Advocacy

Unexpected Bonuses in Bolivia

If I give money to an organisation, I may simply be expecting the thing they said would happen, to happen. If that was the case, I’d probably be happy enough. However, often when good development activities are carried out, there can be positive ramifications beyond what was expected.

If I may use the example of Irish Methodist funded work in Bolivia. The basic idea was to provide solar ovens (10% of cost was paid for by recipient) for domestic use. The results:

1. As intended, time has been freed up for women to explore other productive activities or even recreational pursuits. As one women has said, “I think I love my oven more than my husband!”

The forests, previously used as the source of firewood, are being conserved. All this was hoped for before things started.

However, there have been other consequences:

2. The involvement of the Methodist Church in Ireland has led to new Bolivian Methodist communities joining the scheme.

3. Because of the ‘extra’ time now available to women, community discussions have been initiated and training delivered around gender roles within the community.

The solar ovens have become less about economics and the environment and more about women’s empowerment.

4. The ‘ovens project’ is happening where a proposed hydroelectric dam may be built. It is risky to do leadership training in such an area as the powerful and wealthy do not wish to be challenged.

However, the ‘ovens project’ provides a cover under which such training can happen less obviously so that local people can understand the issues and mobilise themselves to lobby for their rights.

5. The ovens and their success has been seen by other local NGOs and this has led to an increase in demand. A deal is now being brokered with local commercial enterprises to produce the oven parts locally and the increased demand will mean a reduction in cost.

Also, importantly, it is expected to lead to 800 new jobs.

As was told to me by Emma Donlan, Christian Aid Country Manager for Bolivia, “The Methodist Church in Ireland has been the springboard”. It is great when development throws up unexpected bonuses and very significant bonuses at that.

NB Irish Methodist World Development & Relief co-funds some work with Christian Aid Ireland. In the above case the ‘shared’ partner is the Bolivian NGO, Soluciones Practicas.

 

Fulfilling Women’s Potential

Today is International Women's Day and we are delighted to have Laura Cook from our sister agency All We Can as our guest blogger today. Laura writes about the work of one of our shared partners- The Srijan Foundation in India, and how they continue to challenge discrimination against women.

International Women’s Day on 8th March is an opportunity to celebrate the global social, economic, cultural and political contribution of women, but also to focus on the many challenges still facing women around the world. In 1911, the first International Women’s Day brought together men and women to rally for women’s rights in an unequal society. Why, more than a hundred years later, does that rallying cry still need to be sounded?

 

At the time of the earliest Women’s Days, women in most nations of the world did not have the vote, and property and power was overwhelmingly in the hands of men. There has been huge progress since those days, and some may be tempted to question whether International Women’s Day is now a redundant concept. However, despite that progress, significant barriers to women’s advancement remain; around the world many women still face poverty, discrimination and violence simply because they are female. For example, today women account for two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults, and 31 million girls are still denied a primary education. One in three women globally are also likely to experience abuse of some kind.

 

Pooja Rajiv, one of the founders and leaders of All We Can’s partner The Srijan Foundation in Jharkhand in India, believes that the issues discussed as part of International Women’s Day are as relevant as ever. In their local communities, parity between men and women is still for many a dream. She says, “There is inequality in society in many ways here but for women there are more problems. We are still dealing with childhood marriage for girls, dowry related violence and trafficking. These are challenges that concern me because they affect how women are able to lead their daily lives. Women are often the poorest people here.”

 

The Srijan Foundation raises awareness of women’s rights and gender issues, and provides training on leadership, decision-making and advocacy. With this support, women are now able to voice their opinions, take greater control of their lives, and are even beginning to take positions of responsibility in local affairs. Changing ingrained views and practices in a community is hard and risky, but through self help groups, the women are able to share their stories and gain mutual support and encouragement.

 

One woman who has benefitted from the support of the Srijan Foundation is Rani Devi (pictured). Rani is now an elected local government representative in her village of Orla. Short in stature but bold in her demeanour and actions, Rani is known locally as the woman to come to if you want to have your voice heard.

 

It has not always been like this for Rani though. Until recently, she, like many other women in her village, spent all of her days in her home completing household duties. She was afraid to speak to people outside her immediate family, and had very little confidence. When asked whether she could have imagined herself standing for local election five years ago she laughed and exclaimed, “Previously we were not even very aware of the things happening outside our homes! When a woman would ask for her rights it was usually to a man in power. He would not care about her rights.”

 

Women like Rani have had the right to vote and run for office since India’s first national elections after independence in 1951, but in reality women in villages in Jharkhand either did not vote or voted for who their husband or father asked them too. Things are now slowly changing. In 2009, then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to push for a law that would reserve at least half the seats on elected bodies in villages and districts for women. Rani now sits in one of those seats. It was only after months of encouragement, training and support as part of one of the self-help groups set up by the Srijan Foundation that she felt able to take the step to put herself forward for election. “I know now that when I speak I have the support of ten women behind me, it gives me a sense of the part I play in the group. I am able to stand up for other women. I would like to see husbands valuing women and women able to have a better future. I now have a value in society and with my family I am able to stand up. I want to see every woman have equality with men.”

As the focus falls on women this week, let us celebrate the huge strides women have made as leaders, innovators, and money-earners, and also consider how we can support the efforts of brave women like Rani who are standing up and saying, “I have value. Now I am going to make things better for others”.

Written by Laura Cook

Photo copyright All We Can

45 Million Slaves

Quarry rescue in Chennai, India.

Quarry rescue in Chennai, India.

 

WDR partners with the International Justice Mission UK (IJM) whose aim is to eradicate violence against the poor. Their work involves working with local police to rescue those suffering violence, restoring them to their communities, restraining the criminals involved and seeking justice through the courts.

IJM targets those not sufficiently protected by their justice systems. This includes modern day slaves. It may still be a shock for many of us that slaves exist at all in our modern world. Up to recently I would have quoted the statistic of there being approximately 30 million slaves in the world but the Global Slavery Index Report (www.globalslaveryindex.org) for 2016 states that it is much higher than previously thought; 45 million. 30 million of these are in Asia with North Korea having the highest relative incidence with 4.4 of its population being enslaved. India has the highest number for any one country with a figure of 18.4 million. 58% of slaves are in five countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. However, as the report authors say themselves’ “Slavery’s hidden nature means actual numbers are likely to be far, far higher”.

Before quoting any more figures, it is maybe best to define what we mean by slavery. Slight variations on a definition exist but the Global Slavery Index (GSI) refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception e.g. their passport may be taken if they are in a foreign country or their family may be threatened. I am conscious that by using the term ‘modern day slavery’, it may seem to diminish the horror of what people suffer, compared to what we may assume (indeed know) what the ‘trans-Atlantic slaves’ of centuries gone by had to endure. This would be a huge error.

Here is recent action taken by IJM in relation to the rescue of some modern day slaves:

CHENNAI, INDIA, May 24, 2016

On Tuesday, IJM helped local authorities rescue 10 children, women and men from slavery at a grueling rock-crushing facility in southern India. These families had taken small monetary loans from the quarry owner, who then used impossible interest rates and constant violence to keep them under his control. He moved them around wherever work was available and forced them to work from dawn to dusk, breaking heavy rocks for hours on end. One family had been trapped in bonded labour slavery at this quarry for the last six years. Two of their four young children were born in the facility, and the harsh conditions were all they had ever known. On the day of the rescue, injuries on their small bodies showed they, too, had been forced to work. The second family had previously escaped the facility, when the owner allowed them to leave and take care of their sick father. Once he found out the father had died, however, he tracked the couple down, beat them, and brought them back to the facility to work.

The families lived in extremely poor conditions, with no electricity, proper shelter or adequate food. Children were not allowed to go to school. Everyone faced constant verbal and physical abuse from the quarry owner.

The IJM-trained government officials working on the case were deeply moved by the harsh conditions these families faced, and they moved quickly into action to bring them to safety. All six adults were issued official release certificates to absolve the false debts used to control them. The labourers also received rehabilitation funds to help start their lives in freedom.

From here, IJM will help the families return to their home villages and find safe housing and dignified work. They will join our two-year aftercare program to equip them with life skills, job training and hope for the future.

 

Our world is a very dark place for many millions of people. Most of us reading this blog are sheltered from the cruel reality of slavery and we should be thankful for that. However, we know it exists. Irish Methodist World Development & Relief will continue to work alongside International Justice Mission UK as it fights slavery across the globe. View the video of our partner’s work.

The Global Slavery Index report is compiled by the Walk Free Foundation and can be found at www.walkfree.org

International Justice Mission UK can be found at www.ijmuk.org