Ida Horner: What is the Point of International Women’s Day?

By Ida Horner, Chairperson, Let Them Help Themselves 

I can’t remember when or how I started observing International Women’s Day (IWD) but every year I ask myself the same questions about this day.  The questions are:

  • What is the point of International Women’s Day?
  • Why do we need days like -International Women’s Day
  • Has it helped advance African women’s fight for equality
  • Is it relevant to the African woman?
  • What about rural women, should they care about IWD or is that something for the urban woman?
  • Are we doing enough to bridge development gaps between men and women?

I have heard it said that some of the best conversations one can have are the ones that go in ones’ head. In this instance this is not true because I can’t find answers to my own questions and I must admit to feeling overwhelmed by these questions.

In my mind’s eyes, days like IWD should not exist if their utility is to highlight the disadvantage women still face. No one should be disadvantaged because of his or her gender. We should ensure that women’s needs are met throughout the year that striving to do so, does not start and end with International Women’s Day.  

I am especially concerned about the condition of rural women in Uganda. This is because, whilst the urban woman has choices and is likely to be aware of her rights, this isn’t necessarily the case for the rural woman, who typically passes her days working the land for very little reward.  

Rural women in Uganda still face huge challenges including; availability of jobs, not being included in the decision-making process, inability to negotiate individual rights in and outside the home and their voices are rarely heard in political discourse.

It is my view that some of these challenges persist due to social and economic exclusion of women, as well as political will that means resources are not set aside to address structural and social issues that impact women’s livelihoods.

From the research we carried out amongst rural women in Ruhanga SW Uganda, we learned that:

  • Women still do all the hard work for only 40p a week. This level of income is less than, that which is recognised internationally as the amount of money that the ultra poor live off.
  • Rural women often have no opportunities to acquire new skills and yet that by closing skills gaps amongst rural women who have no assets to generate their own income we enable them to improve their income and livelihood
  • Better skilled African women in rural areas have a chance of generating income to benefit the community as a whole
  • Rural women tend to engage in casual labour and are poorly paid.

 

Using these findings we set out to explore the sort of interventions that would enable such women to increase incomes from 40p to £1.75 a week following a detailed door to door home assessment exercise. £1.75 is the amount of money a woman in Uganda needs to send three children to a government school, fight malnutrition and ensure that her family can access basic health care.

 

The women selected our first intervention and we call it, Send a Chicken to an African woman. Through this initiative, women are learning how to rare chicken using a semi intensive system. We have provided the women with basics to enable them to build chicken coops as well as basic equipment such as feeders and drinkers.

 

The women’s learning has now ended and they will take delivery of deliver two-month-old chicks that they will have to look after for the next two years. We will provide chicken feed for the first three months as well as vaccines, but after that the women are on their own.  If they get it right, the hens should start laying eggs in two months and we will help the women find a route to market for the surplus eggs after their family’s nutritional needs have been met

 

Amongst other things, this initiative is part of our drive to empower rural women economically. But as Winnie Byanyima Executive Director of Oxfam International argued recently, Women’s economic empowerment should not be limited to decent employment and income for women but go as far as addressing structural barriers that women face.

 

I agree with Ms Byanyima. If we do not remove these structural barriers, days like IWD will continue to be about the condition of women and we will continue to ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to bridge development gaps between men and women?

Ida Horner is the Chairperson of Let Them Help Themselves a UK registered Community regeneration charity. She can be contacted via Twitter @idahorner.

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