Women's rights

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.

 

Women don't need to find a voice

In February, the ‘Fab Four’ (Princes William and Harry, the Duchess of Cambridge
and Meghan Markle) chaired a forum at The Royal Foundation and the world got
another chance to learn more about Ms. Markle and the causes she will likely
champion when she becomes a member of the Royal Family.

Image:  BBC News

Image: BBC News


As with any of their public appearances, the media coverage was vast. Whether
you wanted to know what Catherine was wearing, how Meghan had styled her hair,
or were actually more interested in what they talked about, news outlets had it all
covered. Reading over what was discussed at the forum, something Meghan said jumped
out at me,

"You'll often hear people say 'You are helping people find their voices', I
fundamentally disagree with that because women don't need to find a voice - they
have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it and people need to be encouraged to listen.”

These words, set against the backdrop of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns,
were liked, retweeted and shared widely on social media.

Having previously been a UN women’s advocate, it is no surprise to hear Ms.
Markle talk about these issues. So why does it matter?
It matters because she has a loud voice. She has a platform to speak from. People
want to listen. In fact, even if you didn’t want to listen, you’d have a hard time
avoiding it, what with the media interest in the soon-to- be royal. Of course the
harsh reality is that very few people have a platform like hers and they have to fight
to make their voices heard.


However, what Meghan (can I call her Meghan?!) was getting at is significant. It’s
not a case of teaching people how to speak, but rather a case of showing them
that they have the right to speak and then for them to discover how to use their
voice.

Sita- Kopila.png


Sita Devi Adhikari has experienced this through Kopila-Nepal (WDR partner). As a
single mother with a low income, Sita was overlooked and undervalued in her
society. Through a self-help group at Kopila, she grew in confidence and became
empowered to use her voice.

“Now I am also aware about my rights that I didn’t know existed. [Working with
Kopila] has helped me to build my self-esteem and not allow someone else to
exploit me. I hope Kopila-Nepal will progress in days to come and help to overcome the difficulties women like me face.”

Organisations like Kopila are a great example of what Meghan Markle was saying.
The women they work with have a voice, but due to circumstances and culture,
they often do not get a chance to use it. Kopila teaches and equips women so that they can empower themselves and speak out, to challenge the status quo and
ultimately to pave a new way for women in their communities.


If you’ve read any of our blogs before or had a look around our website you will
know that WDR is committed to seeing people fulfil their God-given potential. For
every person, the outworking of that will look different. At the root of it all is the
desire to see justice for those who, for so long, seemingly had no voice but have
now discovered it to become the spokespeople of their own cause; speaking to the
issue and being the catalyst in engineering change.

When you choose to walk alongside WDR partners you are helping to shine a light on so many issues that affect millions of people around the world. Whether it’s women’s rights in Nepal,
access to education in Southern Africa or Lebanon, your donations, prayers and
your voice make a difference.

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