International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also calling for the acceleration of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls – the 5th of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Today, on the 8th March 2021, not a single country has achieved this, including the UK.
As the UN explains, “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”
Women and girls today are still victims of female genital mutilation. They are still trafficked at a far higher rate than men and boys, and they face many more barriers to other human rights, including education, water, hygiene and sanitation, than their male counterparts. This failure to meet the basic needs and rights of women and girls also means that they are at the greatest risk when climate disasters happen or conflict strikes, and that they have been most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Day to day, the world’s failure to protect, educate and empower women and girls, means that the majority of the world’s poor are women.
We cannot eradicate extreme poverty, let alone all forms of poverty everywhere, until we have achieved gender equality.
This year’s theme is “Choose to Challenge” and it goes without saying that we must challenge the current situation and the social norms that uphold it. In Tzedek’s focus regions (Northern Ghana and four States in India), challenging the norm in order to promote the inclusion and empowerment of women and girls comes with community-specific challenges, which is why all of our work is led by local experts; our in-country partners.
Today, we are highlighting our overseas partners, the change-makers themselves, and their work promoting and protecting women and girls in community development:
Our Empowerment for Life programme (E4L) in Northern Ghana, is delivered by our Tolon District Team, alongside our partners at YEFL-Ghana. This programme works with community-based organisations, including Parent-Teacher Associations and youth groups, to strengthen civil society by training people to drive change within their communities.
Lydia, one of our E4L Field Facilitators, says:
“Young women were not included in most of the youth groups because of their roles and responsibilities at home. This made them lose some of the trainings that could have changed their lives and their surroundings. Our presence and training in the district, especially gender trainings, have opened up some opportunities for the women to be part of trainings, exposing them to knowledge in economic improvement, leadership or partaking in decision-making. Additionally, they are supported by their husbands and other family members during our engagement with them through the knowledge gained.”
As Jalaludeen, District Coordinator, explains:
“We conducted a gender sensitivity training for beneficiary communities. One activity that made a lot of impact was comparing the work schedule for the day for both males and females in the community. Participants were facilitated to come with their work schedule and assign time to each work … a comparison was done, and participants agreed that the female work schedule was loaded, hence the need for support.”
Our partners at E4L ensure that women are supported and encouraged to be programme participants, with 3 of our 6 community journalists being women and 50% of all youth group members being women too.
Vera, Director of YEFL-Ghana who deliver E4L to youth groups, also shared that, in addition to including women on a programmatic level, they promote equality on an organisational level. She is proud to be “challenging gender norms and women’s empowerment in our staffing, programming and implementation”. YEFL-Ghana have recently recruited a dynamic and active woman to work with young women in the district, about which Vera said:
“We believe this creates an enabling environment for women’s participation, since they can easily identify with their facilitator as a role model and as a source of inspiration … Putting young women in the front at all levels will create a critical mass of progressive leaders who can choose to challenge the gender norms in their respective communities”.
Some of the challenges faced by women in Tolon are also felt by our project participants in India, where we work with some of the most marginalised communities.
In India, many women, particularly Dalit and tribal women who we work with, are also expected to do most of the work at home and in caregiving, be that with their children, or sick or elderly relatives. Our project participants also face another societal barrier – the very idea of women working and earning is often stigmatised.
As in Ghana, we work with local experts in India to tackle these barriers, aware of the fact that challenging these stigmas and norms can only happen successfully from within. Our partners in India are grassroots organisations who are deeply embedded in the communities they work with, and who collaborate with community members to design and deliver their projects.
Our partners do not just educate or provide micro-finance, but tackle numerous aspects of these women’s lives. Some provide family counselling where needed, bringing men onboard to support their wives, and others encourage these women to self-help groups so that they can learn from and support each other.
One of projects in West Bengal, Digambarpur Angikar (DA), improves livelihood opportunities for 200 indigenous tribal families in the Sundarban region by empowering women’s groups with livestock training.
These women are overcoming various challenges in order to lift themselves and their families above the extreme poverty line. Our partners spoke to some projects participants, who said that they are now “a productive member of [their] family”, thanks to earning a higher income as a result of this project. One woman said that she is earning “for [her] family and for education” for her daughter, who she can now afford to send to school.
Our partners on different project, vocational and business skills training in Tamil Nadu, shared:
“[We are] celebrating the work, effect and change that rural women are having in Tamil Nadu. [This] has always been one of our priorities [and] with over 27,000 women belonging to our networks, we are proof that together women can be a force for change.
Here in Ananthapuram Village, Tamil Nadu, women have worked hard to resolve village level issues such as gender-based violence, economic issues, school dropout rate and community level discrimination. They have also worked collectively at District level to lobby the local government to make legal and fair improvements to the local system. Together they are closing the gender gap.”
As Amin, one of our E4L Field Facilitators in Ghana said:
“To fully liberate women from our socially constructed norms is a collective responsibility which must start from the household level. On this International Women’s Day, let us rededicate ourselves in all our endeavours to making this a reality.”
Today, and every day, we at Tzedek do just that: rededicate our commitment to uplifting woman and girls as we reduce extreme poverty in some of the poorest regions of the world.
For stories of women around the world choosing to challenge and speaking out about their experiences of gender inequality, check out The War on Women by Sue Lloyd-Roberts. Get your copy from our Tzedek storefront on Bookshop, and we’ll receive a 10% commission (with a matching 10% going to local bookstores) at no extra cost to you.