toward since its implementation in 2013.

Image: Caritas Australia.


3. Making change is about empowering local communities one person at a time.

In its tenth year, Women for the World has enabled significant and visible improvements, starting at a grassroots level to support and empower local communities to make sustainable and positive changes.

“Our approach starts with that understanding that everyone in their community does know the best way forward,” Kirsty explains.

Women for the World raises funds and awareness in relation to women facing disadvantage and poverty by bringing Australian women together to stand with women across the world. 

This global sisterhood crosses borders, connects communities and creates change through education, developing livelihoods and improving healthcare and protection for some of the most vulnerable women and girls in marginalised communities.  

“We do always start with the voice of the most vulnerable and marginalised people and keep them at the centre of designing projects and any decision-making.  Because in many ways it is about giving them the power of choice to decide what they are going to do," says Kirsty.


By helping establish locally-led development programs, and sustainable livelihoods training it allows the creation of lasting change in communities. So far this has included over 5,000 women undertaking leadership roles and the participation of over 46,000 women in sessions about how to advocate for their rights in the last year.

4. Real change is possible.

Image: Caritas Australia.

“There is a common misconception that we can't make significant changes to our world, but we can one woman by one, one community by another. We need to look at it at an individual level,” Kirsty says.


In fact, Caritas Australia has proved this, directly reaching a total of over 690,837 people worldwide, including within Australia, over the past twelve months.

Of this number, 388,818 people were reached through humanitarian efforts in response to 34 emergencies and a total of 301,819 people were reached through development projects around the world. This included the support of 71 long-term projects across 20 countries (16 projects in Africa, 30 projects in Asia, 15 projects in the Pacific and 10 projects in Australia). 

And for Kirsty, one privilege of her job is being able to witness some of these changes firsthand.

“Over the course of my career and time working in this I've seen thousands of women rise up in their community, claim their space, and hold their agency despite really difficult challenges,” she says.

“I get to go and meet these women and see that it really does make a difference.” 

And this change is enabled, Kirsty says, due to the inherent resilience and strength of women, as well as the help and support of people in places like Australia.

“This is a problem that is only going to be fixed by the support of people here who are willing to say that this is unjust, that this is not the world that I choose to live in, it is not the world that I want to hand on to my children and I do want to be a part of changing things.”

Join thousands of Australians by fundraising or donating to Caritas Australia's Women for the World, which helps change countless lives of women in poverty worldwide.

Feature Image: Caritas Australia/Instagram/@caritasaust

Caritas Australia
Caritas Australia is an aid and development agency that works hand in hand with the most marginalised and remote communities in Australia and overseas, to confront the challenges of poverty. Through locally-led programs they work with all people, with shared hope and compassion, towards a world where all can thrive and reach their full potential. Through partnerships with local organisations and networks, and as a member of Caritas Internationalis, one of the largest humanitarian networks in the world, Caritas Australia is able to reach where the need is greatest and work towards for a just future for all.