First observed in New York in 1909, International Women’s Day was established to inform and mobilize people everywhere to do their part to improve conditions for women; those living close to home and abroad.
“…The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”
– Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon
Well…to a large extent, it depends on where you live.
There are thorny issues that oppress women everywhere. The conditions are particularly dismal for women living in the world’s developing countries where healthcare is sketchy and the mortality rates are high. Our sisters in 24 of the world’s poorest countries will not see their 60th birthday. The majority of women in some of them will not reach the age of 50.
In many countries, particularly those where extremism prevails, governmental policies, cultural norms, and the wages of war combine to create a climate that discourages education and employment for women. In Afghanistan, for example, less than 10% of all women earn a paycheck. In Iraq, less than half of all girls attend secondary school. While some studies point to a lack of security and inadequate facilities, the chief reason that girls do not attend secondary school is their parents’ refusal to educate them beyond the primary level.
Micro-loan programs provide start-up funds for many women who want to start their own small businesses in developing countries. These programs fill a gap resulting from women’s denied access to traditional financing options. The International Finance Corporation reports that, in many countries, women face more stringent loan requirements and higher interest rates than men. Many women are unable to enter into contracts in their own name or control property and, in some countries, women are denied a national identity document, like a passport or ID card, which is often required to open a bank account. So, these women continue to live in poverty.
As Donna M. Hughes, from the University of Rhode Island once said while delivering a lecture on sexual exploitation,
“The global sexual exploitation of women and girls is a supply and demand market. Men create the demand and women are the supply.”
And so it has been since the beginning of time.
A review conducted by UN Women indicates that 35% of today’s women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Because so many cases go unreported, some studies put the number closer to 70%. The report also shares that:
• more than 700 million women alive today (many of them poor) were married as children, 30% of these were married before the age of 15,
• 10% of girls throughout the world have been forced into sexual acts at some point in their lives,
• more than 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common, and
• women and girls represent 55% of the more than 20 million victims of forced labor worldwide, and 98% of the estimated 4.5 million who are forced into sexual exploitation.
In all the time I was raising my children (they are now grown and raising children of their own), I was able to put them to sleep in a warm bed with a dry roof over their heads. And, I never once had to put them to bed hungry. NOT ONCE.
That is not the case for so many of our sisters, particularly for those who live in the poorest countries in the world.
Many families– in fact 75% of the world’s poorest families– grow their own food. They depend on their land and livestock for food and income. Like all farmers, they are vulnerable to weather changes and natural disasters, and in many developing countries their ability to grow their own food is impacted by civil wars. There is no government program to serve as a stop-gap while the weather improves, or the civil war ceases, or the reconstruction is complete.
They go hungry.
In fact, 2.6 million children die each year from hunger-related diseases, their little bodies starving for the basic nutrients they need to survive.
And, here’s the thing. According to Mercy Corps almost half of the world’s farmers are women, but they have been denied the tools that men have –things like land rights, financing, and training. So, their farms are less productive. And their children die.
I know these are BIG problems. If they were easy to solve, they would already be solved.
But the enormity of the challenge doesn’t absolve us from doing something.
Like the little boy who, seeing a thousand starfish stranded on the sand, threw a single starfish back into the ocean. It may not have made a difference to the 999 left on the sand. But it had a huge impact on the one that was now safely back in the sea.
We are educated. We have large friend networks and technology that can be used for the good of our sisters close to home and in the developing world.
We are called to help.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
– James 1:27
We can invest in micro-loan programs that help women in the developing world start their own small businesses. We can support programs here and abroad that keep young girls in school. Easiest of all, we can be mindful of our purchasing power.
Here’s a place to start…Check out Noonday Collections, a company that partners with artisans in the developing world so women can earn reliable incomes. The next time you need to buy a birthday gift for someone, make it a gift that blesses twice.
Here is another list of places to purchase gifts that will help “a sister from another mister” Gifts with a Conscience.
And we can pray for women everywhere –some to be called to action, others to be patient while hearts are changed.
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
– Isaiah 1:17